FEATURED TEACHER OF THE MONTH
Interview by Sara McElwain
Richard Barcia has three adult daughters, lives in Manhattan, and works as a financial adviser. He was one of the original Integral Yoga Institute teachers involved in the ‘”Yoga to Help Heal” program after 9/11 and later became its director. He currently teaches a senior program with City Parks Foundation and has taught corporate classes at Citibank and Goldman Sachs. He teaches an annual one-week program at the AMC Cabin on Fire Island and until recently has taught a weekly Level I/II class at IYI.
What is your definition of Yoga?
The first definition that comes to mind is a comment by Sri Satchidananda: The entire class is a preparation for the minute of meditation. That is an opportunity to search for our own self. It becomes easy not to think about anything but the present, and our practice can bring us the knowledge of how we are connected to one another and to our own inner self.
What do you love about Yoga?
The love of Yoga is a good way to put it. You can take classes and enjoy the practice but never love it. Sometimes, on the subway, I will touch my thumb and index fingers into chin mudra and let things go. I love that Yoga helps with the everyday. For me on a deeper level, I love the perceived connection with everyone who has practiced in the past.
Why do you teach Yoga?
As happens with many men, a woman took me to my first Yoga class. I started attending classes in the mid-90s at Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center. At first, it was just an exercise like Rollerblading or volleyball. Within a few months, I began to look forward to the physical practice as part of a greater experience. The movement of the body with the breath was the first change I noticed, and I was less concerned if a particular asana was done as others were doing it.
The decision to become a teacher occurred in the spring on 2001 after an impromptu covering for a teacher on Fire Island. I had never taught anything before but noticed that teaching came as a natural extension of my own Yoga class experiences. Also, I have a highly stressful job, and teaching was a way to let the tension go. I interviewed several ashrams, but IYI offered three teachers who were all different in both approach and temperament, so it was an easy choice. I was the least athletic and the worst chanter in a TT class of 21 students, but the kindness and persistence of both the instructors and my fellow students got me through. Two years later I took the IYI Level II training, which taught me to love the standing asana, thanks to a patient Ramananda.
The honest answer is that if I didn’t teach, I would probably not be practicing. It’s a fault of mine that if I’m not committed to something I tend to drift away. The teaching keeps me focused on my own practice. Also, I have been fortunate to be involved in programs with seniors, many of whom have never taken a Yoga class before. It is wonderful to watch them change from reluctance and fear to asking where they can attend a meditation class.
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 am an asthmatic. I developed a workshop for Integral Yoga teachers and students in various breathing and mental practices to lessen the effects of attacks and how to live with the condition on a daily basis. Ten years ago, I attended classes at Yogaville given by a gifted IYI teacher on teaching Yoga for people with breathing issues. She taught that for asthmatics the problem was not getting fresh air in; the real problem was getting air out. We don’t exhale fully enough to bring in new air. Yoga has breathing practices that address this problem. I would like to publish a Yoga guide for asthma, which could also be used by students with various other breathing concerns.
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?
On a physical level, I don’t look like a Yoga teacher. I could lose some weight, could eat healthier, and could speak more clearly. Students look at me, and I’m sure they think, “If he can do it so can I.” On another level, I believe that I am patient with students and encourage them to enjoy the practice. Once I was teaching a senior class in Carl Schurz Park right next to the fence around Gracie Mansion. The students were doing ardha chandrasana using tree trunks for support. Encouraging them, I said, “Don’t worry; there are no cameras taking our photos here.” Later, of course, there must have been a dozen security cameras around us.
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?
Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, by Stephen Cope, is a book that has helped me. He and I are very different people, but his struggles and resolutions have rung true for me over the years. In my classes, I like to quote a writer or an inspiring person, such as the Peace Pilgrim. This has become important to me as a way to read about people and events that I know little about.
Ongoing classes at IYI
For the past ten years, I’ve taught a Level I/II class on Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m. I’m currently on a short sabbatical but will be teaching again soon.
Coming workshops at IYI
I would like to teach a Yoga for Asthmatics workshop in the near future.