We welcome the honor to publish our first interview with Gordon Kaplan, who is a certified Yoga Teacher at the 2,000-hour level, and is registered with Yoga Alliance (RYT-500, ERYT-200) and the International Association of Yoga Therapists. He is a graduate of The College of Purna Yoga under the guidance of renowned Yoga Master Aadil Palkhivala
Gordon Kaplan spent 20 years in coaching, working in high school, college, and the NBA. He is the founder of Team Yoga, a Seattle-based company specializing in yoga training for professional athletes, teams, and organizations. Gordon designed, and now teaches, a comprehensive, integrated program to develop athletes mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Gordon conducts workshops and seminars around the country on integrating yoga with athletics. He is a faculty member at Alive and Shine Center in Bellevue, WA under Palkhivala’s direction.
Here we start with mission statement of Team Yoga
Preventing Injury, Extending Careers.
Mission- Create a complete athlete through our comprehensive, integrated program to reduce injury, speed recovery, lengthen careers, and enhance performance of professional and amateur athletes, teams, and organizations.
Yetta: Can you begin by telling us how you started your journey with yoga?
Gordon Kaplan: I believe such journeys begin well before the average person (me, in this case) is aware. My practice of integrity, honesty, and humility began early but my more palpable entrée to Yoga was a physical one. I was living in Orlando, working for the NBA franchise there. Some newer friends invited me to “the ashram” where they were taking yoga classes. Of course I accepted their invitation and what I noticed after class is that I was ready for my day and didn’t need recovery time. Coming from a traditional athletic background, and being over 30, I was accustomed to resting, icing, and waiting to feel 100%. This was not the case for me with asana (yoga postures) and that experience and feeling has remaining with me for the last 15 years.
I was fortunate to have two excellent guides for my beginnings in Orlando; – Annette Fair who introduced me to alignment-based asana and “Light on Yoga”, and Devi Dyal Singh, one of the most down-to-earth and real people I have met on the path.
Yetta: That is really interesting, Gordon; can you please let us know since when, you have been practicing yoga and what was your source of motivation??
Gordon Kaplan: My physical practice began in 1999 however, in reflection, it is obvious that the broader practice of Yoga (which is NOT asana) had begun for me much earlier. Now I am in my 14th year of practice and my definition of Yoga has grown by quantum leaps. I suppose my motivation, again for the physical practice, was a kinder way to tap into physicality without damaging my body. Though as we well know, it is entirely possible to damage the body through aggressive, careless asana done without mind and absent of sound teaching.
Yetta: When did you decide to dedicate yourself to yoga personally and professionally?
Gordon Kaplan: When I returned home to Seattle in 2003 and “accidentally” found my current teacher my intention was to deepen my practice and share the work with interested others. Frankly, dedicating one’s self to yoga is something that needs to happen every morning. True it is a re-dedication of sorts but the point still holds – the choice, and subsequent commitment is refreshed each day.
My professional dedication was tested when my teacher, Aadil Palkhivala,founded the College of Purna Yoga™. The two-year, 2000-hour program seemed daunting and I resisted it with every cell in my body. And yet a year later there I was, enrolled as a student. Joyfully I had chosen to deepen my studies with a Master “teacher of teachers”. I graduated in 2007 and maintain my certification in Purna Yoga™ each year. I continue to study with and assist Aadil, now in my 9th year.
Yetta: Describe yoga and its benefits in general
Gordon Kaplan: We have, temporarily I hope, moved away from Yoga’s truth in terms of its definition. While every practitioner and teacher can regurgitate “yoga means union”, the phrase has become trite from overuse and lack of understanding. Yoga is a system of tools that assist a mindful, dedicated practitioner in bringing their spirit into their living thus enjoining it with the body and the mind. One of the aforementioned tools is asana – but Yoga isn’t asana and asana is merely a sliver of Yoga. Asana, while not at all the entirety of Yoga, is important for two reasons; the vessel which holds the spirit must be clean, health and wholesome AND most human beings relate more easily to that which can be touched or palpated and, therefore, the body is our conduit or portal into the larger practice of Yoga.
The benefits are so numerous it is challenging to list and still have a reader take the writing seriously. In the bigger picture the practice connects you with your spirit, soul, or light. At the second level down from the bigger picture the benefits can most easily be summed up as “reducing suffering”. Think about that. All the forms of suffering we experience in the course of our living; physical aches and pains, mental anguish, loss, aversion, attachment. When looked at through this lens it becomes obvious that the practice of “capital y” yoga teaches us to respect and love ourselves, respect others, take responsibility for our living and well being, and become the kind of beings it is our very birthright to be.
Yetta: Thank you for explaining Yoga in details. Gordon, what do you love the most about teaching yoga?
Gordon Kaplan: I love seeing students pick up the tools of the practice, of their own choosing, and then use them in their living to have more joy, more love, and less suffering and anxiety in their lives. I love seeing a student have an “ah-ha” moment that opens new neural pathways in their brain. I love that those who come to learn really want to be there. And of course I love people and my own growing through both practice and teaching.
Yetta: What in your opinion are the greatest health benefits of doing yoga?
Gordon Kaplan: I want to steer clear of ranking one health benefit over another. Why, because this overlooks the necessity of applied context. What that means is that circumstances dictate the answer and thus we are left with “it depends”.
