YJ Interview: Patricia Walden

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Growing up in Newton, Massachusetts, in the 1960s, Patricia Walden was always looking for something more. That “something more” turned out to be practicing yoga, studying with the revered master B.K.S. Iyengar, and teaching classes internationally. On the way to finding her practice, she lived through the aftermath of the Summer of Love in San Francisco, used heroin off and on for a few years, and survived two broken marriages. Today, a far more peaceful Walden is back in Massachusetts and considered one of the most esteemed yoga teachers in the world.

How did growing up in the 1960s affect you? The beatnik generation was happening. Bob Dylan hadn’t gone electric yet, and Joan Baez was popular. These kindred souls became my role models. I hitchhiked to their concerts in 1966 and 1967. That was magical.

How did you get to San Francisco? Before I went to California, I lived in a commune with writers. LSD was a door opener for me. I read about San Francisco, Allen Ginsberg, and a way of living freely. I went to San Francisco with a totally open heart. I thought I’d find gold—enlightenment, a community. It didn’t turn out that way. When I arrived, the hippie era had gone dark—people were doing hard drugs like methamphetamines. For some years I shot heroin. I’m fortunate I’m alive.

How did you find yoga? I met someone who taught, and the first pose I learned was Shoulderstand. I’d been feeling emptiness. When I did the pose, I felt complete, present, nurtured. Those 10 minutes were a turning point.

How did you meet Mr. Iyengar? It was a beautiful sunny May day in 1976 in Wellesley, Massachusetts, during his second U.S. tour. He walked onto the platform dressed all in white. In those days, teachers sat in the front of the room and didn’t adjust people. Iyengar walked around, looked at each of us intensely, and adjusted us. His energy went right into my very cells. Some people were frightened, saying, “He’s mean.” I felt seen, and I thought, “I’ve been waiting all my life for an experience like this.” The following February I went to Pune, India, and did my first intensive with him. I’ve gone every year since.

When did you get serious about teaching? My second marriage hadn’t worked out, and my practice wasn’t fulfilling. I had been living in a mansion, then moved into a tiny apartment. I spent lots of time alone. I was devastated for a time. But then my practice took off in 1982.

How did you feel about your first video, Yoga for Beginners? I’m an introvert, so I initially said no. But I got persuaded. The subtitle was The Best Class You’ll Ever Take Is Now on Video. I was embarrassed. My teacher was a master, not me! I’d rather be leading a retreat, but doing videos is a certain kind of satisfaction. People who buy them might not find yoga otherwise.

Do you have any children? I had a child and gave him up for adoption in San Francisco. I’ve done most everything I want to do in my life, but the one thing I haven’t done is find my son.