Honoring One of the Great Women of Yoga
By Lanita Varshell



My first experience with Judith Hanson Lasater was in a workshop at a 1996 Yoga Journal Conference in San Francisco. I was a new yoga teacher at a busy yoga conference filled with the most fit and attractive people I had ever seen.

By far the largest woman there, I stuck out like a sore thumb. It took great courage for me to attend the yoga workshops where I had no idea if I could even participate. I kept searching for other larger women with whom I could meet, and from whom I might gain some wisdom. I found none. But I did experience two well-known female workshop teachers who made a huge difference in my life, one of them being Judith Hanson Lasater.

What I remember about Judith was her “normalness”. She was not trying to be anything other than “herself”.  If you had passed her in the hall, you would have never guessed she was one of the most well-known and sought-after yoga teachers in the world. She wore no special clothing, and had no assistants hovering nearby attending to her needs. She was one of us. I don’t remember anything she taught in her class that I could not do at some level. This was comforting.

I also remember that there was laughter and lightness, and we were reminded not to take ourselves so seriously. I left the class feeling empowered; yet relaxed, and most importantly, feeling hope for my body, my future and myself. She continues to be one of my teachers and mentors. Here are a few things about Judith that continue to draw me to her teachings:

1. Although Judith has taught Yoga since 1971, and has been trained in the strictness, attention to detail, and alignment tradition of Iyengar Yoga and Physical Therapy, she teaches in a soft, kind way, and gently reminds us that we can tap into our own body’s wisdom and guidance better than anyone else.

2. Judith teaches us that the most important yoga pose or asana is Savasana, (Corpse - Relaxation Position), not a Headstand or Shoulderstand. Although she teaches that traditional Hatha yoga asanas for strength and balance are important, so is deep resting and relaxation in Restorative Yoga, the form of yoga in which she specializes.

3. I am very attracted to the way Judith is able to express her needs and truth, without offending or intimidating. I have witnessed her presenting at workshops with over 500 students, and being able to easily and lovingly control any situations that arise.

Judith found Yoga when she was a graduate student in her early twenties, suffering from arthritis. As a benefit of her part-time job at the “Y”, she was able to take free yoga classes and was hoping they would help to relieve some of her pain. Judith says the experience of her first class was life changing, to say the least. She felt she had found something like a form of worship using the body instead of only worship by prayer. The morning after her first class she got up and practiced what she remembered. It has been the same every morning since that September day in 1970. Ten months later, Judith was asked to teach and began teaching 20 classes a week. She had found her calling.

Arthritis-free, Judith completed her MA in Government, and after marrying and moving to California, graduated from the University of California, San Francisco, in Physical Therapy. She went on to receive a Ph.D in East-West Psychology, and helped found the California Yoga Teachers’ Association, “Yoga Journal Magazine” and the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco — the first one in the U.S.

Judith teaches us that the practice of yoga is fundamentally an act of kindness toward oneself, and to find the spiritual in everyday life. These ideas are often forgotten, but not by Judith, whose approach is warm, non-judgmental and responsive to individual differences and needs. She reminds us that taking time out each day to relax and renew is essential to living well, and teaches us how to remember who we are through our yoga asanas.

I am so very grateful for this “feminine“ approach to yoga, and this teacher who for ten years has gently reminded me of who I am and how wonderful life is. I am grateful there are so many styles or “flavors” of yoga, for when you discover the style of yoga that works for you — it is life changing. Yoga means “union”, and a committed practice does just that — unites you with yourself, your body, mind, spirit self, and gently reminds you who you are: a beautiful spiritual being having a human life experience.

Judith’s clear communication skills have come from the work she and her husband, Ike, have done with Marshall Rosenberg and the Center for Non-Violent Communication.

Ike and Judith will be at A Gentle Way Yoga Center in San Diego, January 20-22, 2006. Judith will teach two days of Yoga and Ike will lead a 3-day workshop on Non-Violent Communication: “How to talk to the important people in your life”.  For more information, go to www.agentleway.com  or call (619) 698-1170.

Judith is the author of five outstanding yoga books, all published by Rodmell Press: “Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times”; “Yoga Abs: Moving From Your Core”; “Yoga For Pregnancy: What Every Mom-to-be Needs to Know”; “30 Essential Yoga Poses: For Beginning Students and Their Teachers”;  and “Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life”. She has also written hundreds of articles on yoga.

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