Yoga aids both body and spirit, teacher says
She has black belt in karate, love for the wilderness Go-getter bringing Kripalu teacher training to GTA
If you think a black belt in karate doesn't fit with a dedication to teaching Kripalu yoga, you haven't met Aida Neves.
She's broken new ground at every step on her spiritual-physical path, and she's doing it again with Kripalu teacher training, organizing the Kripalu Centre's first-ever foray out of its fabled centre in the Berkshire hills of Massachusetts, bringing the program to the Toronto area in the new year.
Watching her work, teaching a yoga class at the Granite Club, it's clear that she embodies the ideals of Kripalu yoga, which is about more than doing challenging postures. "It's about discovering how the tools of yoga can be used to cultivate health, facilitate psychological growth and open the door to spiritual transformation," states a Kripalu Centre brochure.
Which sums up Neves's life and aspirations.
Born in Portugal, young Aida landed in Canada with her family when she was 11 years old. The youngest of four children, she didn't speak a word of English, but she was strong, coming from a farming region where she was accustomed to strenuous physical activity in a rugged landscape.
"There was no electricity or running water on the farm where I was born," she grins. In Toronto, she connected with other children playing games in the back lanes of Kensington market, where she grew up.
She loved sports, played volleyball and basketball, discovered fencing and judo, and by the time she graduated with an honours degree in physical education from the University of Toronto in 1982, she was deep into karate.
The karate teacher who had an enormous influence on her then — and whose classes she still attends, and for whom she teaches — was Burt Konzak, founder of the Toronto Academy of Karate.
"I've known Aida for 25 years," he says, "and she puts her whole heart into everything she does."
Neves was attracted to Konzak's approach to martial arts. As he explains, "most karate schools emphasize fighting, and there's a macho undercurrent."
His approach is different. Karate means "empty hand," in the sense that "you don't have a weapon and you don't have evil intentions," he says.
With a Ph.D in Asian studies, Konzak taught Neves about "learning how to become strong so you don't have to fight," he says.
Now 45, Neves says martial arts training is "about life skills. Its core is about developing self-awareness in how we navigate life. It empowers me as a woman, to go through life without fear of being attacked or raped. So it's very practical."
The practical aspect of yoga also attracted her. Having completed her B.Ed at the University of Ottawa in 1983, Neves taught in the public school system until 1987 (when the first of her two children was born) and began to incorporate yoga in her work in the form of "corrective postures."
She also had a passion for the outdoors that had been fostered by the legendary Kirk Wipper, whose canoe collection became the basis of the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough.
Neves had worked at Wipper's Camp Kandalore, where she was his teaching assistant and took university students on canoe trips and winter expeditions. She become so immersed in the wilderness that she later went on eight-day solo outings in the bush.
Through the 1980s she taught corrective yoga exercises along with lifestyle counselling; she worked with people with special needs, with scoliosis, back pain and other physical problems. And the closer she got to people, the more she saw how yoga addressed so much more than postural correction.
In 1996 she went to the Kripalu Centre in Lenox, Mass., to take the month-long, 200-hour teacher training program that she's now organizing in the Toronto area. Her own professional base is in Richmond Hill, where she operates Sunlilyoga, which has about 300 students (ranging in age from 9 to 78, including people with Parkinson's disease, Down syndrome and post-surgical concerns, such as those recovering from heart attacks). Classes run from Monday to Saturday. She also teaches at other locations throughout the GTA.
She won't be teaching at the Kripalu Centre's teacher training program (Rashmi Sue Jenkins is coming up from the centre) but Neves is responsible for coordinating the whole experience. It is, she says, a "powerful experience. A lot of emotional issues come up. It's a profound exploration of body, mind and spirit. The most important piece for me is that it's a journey of self-exploration. The teaching comes from your own passion."
She found the place — King View Farm and Conference Centre in Aurora — and arranged for accommodation and meals, which will cost $2,853 for the full, 200-hour certification program. That's on top of $2,889 for tuition. Sessions are organized in three segments, Feb. 7-16, Feb. 24-March 5, April 11-19. The maximum group size is 28 people.
_________________Photo: Herschel Stroyman (Not part of original article)