Chapter 3 – The Yoga Baby
In 1981 Sandra Albano married Gary Schwartz, moved to Asheville from Miami, and changed her name to Lillah Albano Schwartz. I left behind a thriving massage therapy practice along with my beloved Yoga and Sufi community.
At the time there were no public yoga classes in Asheville—hard to imagine now. So I started teaching weekly classes. Initially I shared space with the New Studio of Dance owned by Susan Collard. The following year I borrowed $1,000 from my mother to open my own studio space simply called “The Yoga Studio,” on N. Market St. above the Market Place restaurant. The studio held a total of 12 students max, who were often distracted by the wonderful smells coming up from the restaurant.
Yoga – Yogurt, that is something you eat … Right?
It was challenging to be the first because when poses gave me difficulty there was no one to advise me. There was so much about my body and about yoga I still did not know. To satisfy my need for guidance I invited Dr. Mary Schatz, an Iyengar yoga certified teacher, to visit from Nashville in my first sponsored workshop. Dr. Schatz was the author of Back Care Basics, a new book on Yoga. At that time the local newspaper, the Asheville Citizen Times, published an article promoting the event and Dr. Schatz’s expertise. The idea of yoga was so new to the area; I remember people being absolutely terrified of shoulder stands. This, along with my curiosity around my own back pain, made back care a good place for me to focus my teaching.
In 1983 I became pregnant with my only daughter and began to groom my two star students, Cindy Dollar and Bruce Cook, to teach classes during my maternity leave. For Bruce, yoga came and went, but Cindy took the ball and ran with it. If you know Cindy, you know she is a gifted teacher who remains on the path.
San Francisco Here We Come
In September 1984, Bruce became my travel partner, and the three of us, the third being my three-month-old daughter, flew to San Francisco for the first International Iyengar Yoga Convention.
Meeting B.K.S. Iyengar for the first time was an amazing experience. I knew his methods made sense to me, however, I was not prepared for the level of genius I was about to witness. During the daytime a number of his trained teachers taught classes. In the evenings we had Q&A with the master himself in a large auditorium. If you asked a question about a pose, you were expected to come on stage where Iyengar would evaluate the disharmony in your system and offer the antidote, which reduced or relieved the suffering of one yoga hopeful after another. I was smitten and studied his methods for the next 27 years. My fourth influencer.
Back in Asheville, as a person with an entrepreneurial mind, I made my first video, a 20-minute introduction to yoga called Yoga The Balanced Alternative. The video was intended to give new students an orientation to my classes to make them more comfortable with the practice. My teaching in this video, along with my excellent students, helped me become a certified Iyengar yoga teacher in 1987. At that time the only requirement was to have been teaching the Iyengar method for three years. I was part of the very first East Coast Iyengar certification. No written test … it was all performance based. Which is why the “performance” of myself and more importantly that of my students practicing in the video helped me achieve my certificate.
Yoga Journey to India
In 1989 I took my one and only trip to the Iyengar Institute in Pune, India, with Mary Dunn and her New York yoga group. I have Mary to thank for seeing my potential and dedication, and inviting me on the trip, which became my fifth big influencer. Mary’s mother was a student of B.K.S. Iyengar and helped bring him to the United States in 1973. Mary began learning under Iyengar in 1974, eventually becoming a founding director of the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States and a co-founder of three Iyengar Yoga Institutes in America.
When Mary called me I had only five weeks to get organized for this trip of a lifetime. Because I was to be gone for an entire month, I did some fast juggling, including arranging a flight for my five-year-old daughter to visit her grandma in Hartford, Connecticut.
When I arrived in New York I was pleased to see a face I knew from my Sufi retreats, Gabriel Halpern. Based in the Chicago area, he, like myself, continues to teach yoga. We were a gaggle of 35 to 40 yoga students, who were mostly on their first trip to India.
Do you know astrology? If you do then Mercury in retrograde will mean something to you.
It all began by sitting on our first airplane in New York for four hours (no regulations back then), missing a flight out of Heathrow airport, spending the night almost sleeping in London, sitting on the second airplane for two hours while tires were fixed, and arriving in Bombay at 2 AM, long after the last train had left for Pune. We were exhausted. The smell of India was pervasive and disorienting. Clearly I was no longer in Kansas.
Our fearless leader, Mary Dunn, managed to book us a bus rather than wait for the next train to Pune so we would not miss orientation later that same morning. Along the climb up to the Highlands, the bus kept stopping at each small hut where some level of civilization seemed to abide. At one of the stops we were all so curious about what was going on, that a few guys got out of the bus to investigate. It seems the brake line had a leak in it. The only repair option was a Band-Aid. Good news, we only bumped into two cars in our downhill roll into the town of Pune. Welcome to India.
Halfway around the world, jet lag is a big thing. We spent three hours in asana class every morning, holding poses longer than you could imagine. Lunch break was always welcome, which, if you were smart, included a nap so you could stay awake and focus for the two-hour pranayama class every afternoon. We did get one day off a week: I was smart enough!
When I returned to Asheville, I felt transformed. And I was back to being a wife, a mom, and a yoga studio owner.
What I learned in this decade:
1. The larger the group we become part of the more it functions as a reflection and extension of the forces inherent in the macrocosm. Hence, we all got to experience the full potential of Mercury retrograde together.
2. Every person believes his or her own perception is Truth. When discussing class takeaways at lunch near the Institute, I was amazed at the range of differences in perception from one person to the next. Not only were they all unique but also none of them seemed to agree. Was everyone right? Or was everyone wrong? Perception seemed to be an inside job.
This reminds me of the story of the five blind men and the elephant. Each man felt a different park of the animal. Their conclusions: The trunk was a tree, the ear was a fan, the tail was a rope, the side was a wall, and the nose was a hose. All of them believed they were correct, yet none of them held the whole picture. Back to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1.14 – Your practice will bear fruit when uninterrupted over time and performed with sincerity and respect.
3. India was spiritually rich and open. I watched as my deeper private thoughts manifested before my eyes, demonstrating to me the truth that thoughts are creative and all is contained within the matrix.