Midvalley yogi Rod Stryker appears at Aspen Eco Fest
June 8, 2012
ASPEN – When Rod Stryker discovered yoga, he found it was just what he needed. His body was doing fine – Stryker was just 19 at the time – but his mind and spirit could use much calming.
“I simply discovered stress at a young age. I was 19 and already starting to hit a wall,” Stryker, now in his mid-50s, said. “I had majored in philosophy and psychology at the University of Denver, and my first yoga class encapsulated more of my studies than three years of college.”
Stryker pursued yoga with a seriousness of purpose. Two and a half years after beginning his practice he found his key teacher, a 70-something South African named Mani Finger who had lived in India and was instrumental in developing the Ishta technique that focused on an individual’s specific needs. Stryker became the only American disciple of Finger to be given the title of Yogiraj, or master of yoga, and began teaching in Los Angeles.
As Stryker’s reputation grew and he began receiving invitations to teach outside Southern California, he realized that not everyone saw yoga in the same way that he did. Where Stryker had been taught that yoga was useful for the entire being – a grounding he calls “exceptional” – he found that yoga had been introduced in America largely as a physical practice, and that most people viewed yoga as a tool for the body alone.
“That’s when I found my mission as a teacher – to help students experience the far-reaching impact yoga could have in people’s lives,” Stryker said. “What I had learned was unique. Most people were on the mind that yoga was about stretching, and the physical.”
Stryker, who has lived in Missouri Heights for seven years, spreads his thoughts on yoga and more with an appearance on Saturday at the Wheeler Opera House as part of the Aspen Eco Fest. Stryker will talk and sign copies of his 2011 book, “The Four Desires: Creating a Life of Purpose, Prosperity, Happiness, and Freedom.” The appearance will be followed by a yoga rave on the Wheeler stage, featuring DJ Lior, percussionist Eden Vardy, and a handful of local yoga instructors.
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Stryker notes that yoga’s popularity in the U.S. began to explode about 15 years ago. Lagging behind, however, is the full recognition of yoga’s potential benefits.
“We’ve reduced the spectrum of what it can be, how it can benefit us,” he said.
Stryker believes that 10 or 15 years ago, it might have been appropriate to treat yoga as a means toward physical health. But in his view, stress levels in the U.S. have increased to the point where yoga needs to address them.
“As our need level increases, our teaching has to evolve,” he said. “Yoga had to be a practice about the mind, not just the body. There’s only so much that can be done without the more subtle, mindful techniques.”
Stryker’s response has been to develop Para Yoga, a system for training teachers who will embody the full scope of yoga. He says his long-term goal is that, two or three generations from now, yoga will commonly be viewed in the way he was taught to see it.
“So my children’s children’s children will be able to seek out yoga in the U.S. that addresses the full person,” he said. “So that two or three generations away, the kind of yoga that ultimately provides profound enrichment would be available because of how many teachers I’ve trained.” Stryker adds that about a thousand people have enrolled in his trainings, with 50 teachers certified so far.
The notion that Stryker has more on his mind than getting people to stretch their limbs is confirmed by his recent book. “The Four Desires” examines how to live a productive, happy life by pursuing our desires.
Stryker recognizes that the word ‘desire’ is somewhat loaded; the Buddha famously linked desire and suffering. But Stryker points out that suffering, in the Buddha’s formulation, came from clinging to the outcome of our desires. Further, Stryker says that not all desires are equal.
“There are wholesome and unwholesome desires. There are desires that are helpful and desires that are pleasant,” he said. “The desire to be more spiritually fulfilled is a spiritual desire. The desire to have a life of meaning – that’s not an unspiritual pursuit.”
Yoga – along with meditation, breathing and visualization practices – is intended, in part, to guide people toward the higher desires.
“Yoga is meant to allow us to have a calm and tranquil mind, to be clear about who we are, and to discern which desires will be helpful and which will not,” Stryker said. “And give us the courage to pursue those meaningful desires.”
And if we loosen our calf muscles in the process, that’s a nice bonus.
Aspen Eco Fest opens at 6 p.m. today at the Wheeler Opera House with a showcase of short films about sustainability.
The Eco Marketplace, featuring the Sustainable Food Court, will be at the intersection of Mill St. and Hyman Ave. from 10-5 on Saturday and Sunday. Sunday also features, at 9 a.m., the Yoga Day of Action ; Music Together, for young children and their parents, at 11 a.m.; and Kids Yoga, at 11:30 a.m., all in Paepcke Park.
For further information, go to aspenecofest.com.