When author/publisher Benjamin Darling contacted Integral Yoga Media to request permission to include a quote from Swami Satchidananda in his upcoming book, Everything I Need to Know I Learned From My Yoga Teacher, we were intrigued. And intrigued not only about what led to the book, but the story behind the Laughing Elephant Books company that published this beautifully illustrated book. We learned that Darling was inspired to write the book by his own unexpected encounter with Yoga. And, that in 1969 his parents, Harold and Sandra Darling, founded a company called Green Tiger Press because they wanted to share their love of old children’s books with as wide an audience as possible. In 1992 the family started Laughing Elephant Publishing to produce and distribute gift books and paper products that capture the values of past times. We encourage a visit to the very charming website that showcases these!
I didn’t seek out Yoga, Yoga found me. It happened to me accidentally when I was a longish guest at a friend’s home. The gracious couple I was staying with hosted a Yoga class in their living room Friday mornings. A few neighbors would stroll over and join in, and the teacher, also a neighbor, would walk over to teach and lead the class. All very well and good for them, I thought to myself, but if I want more coffee, or a buttered muffin, or a glass of water, I have to pass through the Yoga class to get to the kitchen.
“Join us.” they offered generously.
“I have no shorts.” I protested.
‘You can borrow these.” Shorts were proffered.
“I don’t know any Yoga.” I protested weakly.
“You don’t need to!” (these people were relentless!)
So rather than sit in my room without coffee, I joined a Yoga class. It’s as simple as that. But once I decided to join, I had the advantage of coming to it with no expectations, no judgement or agenda. I let go of my old conceptions relatively easily and just said ‘yes.’ And it worked amazingly well! My Yoga teacher, Kari, had a lot to do with this good transformation in my life. Her gentle, clear, instructions and unforced and welcoming spirituality invited me into a new, happier, and healthier way of being.
Initially my only thought, as I struggled to understand what pose to assume, was ‘how did I get this out of shape?!’ Kari would ask us to do something simple, like raise our hand over our head, and I would find myself sweaty and out of breath, straining mightily to do what a six-year-old does effortlessly all day long. I also discovered that I had muscles I didn’t even know about, or at least had forgotten about. As we lay on the floor in ‘half frog’ or lolled about in ‘happy baby’ I would feel muscles relaxing that had tensed up sometime in the 1980s and that hadn’t had a break since. I liked this feeling. And so I came back for more.
Gradually, as I came to know the various poses better, the effort reduced and the practice increased, I found myself understanding things the Yoga teacher had said hundreds of times, and I began to sense the deeper message of teacher’s constant return to the breath. Om. Shanti. Of course I had only just begun, and am only still beginning, on a journey whose depth and destination are as yet unknown. But one of the things I like best about Yoga is that it can be approached from a variety of different perspectives and, cosmologies, and great benefits in terms of physical fitness, spiritual enlightenment and personal growth, can be gained by the adept and the novice alike. One only need begin again. And again. And again.
One day in Yoga class (as my mind wandered off from the present moment!) I was drawn back to Yoga by the words of the teacher… ‘let go’ she said. She was referring to a pose specifically, but suddenly it struck me the ‘letting go’ was occurring on multiple levels. It was then that the word ‘Yoga’ as more than just an exercise and stretching practice really began to sink in. As I began to read more about Yoga and its history, I conceived of a book illustrating what had happened to me in class, a kind of Yoga practice on paper that fused the spiritual words of a Yoga teacher with poses and some of the great things I was reading. I wanted it to be a poetic illustration of how the words spoken in a Yoga class intersect with the things we can do to improve our everyday lives, like breathing, and letting go, and reaching higher. As I worked on this idea I began to suspect that I had honed in on and discovered something that everyone else who practices Yoga knew already. That ‘something’ is expressed perfectly by the pioneering Yoga instructor Judith Hanson Lasater: “Yoga is not about touching your toes, it’s about what you learn on the way down.”
I continue to practice Yoga with my original sangha (albeit over Zoom these days.) And I continue to grow in my practice (albeit slowly.) I am so blessed that I was accidentally put in the way of Yoga and that I didn’t fight it or come up with reasons to say no, as I so often do. That liminal space between inertia and beginning, between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ or ‘maybe another time,’ is huge in so many aspects of our lives. Friends and family, all the great Yoga teachers out there, and also books, help to span that divide. All of them invite us into the practice and encourage us and walk with us on the journey. I am so very grateful for all of them and realize with growing wonderment that it is all Yoga.
About the Author:
Benjamin Darling is the author of more than a dozen books. He also is a publisher at the family business, Laughing Elephant Books. Everything I Need to Know I Learned From My Yoga Teacher is from Laughing Elephant Books, 2020. Illustrations by Laure Braconnier, calligraphy by Judythe Sieck, introduction by Kari Ross-Berry.