Felicity: Light on a life in yoga

Felicity demonstrating the yoga pose trikonasana, or triangle, pose.

Felicity fell in love with yoga in 1963.

As the primary caregiver to her four young children, she found it necessary to get out of the house once a week. She found relief in a weekly yoga class initially for a shoulder problem, but found the reward in feeling more centered.

“I remember going to the physician for my shoulder issue,” she said. “I had been a competitive swimmer, and he told me after the operation that I would not be able to move my hand to the back of my head. Yoga cleared up the problem and I realized, through my practice, that one must learn to listen to what your body is telling you.”

Felicity, who goes just by her first name, was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and moved to the United States in 1962 with her husband, a family practitioner. Shortly after that, she began her yoga training.

After studying and teaching yoga for almost 25 years, Felicity visited Lopez Island and bought property in 1987. She developed a yoga retreat center on her property off of Cross Road and each summer held intensives and retreats. Primarily attended by yogis from Seattle, soon more islanders began to practice yoga as well. Felicity sold that property seven years ago and lived on David Bill’s land and taught from his yoga studio until November of 2008. Felicity now lives in the Senior Hamlet.

Her two primary teachers are B.K.S. Iyengar and Swami Shivananda Radha.

“’Never teach what you cannot do yourself,’ Mr. Iyengar advises,” Felicity said. “I visited Swami Radha’s ashram in Canada, and lived there for three years. Her approach is much more psychological, more of a devotional approach. I feel I have a spiritual father and a spiritual mother in these two teachers. As a result, I teach a great deal of philosophy when I am teaching the physical asanas and pranayama. But when you get older, obviously, as age comes on, one cannot demonstrate certain poses because of this. Conversely, when you get older you must be more lenient upon yourself, and adapt poses. Just last week, Swami Chanchanhi (who was visiting and conducting several yoga classes) put me into a pose which opened up my chest and she left me like that for 20 minutes…lying on the floor like a sacrificial lamb!”

The pose Felicity was put into is very good for heart conditions and is called Bishma Acharayasana, after a character in the Mahabharata, who, in a battle, took 40 arrows in his back and had to rest upon the arrows. This asana, or pose, stimulates several points on the back which are known both in Ayurvedic medicine as well as in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Johns Hopkins reports that “Iyengar yoga teachers…..even at the entry level, are certified teachers who undergo a rigorous education program that includes in depth knowledge of anatomy and physiology, and demonstrated expertise in teaching.” Felicity is one of a group of teachers who certify Hatha Yoga practitioners.

“You see,” Felicity said, “we practice yoga thinking that we are going to live a long, healthy, trouble-free life. But we find that we are just human beings and we run into age difficulties. It’s a difficult thing to hit this reality; we think that we are not going to deteriorate like everyone else. I could not see myself retiring and not teaching, or demonstrating poses. But I am not teaching classes currently. My future will be one-on-one work. It’s been a challenge for me to come to this place.”

Felicity says that one of the most important experiences in her life occurred during a three-week intensive with Iyengar.

“I felt I was being peeled like an onion. I spent a lot of time crying and I was very uncomfortable. I came in late one day, everyone was doing back bends; I found a tall back bending bench, and it brought up all this emotional stuff and I hated it. ‘You picked it,’ Mr. Iyengar said, ‘you stick with it.’ I reached that place inside myself which I knew no one could hurt. I was afraid of him, and then I thought, ‘Oh my god, he’s going to put me into this pose and I am not going to be able to handle it.’ And because of his vision of my potentiality, I was able to face my own fears. It has been a wonderful and challenging adventure with which I have been graced.”