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Considering Baron Baptiste’s childhood, it’s no surprise that he grew into the talented and respected yoga teacher he is today. His parents, Magaña and Walt Baptiste, opened one of the first yoga schools in San Francisco in 1952, and kept great company: Baptiste recalls dinner parties with B.K.S. Iyengar, and Indra Devi was his godmother.
Of course, growing up yogi long before the practice was mainstream wasn’t all ahimsa and namaste.“I always felt so different and misunderstood by other kids; it was challenging to connect with them,” says Baptiste. “But looking back now, I see that some of those early experiences gave me thick enough skin to stay true to living and sharing yoga.” This month, Baptiste shares an exclusive practice that touches on this theme of standing in your truth, or what he calls your true north—and provides a glimpse of his new Yoga Journal Master Class on enlivening your practice, which launches in March. Learn more about this inspiring teacher.
I have vivid memories of being 12 and on pilgrimage with my parents in Rishikesh, India. I started my days doing saltwater sinus flushes with a neti pot, and by 5 a.m., I was gathered with a couple hundred young monks for meditation, pranayama, and asana, followed by study of scripture and more asana practices. I remember being touched and inspired by the profound results of yoga in the bodies, minds, and beings of so many people. It made me realize that through yoga, a human being can grow, let go, and alter their whole context toward living—if they so choose.
When I was around 17 years old, B.K.S. Iyengar invited me to attend one of his workshops. I felt honored and accepted, although at that point, I wasn’t very familiar with his style of yoga. I did my best to keep up, but I felt mostly lost—I had never practiced asana with that kind of rigor and physical intentionality. At some point, Iyengar said, “Do dropbacks.” I had no idea what he meant. I looked around and saw the other practitioners drop back from Tadasana (Mountain Pose) into Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose). In that moment, I felt kind of hopeless or flawed.
Noticing my hesitation, Iyengar walked over to me with intensity in his eyes, and with a fierce kindness, he directed and spotted me—almost pushing me—into the pose. Then he said, “If a method clicks with you, practice that method or technique for some time, and give up all other methods. Focus only on that one method. But it has to be one that clicks for you.” That day, Iyengar lit a flame in me for the physical practice of asana.
I never wanted to be a yoga teacher in my youth. I taught some kids classes in my early teens, which was fun but more play-around time. One Saturday, my father needed someone to teach his morning breathing class. I didn’t want to, but I taught it anyway. I was 18 years old, and I remember feeling like I was doing a terrible job. But afterward, the students kept sharing how they authentically enjoyed my teaching. In that moment, a teacher was born in me. My father would say, “You know a lot, you’ve had great teachers and learning experiences, the practices are in you. If you don’t share what you know, you lose it. You have a responsibility.”
I often say, “Baptiste Yoga is for anyone, but it’s not for everyone.” Anyone can do it, and anyone can benefit from practicing it—if the method resonates. Yoga can be intimidating, and the traditional yoga world sometimes perpetuates this. It’s my mission to make yoga accessible to anyone, from any background, who is looking for total physical, mental, and emotional transformation.
A great teacher or mentor allows you to discover something for yourself—which is different from telling you the answer—and does not rush the process. I have been so fortunate in my life to have had many masterful teachers and mentors. They have all inspired me to be a better version of myself in various ways. Now I encourage people to stop looking to me or anyone else for answers and instead to trust themselves more. I’ve personally tried on living other people’s answers, and it’s never gone well. I’ve realized I need to discover for myself the insights that best fit me.
Yoga Journal’s online Master Class program brings the wisdom of world-renowned teachers to your fingertips, offering access to exclusive workshops with a different master teacher every six weeks. In March, Baron Baptiste presents a practice designed to enliven and empower your practice. If you’re ready to get a fresh perspective and maybe even meet a lifelong yoga mentor, sign up for YJ’s year-long membership at yogajournal.com/masterclass.