Inquiry into the Yoga of Life
We were recently inspired by this letter from Frank Buckley (right), a Jesuit priest and Kripalu-trained yoga teacher in California, who wrote in response to our request for Kripalu Stories. With his permission, we are sharing it here to honor the work of Kripalu Yoga teachers everywhere—in bringing the gift of yoga into the world and in committing to their own passionate inquiry into the yoga of life.
I am a Jesuit in California and during my "Long Experiment" (the time when a second-year novice leaves the novitiate for several months to work in a Jesuit apostolate full-time), I worked in Los Angeles as a therapist in an alcohol and drug detoxification program. After leading some family interventions at the treatment center, I found myself stressed out and exhausted. A friend suggested I take a class at a yoga studio in Santa Monica; it took just one class to get me hooked.
Yoga inspired such a transformation in my life that I decided I would like to give back some of what I had received. A few years ago, I was working as a counselor at a prep school in San Jose and proposed two classes to break up the monotony of all-day counseling—a class on Ignatian spirituality in the Religious Studies department and another, Introduction to Yoga, to be taught in Physical Education.
The dean of scheduling called me into her office the next week and asked if I wanted the good news or the bad news. She told me that only five students wanted to take the spirituality elective but more than 100 students had signed up for yoga. I’d already been inspired by Stephen Cope’s book Yoga and the Quest for the True Self and knew from my reading that he had strong ties with Kripalu Center. So this good news about the 100 interested students was just the push I needed to take the leap and enroll in Kripalu’s monthlong yoga teacher training program. The possibility of a summer in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in the beautiful Berkshires began to seem like a real and exciting possibility. Signing up for the teacher training at Kripalu would allow me to teach the four sections of Introduction to Yoga the following fall semester in a way that the students deserved.
My summer at Kripalu was magical! It was the best training I could have asked for. I met incredible people from all over the world, many of whom I remain friends with to this day. In addition, I had never been to the Berkshires, and it was everything I’d heard about and more.
Following the completion of my Kripalu teaching certification, I taught yoga to high school students for a year and loved it. During the parent-teacher nights, several parents wanted to know why a Jesuit was teaching yoga in the high school’s Physical Education department. This answer would become more apparent to all of us as the class progressed. I have never felt as connected with the kids in their struggles of adolescence as during their yoga class. The class was so popular that the faculty asked me to offer a yoga class during a faculty in-service day and more than 50 teachers signed up!
The following year I was assigned to study theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Since I’ve been here in Berkeley, I have been focusing on teaching yoga to marginal populations. I have been given the opportunity to teach yoga to the men at San Quentin State Prison, to homeless men and women in a drug and alcohol treatment center, and to 12 boys from 12 different Los Angeles gangs brought into our Jesuit retreat center by an outside organization. The latter was the most intense class I have taught to date. Two of the boys were in wheelchairs from bullet wounds and others were tattooed from head to toe. The boys loved the yoga, and it was a perfect example of the surprising ways God can be experienced by people from all walks of life. God was so present in that class it felt as though he could be scooped right out of the air.
Currently, I am working on connecting the expert Jesuit theology of Karl Rahner with teaching yoga to marginal populations. I use Rahner’s notion that the "hole in the soul" experienced by so many people on the margins of society can only be filled by a direct experience of the Divine. I am using the tools I learned in the teacher training program at Kripalu as an instrument for that deepest desire in the heart of all of us to experience God in a real and profound way.
How teaching yoga will continue to unfold in my life remains a mystery, but my time at Kripalu radically changed my life and what I learned there continues to unfold and bear fruit in my life.
Frank Buckley, SJ
© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. Originally published in the November 2006 issue of Kripalu Online. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.