This humble teacher is reinvigorating yoga’s spiritual side.
When Kristin Laak was 20 years old, she found herself in Mysore, India, studying Ashtanga Yoga with K. Pattabhi Jois. That was 37 years ago, and since then Laak has been teaching yoga herself; today, she offers three donation-based Jivana Yoga classes a week near her home in Sebastopol, California, in addition to leading teacher trainings and workshops. Every year, she travels to India to deepen her studies and participate in the development of the Sadvidya Foundation, an organization working to bring the lesser-known wisdom of ancient Indian yogic sciences, such as Sanskrit fluency, to the modern world.
Yoga Journal: What drew you to deepen your practice beyond Ashtanga?
Kristin Laak: When I lived in India, I studied the Bhagavad Gita, pranayama, and meditation with Dr. Shankaranarayana Jois, a professor of Vedic astrology and yogic philosophy. As his student, I felt my heart and soul being deeply stirred. He emphasized the experience of inner bliss that we are all capable of experiencing in this lifetime. Everything I teach I learned from him.
YJ: How do you live your yoga?
KL: There is no separation in my life from yoga—from how I eat (a vegetarian, sattvic diet) to how I take my baths (I do an Ayurvedic sesame-oil massage beforehand). A yogic lifestyle implies an element of being choosy—discriminating about what you expose yourself to. I also try to live simply and humbly. My house is a repurposed toolshed, and I still drive my 1993 car. Each morning, I get up at 4 a.m. to practice, and I also practice in the evening. I’m graced with a lifestyle that does not require me to have a cell phone, though I’m not averse to technology—I have a computer, and I often use Skype as part of my mentoring.
YJ:What has been one of yoga’s greatest gifts to you?
KL:Yoga has been a long, slow process of maturation for me. It has changed from a primarily physical exploration to an interior inquiry of seeing what emerges when the mind stops its pattern of thoughts. Now, I don’t look for my happiness outside—it’s a completely internal state. I can watch the hard moments move through me with more ease. Yoga’s effect on my life is not very glamorous, but it’s fostered the conditions for deep contentment.
YJ: How do you share and spread what you’ve learned?
KL: As a teacher, I constantly strive to shine a light on the noble qualities—nonviolence, truthfulness, a willingness to be of service—that my students already possess. I have found that when the noble is given the spotlight, our ignoble qualities lose their juice. The more we hold others up, the more this flow of support moves in our own direction. Touching just one soul is all it takes for me to consider myself successful. The mission of the Sadvidya Foundation is to promote peace and happiness for all.