This week we meet Eddie Stern, who has been teaching Ashtanga yoga in New York City since 1989 – almost thirty years. A long-time student of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, Stern co-wrote Guruji, a book about Jois’ life and work. Considered one of the best teachers of Ashtanga in America, behind the scenes Stern works diligently to bring yoga to underserved communities. He was a founding board member of Bent On Learning which pioneered yoga and meditation in NYC public schools. He’s currently heads up Teach Wellness a program that teaches teachers how to integrate health and wellness into gym classes and in other school settings throughout the day. They initiative is currently operating in 3 states and 100 schools serving close to 35,000 children.
Known for his frank and affable nature, he and his wife, Jocelyne, now run the
Brooklyn Yoga Club, in Clinton Hill, which is a veritable yoga collective with unusual activities on the four floors ranging from a silent book club to imaginative speakers, a quaint comfy B&B and, of course the rigorous daily practice of Ashtanga.
One of his long-time students, Stacey Bendet, owner of clothing company, Alice & Olivia, said “I met Eddie at our friend Moby’s house back in 2004. I asked him if he could teach me yoga. He said to come to the school at 6am. I am not sure if anyone who saw me in whatever punk get-up I was wearing would believe I would show up anywhere at 6 in the morning, but I did; and I have practiced Ashtanga almost every day of my life since."
"Eddie is a teacher, not just in yoga, but in life. He does not say much when you are practicing, but his energy and his spirit guide your practice pose by pose. He teaches in the truest form—his life, his world, his school, and his practice (which is an art of its own) are truly about yoga, not fame or recognition or any sort of personal gain; it is about a rare and pure life practice."
Kathleen Kraft: What does your yoga practice look like every day?
Eddie Stern: By the way, I’m not a master teacher. Let’s be clear on that before I say anything else. As for yoga, I’ve been basically been doing the same practice for about 25 years now - Ashtanga Yoga. My teacher, Sri K Pattabhi Jois, was a householder, and knew that once you started having kids and working, it becomes more difficult to devote lots of hours every day to practice. So when I was younger I used to practice for 3 or 4 hours a day, and now that I have a little less free time on my hands, I make sure that I give myself at least an hour a day for practicing something physical, and I’m always reading and trying to learn new things – whether philosophy, science, mysticism etc. You know they say that you should never talk about your practice…
KK: Why not?
ES: Your practice is supposed to be personal. That's why it's special. You aren't supposed to show it all to the world. Suffice it to say I still practice, and I love it as much as the day I started. Perhaps even more.
KK: What are the most important qualities of the student/teacher relationship?
ES: The most important qualities, not necessarily in this order, are respect, care, love, listening, compassion and friendliness. There also needs to be discipline and hard work, but it has to be couched in compassion.
KK: What sutra is guiding you and why?
ES: How about if we turned that question into Desert Island Sutra? If I was stuck on a desert island and could only have one sutra with me, it would probably be 1.20: shraddha virya smrti Samadhi prajna purvaka itaresam – Asamprajnata Samadhi is attained by those who follow the arc of faith and conviction, which leads to vitality and energy, which strengthens one’s memory, which leads to the deep level of concentration known as Samadhi, which culminates in wisdom into one’s true self, which leads back to conviction. I love that sutra.
But if it was a desert island with dangerous animals on it, then I’d choose 2.35 – ahimsa pratishtayam tat sannidhau vairyatyaga – all beings cease to be hostile in the presence of that yogin who is established in non-harm.