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YJ Interview: Care Giver

Elise Browning Miller always wanted to help others—yoga taught her to care for herself, so that she could.

By Chrisandra Fox


At 15, Elise Browning Miller was diagnosed with scoliosis. Forgoing the recommended surgery, she discovered that yoga kept her pain free. She then embarked on a lifelong journey into the physical, philosophical, and spiritual dimensions of yoga, and turned her condition into a chance to serve others. Browning Miller, who has been a student of Swami Satchidananda and B.K.S. Iyengar, owns and directs the California Yoga Center in Northern California and offers yoga workshops throughout the world.

Who has inspired your journey? A friend gave me Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi. After reading it, I had a dream. In it, Yogananda told me that I would come to the West Coast and teach yoga. Eventually, I did. My first teacher was Swami Satchidananda, the founder of Integral Yoga. When I was getting my master's in therapeutic recreation at the University of North Carolina, I brought Swami Satchidananda there in 1972. More than 1,000 people showed up. He was a bhakti yogi; my heart opened, and he gave me the sense of how to live my life as a yogi. When I came to Iyengar and focused on the asanas, I had a broad perspective.

Why did you then study with B.K.S. Iyengar? When I moved to California in 1974, I met Mr. Iyengar. Right away he saw my asymmetry. He gave amazing adjustments with the back of his hand. People thought he was hitting, but to me it was awakening; his attention helped me with alignment. When I went to India to study with him, I thought, "Oh, I'll get all this attention and healing." Well, he ignored me! He thought I needed to gain strength, confidence, and power. He made me do Chaturangas, jumpings, Handstands, Headstands, and backbends I never thought I would do. Two weeks later I was stronger, and that's when he gave me attention.

What do the two teachers have in common? They have a love of and devotion to yoga, and they laugh at their own jokes. It's important to see dedicated teachers experience moments of joy.

How did you come to be a pioneer for using yoga to help people with scoliosis? Iyengar's attention helped me realize that I needed to give myself attention. I did a lot of yoga in that period after I met him—three to four hours a day— and was just focusing on my back and healing. Self-empowerment is something I emphasize with my students with scoliosis. Yoga helped me avoid surgery. I want to share that.

What have been obstacles on your spiritual path? My mother died when I was eight, so I've always wanted to live life fully. I also want to help others. I volunteered in the Peace Corps, and now I want to help people with scoliosis manage pain and see that they have options. But I constantly need to strike a balance between taking care of myself and taking care of others. Swami Satchidananda said to me, "Don't forget to take care of yourself." After my first trip to India, I learned that I needed to nurture and strengthen myself before I could give to others.

For more on Miller's experience with scoliosis and on yoga for scoliosis, see

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