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I began my yoga training in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1968 with Mary Palmer and Priscilla Neel. We were not doing Iyengar Yoga at that time and I used to be the demonstrator for them. It was a wonderful way to learn humility. In 1972 shortly after the birth of my son I was involved in a serious horseback riding accident. I broke my back at the junction of T11 and T12 losing part of the T12 vertebrae as well as destroying the disc between the two vertebrae, I suffered briefly from temporary paralysis but slowly worked my way toward recovery. When I told my teacher Mary Palmer what had happened she replied that my injury would be the perfect excuse to get B.K.S. Iynegar to come to Ann Arbor. In April of 1973 “Guruji”or Mr. Iyengar as we called him them, arrived in Ann Arbor to teach a series of classes. He put me in the middle of the front row of the class and said he would guide me. From the very first asana with his guidance I knew that I had found my teacher.
I continued to study with Mr. Iyengar in 1974 and 1976 in the states. With his guidance and a lot of hard work and patience I was finally able to bend backwards which I had been told would not be possible. I began traveling to Pune, India in 1976 caught the “ Pune Bug” and continued to travel there nearly annually to study with Guruji, Geeta his daughter and Prashant his son. I have been to Pune 40 times. Now that his granddaughter Abhijata and his daughter Sunita are teaching I have begun studying with them as well.
In 1981 during a conversation with Guruji he told me that my dharma was to teach his yoga. He encouraged me to expand the scope of my teaching. In addition to my regular classes I also taught for 27 years for the University of Pennsylvania recreation department working with athletic teams as well as students and faculty members. In 1993 Gurji certified me at the Advanced level which meant that I was able to conduct classes for all levels of students. In addition to this I served for six and a half years as the Certification Chair for the National Iyengar Yoga Association. In my home town of Philadelphia I was awarded best of Philly four times and in 2009 I was given the title of the doyenne of yoga by the Philadelphia Magazine.
In 2005 I was bucked off my horse who had been either stung or bitten creating a spectacular show for the two other riders who were with me. This time my injuries were extensive and life threatening but once again yoga came to the rescue and I pulled through. Six weeks after the accident I went to Estes Park where Guruji immediately went to work on me. Later Guruji spoke to my husband and told him that I needed to go to Pune as a medical student after I had an operation on my right shoulder to repair a severed rotator cuff muscle. Later in time I ended up having to have three more operations over the course of the next thirteen years related to that accident including a hip replacement and a back surgery. Through it all I continued to find my healing source in my yoga practice.
Time catches up with us all especially if you are accident prone and aging at the same time. Tripping over a speed bump in the dark in March of 2022 I managed to add a smashed elbow and a couple of other injuries to my litany of accidents. Perhaps this all means that I am about to get off the karmic wheel. Luckily I had a superb surgeon who was able to reconstruct an articulating surface so I still have an elbow. It isn’t totally straight and it isn’t all that strong but it functions and I am able to do plenty of yoga asanas. Of course I have had to let go of lots of asanas but it has taken me much deeper into my pranayama practice and intensified my use of the breath in those asanas that I can do. It has also intensified my study of yoga beyond just asana which has been very rewarding.
I have been extremely fortunate to have studied with Guruji right up until he passed is 2014 and with Geeta until she passed in 2018 and now with the remaining members of the Iyengar family. I have made it my life’s work to pass on whatever I have learned and understood about this method including some of the newer aspects that Prashant is teaching us.
Joan’s teaching is true to the traction’s high standards. Her language is direct and succinct and often includes humor. Her understanding of the three aspects, body, mind and breath is drawn from spending 50 years with the Iyengars. Joan genuinely enjoys being with her students and generously shares what she knows.