FEATURED TEACHER OF THE MONTH
Anitra (Amrita) Frazier
Interview by Sarah McElwain
Anitra (Amrita) Frazier, B.S., RYT 500, was a Broadway performer when she took her first Yoga class. She graduated from Teacher Training in 1974 and later studied in India. She has taught all levels. Her classes are lighthearted; she likes to encourage students to use Yoga as a set of tools to enhance daily living. Her book The Natural Cat is in its fourth edition. She works as a consultant on feline behavior and holistic health.
What is your definition of Yoga?
It’s a philosophy, a way of life. The universe is unfailingly generous. It has given us numerous paths to guide us through our incarnations. No matter how many of these we explore, we find that they all teach the same things but in different ways. As Swamiji has taught us, “Truth is one; paths are many. True is one.” And “All paths come together at the mountaintop.” To me the philosophy of Yoga is clear and logical; it makes perfect sense to me, so Yoga is my path.
What do you love about Yoga?
Yoga taught me how to run my life. One night, years before I studied Yoga, I went to a party where there was a psychic. I was invited to have a reading and accepted happily. She was seated alone a in quiet back room, and when I walked in she took one look at me and said, “You never grew up.” I laughed because she was right. She had psyched me out the minute she saw me. I was performing on Broadway and in National Tour with few responsibilities, and I told her I hoped I would never have to grow up—ever. She shook her head, “No, no, no,” and told me I did not understand at all what she meant. She said she was not talking about this life; instead, I had lived many, many lives but had always “left early” (died very young). She said I’d already stayed a bit longer in this lifetime, but that was the life in which I was supposed to live on and finish.
I felt as if time had stopped and she and I and her words were all that existed. She had answered a question I didn’t even know I had: Why did I always get the feeling that I was a stranger in a strange land? The answer was that I was living my adult life with no previous experience. I didn’t fit in easily with other people. I got along fine with animals, but humans were a constant puzzle. Being me wasn’t always comfortable. Yoga gave me the “book of instruction” I needed.
I no longer had to smoke marijuana to find peace or escape into character onstage to find the safety of being not me. Yoga taught me how to find the me I was supposed to be in this incarnation.
Why do you teach Yoga?
When I was in high school we used to take aptitude tests to help us choose what to study in college. Mine always indicated that I should study education, but I’d never wanted to be a teacher. I felt that teaching should be a calling, not just a job. My calling was to be a performer. That was where my heart lay. I chose my college simply because it was the only one that offered me a scholarship. Fortunately it had an outstanding conservatory of music and an excellent voice production professor, but the only degree it offered was in music education, so I had to take a lot of teaching courses. I was surprised to find that I loved them, but my heart was still in showbiz, not teaching.
Years later, when I started taking classes at IYI, I realized that Yoga was something I wanted very much to teach. It was the most powerful and beneficial practice I had ever encountered. It was totally safe and great fun, and I wanted to help in any way I could to give it to everybody. IYI taught me that you could have more than one calling.
What was different about IYI classes 40 years ago, when you started teaching?
There was much more music. We had an informal Kirtan before gatherings of any kind. Everyone would arrive a half hour early to be sure they wouldn’t miss any of it. Someone would lead, starting with “Om shanti” and then taking off from there. We always had the harmonium and at least one tabla and often a guitar. Cymbals and tambourines and such would be passed out to anyone who wanted to serve in that way, and it was glorious! Swamiji said that the chanting prepared our minds before he spoke to us. “Prepared” was putting it mildly.
We used to burn incense. The teachers lit it on the altar before every class, and the aroma drifted into every nook and cranny of the Institute. When you entered the building it enveloped you in a cushiony aura of peace and safety that carried a promise that whatever you were going to experience here was going to be a little bit strange but very, very nice. It made us special, different from other Yoga schools. I seldom smell it anymore.
Teachers always wore all white with no decoration. When asked why, Swamiji said there were two reasons. First, white was the color of purity. It would make it easier to concentrate when we were teaching. Second, wearing white was a form of Karma Yoga. Students knew that teachers wore white, so if students needed directions or had questions they had only to look for someone wearing all white. It made it easier for them to find help and easier for us to find opportunities for service.
Do you have a favorite book or Yoga mat or product that you like, something you sincerely enjoy and wish to share with the teacher sangha?
Ram Dass’s book Be Here Now made a lasting impression on me. The IYI class can automatically bring the student into that state.
The first Yoga books I read were Swami Vivekananda’s set Raga Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Bhakti Yoga. They are all beautifully written, easy to understand, and easy to carry with you because they are small paperbacks.
Sri Sivananda’s The Practice of Karma Yoga is the best book I’ve ever read on the subject.
Ongoing class at IYI: Level I, Monday, 1:15 p.m.