FEATURED TEACHER OF THE MONTH
Karl Krishna Spicer
Interview by Sarah McElwain
Karl Krishna Spicer began practicing Yoga 25 years ago, beginning at IYINY, and has completed over 500 hours of training. The mixture of movement, breath and attention was an immediate revelation and the peaceful after-effects of class made a huge impression on him, especially in such a chaotic city as New York. After many years of taking occasional classes, and much home practice, Krishna found his way to Basic Yoga Teacher Training at Integral in 2017. After graduation, Krishna was offered a regular class at Integral, and the 25-year journey from beginner practitioner to enthusiastic adept to certified instructor was complete. The study of Yoga is, of course, a life-long pursuit, and the journey continues. He is certified to teach Hatha I, II, Meditation and has certifications in Therapeutic Yoga I, II. In his other life, Krishna is a professional musician, playing bass, guitar and shakuhachi flute.
What skills, expertise, or special knowledge do you bring to the classes you teach?
The more I learn about Yoga and the teaching of Yoga, the more I come back to the beginning, to the basics. This practice is capable of almost infinite complexity and variation, and yet that which truly benefits you and improves your life, in very palpable ways, can be achieved with practices that you can learn in a day, or even an hour: “Move with attention, and allow some awareness of your breath as you’re doing so, even if your body is in a new shape you’ve never experienced before.” And if you’re someone who has done the practice dozens or even thousands of times, the interest comes from this inquiry: “How are you and your body on this day, at this time?” So it really never ends. It’s beautiful in that way. Imparting this awareness is, I hope, a portion of what I can offer as a teacher.
What do you hope students will receive in the classes you teach?
I hope that, whatever “level”—and that’s not my favorite word—a student is at, he or she can find some sort of peace in the class or the practice. There’s something about the third Sutra of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, “Then the Seer abides in its own nature,” that I just love. Yes, the famous second Sutra defines Yoga and does so as “the stilling of the vrittis, the mental waves”—or, as Master Sivananda calls them, the “whirlpools”—but I love how the third Sutra follows up with “What then?” Because “abiding in your own (true) nature” is the whole game, in a real-world way. This opens up your life to the possibility of transcending yourself. All this “work” that we do on ourselves through the practices of Yoga are really just tools to get us to move out beyond the sphere of ourselves and see how we truly are connected to a larger world.
That can change the whole way you see your life and your place in the world. It isn’t something you need to focus on in the beginning, and maybe it never settles there for you, but I’ve seen it many times, and of course I’ve felt it personally. Pretty much, ask any Yoga teacher, or probably most students, and they can tell you. It generally comes as a natural by-product of the practice, as so many of the best things do.
What do you love about Yoga?
The first thing I love is that it’s something you can DO when everything else out there is falling apart. I know this has brought many people to Yoga. It’s a way to assert your own power and control over your life, even when you seem powerless to change what’s happening “out there” in the world.
Yoga is, of course, a vast subject, but it’s also very simple. Gurudev would say, “Yoga is simple. Be good and do good.” I would add to that “Feel good,” because that is what you get from a Yoga practice. If you’ve never experienced this, it’s a little hard to swallow how a few movements and breathing could make you feel so much better. So, I guess the first thing I love about Yoga is the movement. You get to move! It begins with asana.
But it doesn’t stop there! That brings me to what I love about Integral Yoga. Yoga has changed a lot in the United States over the past 20 years, often becoming more of a physical workout than anything else. Here is where I love the Integral approach. It truly is an “integrated” system, designed to “integrate” the individual through various practices.
Once the body and breath are taken care of and calmed down or tuned up through Hatha Yoga, we turn to the mind. There are many ways to get the mind on Yoga in the Integral system: you could read and reflect on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, to which I have referred earlier, through what’s called Raja Yoga, aiming at ethical perfection, basically, and the ways you live your life.
If you are more of an intellectual skeptic, you could look into Jnana Yoga, which deals with the ultimate reality of what truly exists and who you really are—a kind of peeling of the onion to see what’s there and there and there.
Bhakti Yoga is the Yoga of devotion, appropriate for someone who feels deeply spiritual and expands his or her world through oneness with the cosmos.
Karma Yoga can take you to that altruistic place that may arise spontaneously from exposure to the practice. Feeling your heart expand can give you a launching pad for Karma Yoga, or selfless service. It’s not just about you and your Yoga but about how you can help in the bigger sense.
Finally, there’s Japa Yoga, which can get you there through vibration, sound, and chanting. This is a non-intellectual approach that really goes more around the mind than through it, tapping into the Source through a vibration bigger than you yet which you also produce.
These six approaches of Integral Yoga are a great, holistic way not only through Yoga but actually as a way of accessing a deeper sense of connectedness throughout your life. I personally love all these approaches and enjoy each at various times. Simply put, I love how it makes me feel and the direction it gives to my life.
What has sustained you the most during the pandemic?
This practice! I honestly don’t know where I’d be without the practice. The fact that I get to teach once a week via Zoom also has helped keep me grounded; that, and staying in touch with the students. I’m gratified that the first feature of 2021 will be knowing that 2020 is behind us. It has been an incredibly challenging year for everyone but one that reaffirmed for me the importance of Yoga.
Thursday 11:45 Multilevel