Can you imagine a big city without yoga, without the internet, and without the underlying teachings of the East being embedded anywhere? Seattle did not have yoga etched anywhere until very late in the 1960s. The teachings of the East were first carried forward to me by the Beatles in some of their music and by Ram Dass in the book, “Be Here Now”. Other Indian gurus that I observed in the early 70s in Seattle included: Yogi Bhajan, Swami Muktananda, Pir Vilayat Khan, Swami Satchitananda and others. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brought the Transcendental Meditation practice to many. Lilias Folan did present a housewife kind of yoga on American television in the 70s (not what I was looking for) and yet there was no yoga studio to be found in Seattle – until Marie Svoboda opened hers.
Marie Svoboda opened her Queen Anne studio, “Marie Svoboda Yoga” in 1969. Marie had the only yoga studio in Seattle until 1977 when Richard Schachtel, Gail Malizia and myself each opened our own independent yoga studios. The three of us had all been long time students of Marie. Here is my story of what the yoga scene was like in the 1970s.
As a student at the University of Washington from 1967 – 1970, I participated in many Vietnam War protests, as well as protests against many other things that the “perceived establishment” was behind (racial prejudice, prejudice against women, war crimes and so much more). After receiving a high draft lottery number in 1969 I decided to drop out of college to become a full time hippie. In the full embracement of a hippie lifestyle, I was led to yoga.
In 1970, I took my first yoga class through the U of W Experimental College class. The class was taught by a student of Marie Svoboda’s. I began studying with Marie in 1971 at the age of 22 – she was 51 years old at this time. Marie turned me into a yogi. Marie was a very strict and charismatic teacher who drew every kind of person imaginable to her yoga studio throughout her career. Her students were of all ages, from 10 to 80 years old. She brought together housewives, hippies, professional working people, scientists, educators, students, dancers, athletes, and almost anyone interested in body-mind connection. She was the only yoga show going on in the city of Seattle.
Marie hosted countless numbers of workshops for other leading yoga teachers from the mid to latter 1970s. When the Iyengar system of yoga hit the American scene in the mid 70’s, Marie wanted to explore it, though the two styles (Marie and Iyengar) were at complete odds with each other in many ways. As a result of inviting most of the, then, famous Iyengar teachers to her studio, as well as many other teachers who had their own unique way of relaying yoga, Marie exposed herself to what was new in the American yoga scene.
I began teaching through the Experimental College of the U of W in 1974. As the name implies, it was an experimental approach to education and learning, and anyone could teach anything they wished to. I taught a few classes of hatha yoga each quarter, for which I was paid $1 a class from each student. The classes were sometimes huge and yet it was never going to lead anywhere that would make my parents proud. After subbing for Marie whenever she would leave town for several years I decided to open the Hatha Yoga Center in February of 1977. Our first location was in the Ravenna district of Seattle. At this time in the Seattle yoga scene there were no yoga mats, such as we see everywhere today. I cannot tell you how many times I was given a very blank stare when I said that my profession was as a yoga teacher. Yoga was an obscure notion to most Seattlelites throughout the 70s. There was very little understanding of yoga by the general public until many years later.
What Was It Like to Teach Yoga in Seattle in the 70s?
I can truthfully say it was very difficult. Yoga came into the American psyche very slowly and it has taken countless numbers of years of work by untold numbers of yogis to cultivate the conception and growth of yoga into the modern world. The teachings and principles of yoga that have swept all across the world are seeds of thought and action that have taken a long time to germinate, sprout and flower. Of course yoga is no stranger to change, as yoga is always mutating and changing with the times. The world of yoga is a flourishing creation that will continue to grow because of all the present day yogis who are carrying the message of unity and oneness forward into the next evolutionary step that is being harbored in right now.
– Om Shanti, Shanti, Om
[Photo by Elsie Escobar | CC BY]
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