That having been said, an appropriate practice counterbalances our nature and frees us from Samskara – the etched patterns in our consciousness. It allows the overly fiery person to calm down and the sloth-like person to get moving. It prevents us from burning out or retreating from life into the shadows.
Pragmatically speaking an appropriate and complete Yoga practice supports health and well being in the body’s five primary systems (immune, circulatory, endocrine, digestive, and respiratory), alleviates stress on the nervous system.It facilitates mindful, nourishing food choices, increases bone density, and shifts one’s paradigm.It allows us to accept life as a set of experiences without branding them “good” or “bad” so that we remain calm of mind through what non-practitioners would call “peaks and valleys”. Ultimately the practice allows us to tap in to our very reason for being here, our Svadharma. To say it in a sentence … the practice of Yoga allows for the exploration, discovery and fulfillment of one’s purpose.
Yetta: What advice you will give to people who want to start practicing (learning) yoga?
Gordon Kaplan: There are two basic types of people. The first is a person who needs a bit of “oomph” to get going, a lift, a hand, a gentle prod in the rear. The second kind of person is rushing around like a maniac with little or no time in their schedule. They need brakes, breath, space, a tug on the reigns, so to speak. So each would require different advice (see my “context” reply elsewhere in this segment).
But I do have one really important concept to share and that is to be a discerning shopper when it comes to Yoga. Find three studios near you, write out 4-5 questions, and call each studio asking them the questions. Feel! Feel the energy behind their reply. This can’t be masked or faked or manipulated. If they are doing the work they will radiate. If they are not, they will not.
Pick one studio. Go and take at least 6 classes with three different teachers. After each class sit quietly and feel. What is the residue of the teaching? Once you’ve found a place ONLY THEN do you decide about pricing and payment. The primary factor is the efficacy of the practice, which is passed through the teaching. What it costs is secondary. When you find the real deal you will become very creative in affording it, I assure you. Please, please, please do not look for discount classes first. This is a good way to sustain injury and get nothing at all from the practice and blame yoga for your experience. Remember, yoga may have only one chance to make a first impression.
Yetta: What advice you will give to Yogis who want to be a yoga teacher?
Gordon Kaplan: Yogi is a term of deepest respect and so I do not toss it around causally. For the person on the path of Yoga who feels a deep calling to teach, that person should teach and do so from the heart.
Be advised however, the skill set of a yoga student is not at all the skill set of a yoga teacher. A teacher has to learn to modulate their voice, hold the energy of the room, empower others, instruct in command language but with compassion. A teacher has to have a dedicated, ongoing practice and a commitment to continuing education. A teacher has to know Yama, Niyama, and Klesha backwards and forwards AND live them. When I, as a teacher, do not live what I am teaching then I lack integrity and there is disharmony in the teaching. Likewise when I have tools that I am withholding from qualified students I am lacking integrity and disharmony is there once again.
There is a misconception that we should address here. I want to stress that the tools of Yoga are incredibly powerful. When the tools of Yoga are not wielded appropriately people are harmed. Ergo it is impossible to train as a Yoga Teacher in 22 hours and a 200-hour training should be viewed only as the “tip of the iceberg”. Seek out sound training so that you do not leave a wake of bodies behind you. On more than one occasion at Yoga Journal Conferences I’ve had to work individually with students damaged in a previous session.
- Please learn the balance between safety and effect.
- Please commit to your training and behave as a professional.
- Please feel things in your own body before transmitting them to others.
- Please leave your ego at the door.
- And please study with someone who knows what they are doing.
Yetta: In today’s era, all are busy with work and all. Which asanas you suggest our readers that can be performed in small time stamp and can help to tone whole body?
Gordon Kaplan: This is a well-formulated question and very relevant for the reader.
Generally speaking, in-class work should prepare the student to do a home practice. When I teach there are specific series that I use. Over time students learn them intimately and can take them wherever they may go, home, travel etcetera. Sequencing, on the other hand, requires a significant teacher-training.
To me classical Surya Namaskar is the best answer to this question. There are eleven postures, they are in an order, and their result is to condition and open the body and bring the practitioner into the present moment. It can also be done in short or long periods of time by people of all ages. Furthermore it is gentle on the joints, can be done slowly or rapidly, and provides weight-bearing on all four limbs which builds bone density.
If additional time were available then a standing posture, an inversion, a twist, and a backbend could be added before the required Savasana. Savasana is required. Please do not omit Savasana. Savasana is required. It seals the practice. Once again, Savasana is required.
Specifically? Trikonasana and Parsvakonasana, Sirsasana (only when properly taught, otherwise Adho Mukha Svanasana), Sarvangasana (again properly taught), Matseyangasana, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, and then Savasana.
Yetta: That is really huge list of important Yoga Poses. At last, Say few words for our readers…
Gordon Kaplan: Consider this. Everything has causality. This includes our own lot in life. We learn through the practice to take full and complete responsibility for our living instead of blaming others. When we blame others they are responsible for where we are and thus are also responsible for where we go. Only when we are able to take full responsibility for our living can we make changes. When we accept that we have gotten ourselves “here”, wherever here may be, then we are empowered to get ourselves to where we would like to be.
Yetta: Thank you very much Gordon for sharing your experience with our readers and such a wonderful interview. Thank you for your time.