FEATURED TEACHER OF THE MONTH
Randolf Rocana Pearson
Interview by Sara McElwain
Randolf Rocana Pearson has been teaching at IYINY since 2000 and is certified in Levels I and II. His practice began in 1972 in front of a television as he watched Lilias [Folan], Yoga and You. Both his training and his practice have been initiated by curiosity about the body and how it functions. The joy found in that body consciousness has expanded outward to include the consciousness of the universe. For Rocana, a Yogic practice employs the tools that can lead to daily, hourly, moment-to-moment mindfulness. Steady mindfulness and conscious awareness of our true identities lead to non-violence and peace. Yoga provides tools for living in the here and now.
What is your definition of Yoga?
Yoga is peace of mind.
What do you love about Yoga?
The sangha. I am grateful for Swamis Asokananda, Gurucharananda “Mataji,” Hamsananda, Ramananda, and Sri Swami Satchidananda (Sri Gurudev). I am grateful for my spiritual teachers in Colorado and Texas. I am grateful for the teachers at the former uptown IYI. I am grateful for my Teacher Training teachers. I am blessed by the staff and fellow teachers at Integral Yoga. I am honored by my students’ presence. I am surrounded by friends and family who support and comfort me.
This community, this sangha, is the daily blessing in my life. Thich Nhat Hanh explains, “Sangha is more than a community; it is a deep, spiritual practice. A sangha is a community of friends practicing the dharma together in order to bring about and to maintain awareness. The essence of a sangha is awareness, understanding, compassion, harmony, and love.”
Why do you teach Yoga?
Life is practice. Every day is a practice day. Yoga is a way to practice life. My teaching is my way to share the practice of Yoga. This practice informs my life on many levels, and sharing the profound effects of Yoga is my gift to my students. Asana keep the blood flowing so that the blood can create healthful cells. Those cells keep us active, mindful, and doing good for others. Pranayama is the key to unlocking our better selves—living with energy, with relaxation, with openness and authenticity. Meditation brings us into the present moment. Chanting invokes a higher power, a presence beyond ourselves that includes all souls in harmony. So, this practice of Yoga encourages each of us to be wholly alive in whatever we pursue as sojourners on this planet. I teach Yoga because the practice teaches us that we are not alone.
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?
Being in the here and now is everything. Our monkey minds tend to get us into all sorts of trouble. When I am taking a Yoga class or teaching one, it is very difficult for me to think or do anything else for the duration of the class. Yoga demands one’s attention. That attention to the present moment is the key to a happy, productive, stable life. I believe that, in our technological world with all its distractions, it is difficult to focus, to attend, to be mindful. And so I hope that that concept of being present, in the here and now, is something that is imparted in each of my classes.
For years, I have been a teacher of acting. When we get to the nitty-gritty of acting, it boils down to the fact that actors must be present in the given circumstances of the play. Really good actors, while onstage, are living the lives of their characters. They are not trying to do it, they are not pretending, but for those moments onstage, they are living, breathing the life of that character. Now, for me, that seems to be a useful tool for all of us: every moment living our truth to its fullest! I used to remind my students that the best teachers of acting were babies. Babies take in the world and accept it as it is, without prejudice (which is a learned behavior). Babies breathe naturally, they explore physically, they tumble and fall, they vocalize freely, and they have amazing powers of concentration. All those attributes are found in my Yoga practice—sometimes. And then the mind, the judgment, gets in the way.
So, in a class, I give very detailed instructions about a muscle or a position, which, I believe, helps students to focus inward, to concentrate on the task at hand, and to do their best at that moment. I encourage students to explore, to play, and to give themselves over to the practice. That is the environment where growth can happen. And as is true for a baby, it’s okay to fall. As in games, our Yoga practice has rules (for proper alignment and safety), it involves rhythmic tension and relaxation necessary for the activity to occur, and it is played in a defined space (the mat). Both the play process and our Yoga practice are total in that they engross us completely: physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.
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?
In Yoga, the breath is the energizing force. I emphasize the breath, and in our Guru’s outline of a class it is evident in the flow of the practice. We begin by centering with the breath. And, of course, pranayama brings the class to a close. I have particularly enjoyed the practice of the ujjayi breath. The “breath of victory” is a heard breath made by partially closing the glottis to create the sound of the ocean. Because it is heard, the ujjayi breath reminds us to breathe. It informs us if we are straining in a pose. It can help us to keep steady in the practice.
The ujjayi breath is a technique that lives not only in the Yoga studio. It can inform our lives outside of the studio. I had eye surgery several years ago, and as I lay on the operating table, the attending nurses and physicians noted my breath. Not realizing I was in the practice, I joked that it reminded me to keep breathing. And in a flash, the anesthesia took me out. When I visit the chiropractor, the ujjayi breath kicks in and adjustments are made effortlessly. When practicing my Yoga on the beach on Fire Island, the deep ujjayi breaths take in the glory of the sea breeze.
I hope that my students will enjoy the breath as much as I do. I will keep reminding them of the joy of ujjayi, and one day, I hope in the near future, our surya namaskaram will be a room full of humanity breathing as one.
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?
The Yoga mat, any Yoga mat, is my favorite Yoga “thing.” Sometimes the best Yoga mat is the cheapest Yoga mat at Kmart. Sometimes the best Yoga mat is a bed of pine needles in the Adirondacks or a cleared space in the sand on Fire Island. Sometimes the best Yoga mat is a towel in a hotel in Amsterdam. The idea of the mat is what is important, a place where my practice happens. The term yoga comes from the agricultural term yoke, like the yoke on a pair of oxen. For me, the mat represents the yoke that disciplines me to hit the earth and let go of everything but my practice, a place where I am in the here and now. My mat represents the gift of time and space in my life to go deep. I love my Yoga mat!
Ongoing class at IYI: Wednesday, 10:15 a.m., Level I/II