FEATURED TEACHER OF THE MONTH
Ken Kevalan Stec
Interview by Sarah McElwain
Ken Kevalan Stec has been a teacher of Integral Yoga for 20 years. His introduction to Yoga came in 1972 with his first Integral Yoga class, which a friend invited him to try. Ken has found Yoga to be a true lifesaver as a method of self-discovery and an amazing door opener, connecting him to his many interests off the mat. Certified as a Level I instructor, he has since opened his practice to more-therapeutic styles, including Yoga4Arthritis and Adaptive Gentle Yoga. Underlying those is Accessible Yoga—keeping the practices available for anyone who wants to try them without discrimination as to ability or background. A member of the Integral Yoga Teachers Association, Kevalan is also a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and received C-IAYT certification in 2017.
What is your definition of Yoga?
Yoga is a continuing exploration of what it means to be a human being. I look at the eight branches—yama, niyama, all the way through to samadhi—as presented by Patanjali. It is a holographic map to our deepest meanings as beings on this planet at this time. The succinct tenets abound in choices, possibilities for happiness, avoidance of suffering, and our effect as individuals on the community of life we share and create.
What do you love about Yoga?
In practice, the mind is calmed and the body steadied. That creates a channel of experience that is invigorating, creative, and honest. It does take effort: as they say, a little abhyasa and vairagya go a long way. Practice is effort enough, let alone letting go of the results! That’s a really tough one for me. Yet letting go is the most freeing of experiences and opens space for expansion, discovery, healing, adventure, and lightness, too. It’ll take more than a few more lifetimes to achieve those goals fully, to be sure! But the more I practice, the more I see the subtle truth of them shining back at me.
Why do you teach Yoga?
Selfishness. When a student’s work becomes a unique, alive practice for him or her, there is an energizing, affirming connection. It wakes me up, reminds me of the vastness and the affinity we share as humans through these practices. Also, simply put: Yoga helps. Clear heads and strong hearts are only a couple of the more-immediate benefits Yoga lays at our feet. And that is what is needed now. It makes me happy to spread the word as much as possible. Selfish.
What are the particular areas of Yoga you are teaching in now or in which you have created your own, special offerings? What attracted you to those areas?
I had been teaching for several years when I answered a call for teachers posted at IYI. For a clinical study at NYU on the effectiveness of asana on epileptic patients, they were in need of a few more Level I teachers. The results of the study ranged from dropouts to one or two students who went on to become IYI teachers! The possibilities exhibited in this group amazed me and truly changed my life. Over the years, my teaching focus naturally shifted toward nontraditional groups: seniors, the mildly cognitively impaired, those with acute or chronic pain—conditions that blocked participation in a mainstream class setting. It was apparent from what I witnessed that Yoga had profound potential as a practice complementary to traditional allopathy. If the term “Yoga therapy” bounced around at that time, it was far more ambivalent than it is today. But that was the direction I was naturally drawn in. I had to wait to leave my regular nine-to-five job to work out the details of training before I could formally commit to Yoga therapy–type practices. But again, as they say, when the time is right, things happen. No sooner had I left my job than I discovered Accessible Yoga, Yoga4Arthritis, and Adaptive Yoga training programs at IYINY, one right after the other. The time and resources presented themselves as well. The teachers of these specialized programs were and are incredible. Thanks to their encouragement and guidance, I received a C-IAYT last August. That became a physical symbol of the direction I had been moving in for many years and a signpost for moving forward. It is a helpful tool of self-inquiry. What I, hopefully, teach is Yoga for folks ready to self-discover a bigger definition of themselves, beyond what they might perceive as a limiting condition in their lives. I am also a student of Qigong, and my classes fuse some of the dynamics of that tradition as well. I am happy to report that students seem to love it and see it as a logical yoking to the Yoga practices.
What do you hope students will receive from you as a teacher, and what do you hope students will get out of your coming offerings and workshops?
Self-empowerment. May they discover their happiness, their strength, their bigger definition of Self. Often in the groups I teach there are folks who feel beat down or overly challenged, have a low level of self-esteem, enter with anger and confusion about something their body is doing or their self-perceived “stuckness” in a way of life they have to settle for rather than enjoy or cultivate. They come to class in hopes of moving away from attitudes of suffering or negativity about themselves and their conditions and toward self-management, improved attitude and functioning on all levels, and maybe relief of some symptoms along the way. I let them know that since they showed up for class, the hard part is over. And I don’t mean to be flip. Some of these students are quite courageous in dealing with their conditions, bringing their pain onto the mat. If I’m doing my job, they lighten up, expansiveness takes root, and maybe they get a sense of happiness.
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?
Gurudev’s The Golden Present; the iPhone app The Daily Guru; Georg Feuerstein’s The Yoga Tradition; the brownies at the IYI food bar. In the last lies the sweetness of Yoga so intelligently expressed.
Ongoing classes at IYI: Yoga4Arthritis, usually a Wednesday class, twice a month