Odisa Walker: My Dad, My First Teacher

ON September 16, 2016

I grew up in the 70’s in Southern California. My mom and dad emigrated here from South America (Colombia & Peru) in their early twenties. They came not to get away from their own countries but simply looking for adventure, something different, and they made the US their home. My mom was down to earth, dealing with how to pay bills, put food on the table make a good life. My dad was sort of the opposite. He was, and remains a seeker. He was also looking for the ‘the good life’ but that meant something completely different to him. He was always looking for meaning, and from my mother’s perspective, not concerned enough about the day to day realities of supporting a family.

My dad’s life (and ours) changed drastically around 1973 when he went to a party at our neighbors place. He was already a vegetarian and wasn’t interested in drugs or alcohol so he wasn’t thrilled about attending but he remembers seeing this couple dressed in white. He was immediately drawn to them and started a conversation.The couple were members of a group called La Fraternidad Universal. This group was pretty far ut but not all that unusual for the seventies. My dad remembers thinking, ‘These are my people!’ They were the perfect balance of science, astrology and spirituality and yoga.

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I remember being a little girl and seeing my dad so serious about his yoga. It was a way of life. My dad and uncle were both a part of this group and greeted each other and all members of the group not with a handshake but an upraised hand with thumb turned in towards the palm and the words ‘Pax, hermano.'(peace, brother.) I remember many gatherings, everyone dressed in white, lots of vegetarian foods (the odors of these foods I remember to this day.) Lots of philosophical discussions and then the actual yoga asana practice. At home my brother, sister and I loved lotus and headstand and laughed hysterically trying to do these poses. My brother, sister and I lived with our mom but on weekends this was our life. We were kids and so we put on bored faces and gagged over the smell of the food but this group planted seeds of profound awareness to something beyond the superficiality of life. My dad never stopped talking when he was with us, in the car, on a hike to the Griffith Park Observatory, or camping. As much as we tried to tune out his constant contemplation on the meaning of life he made each of his children not thrill seekers but peace seekers.

I avoided yoga for much of my twenties but always had a nagging feeling that I needed to get back to it. I tried prenatal yoga during my first pregnancy and was utterly bored. My mind and body were not ready to slow down. I took other Hatha Yoga classes that I thought were nice but did not make me want to come back. In my early thirties I walked into a step aerobics/yoga combo at the Oakland YMCA that blew me away. The yoga was so fast and strength based and I couldn’t keep up at all. I laugh now to think that’s what it took to get me to stop, listen and feel. I was exhilarated at the end of class and knew I had just stumbled onto something amazing. It was my first vinyasa yoga class. Shortly after trying my first vinyasa class I moved to the east coast and eventually made my way to a studio in Washington DC. It was a Power Vinyasa studio where the yoga was hot, humid, fast and furious. I remember hearing Om’s being chanted in the studio for the first time, feeling a little breathless and emotional and knowing I had finally come back in my own way and time to the teachings of my childhood. This was my place, these were my people. I can walk into any yoga class now (and I often do) and quiet my mind. It doesn’t have to be fast or hot but that is what brought me back. I love the practice of breath and movement. It slows me down and becomes a meditation and that is what I love to teach. We can call it Hatha or Vinyasa or flow but essentially it is simply and profoundly Yoga.

My sister and I are both yoga teachers. It is a practice that sustains us physically, mentally and spiritually. We always know we can talk yoga anytime, we are each other’s captive audience. I believe my brother finds yoga in his life among his everyday tasks and has a quiet strength and peace within. Even my mother who did not think much of ‘Yoga’ eventually became a student of mine and my sister’s as well as at her local gym. My dad is still talking, maybe not quite as much, but still very much in deep philosophical thought. A flower is not just a flower and a star not just a star there is deep meaning to everything. The spider walking up the wall should not be killed but gathered up in your hands and taken outside. In talking to him recently about writing this piece he was excited and is now sending me songs he wrote and his own remembrances of this time. The teachings continue…

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