Lisa Walford turns 60!

62 students at Lisa’s birthday. Photo by Karen Lee Fisher

On Febuary 21, Lisa Walford’s students, colleagues and friends came together at the B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles to celebrate her 60th birthday. Although her actual birthday is December 27, Lisa’s teaching schedule remains so committed that this was the first weekend of 2015 that she was free to celebrate. And what a party it was!

The idea was that Iyengar Yoga teachers who have been long-time students of Lisa’s, many of whom have been her classroom assistants and also formally mentored by her in their own certification processes, would choose poses or sequences of poses that they think of ‘classic Lisa poses.’ These are asanas that Lisa teaches regularly in her classes and to which she has added her unique perspective, emphasis and techniques, designed to convey deeper understanding and more physical accessibility.

Larry Heliker adjusting Vladamir Jandov in Verabhadrasana II, Photo by Karen Lee Fisher

Once teachers had selected their poses, a sequence was written. On that Saturday night, Lisa’s students and friends crowded into the studio, settled onto their mats and were led by Lisa through the Invocation to Patanjali. She then turned the class over to the teachers and took her place among the students.

First up was Laura Lenee, teaching a sequence developed by Lisa during her month in Pune, December 2013. Lisa calls it the “Prana Kriya Sequence,” as it marries movement and stillness with breathing and retention: Tadasana/Urdhva Hastasana/balancing in Urdhva Hastasana on the balls of the toes/ Utkatasana/Uttanasana/Ardha Uttanasana/ Uttanasana/ hands to hips, coming back to tadasana with a concave upper back.

The Prana Kriya Sequence was followed by Lori McIntosh teaching six rounds of Surya Namaskar, each round initiated by a mantra including one of the twelve names of the Sun God. Mantras are combinations of sounds designed to produce a specific effect on the mind. When a mantra is repeated with awareness and concentration, the energy of the sound manifests in the mind. Chanting the mantra aloud before beginning Surya Namaskar and silently during the sequence is traditionally believed to be a source of spiritual illumination symbolized by the sun.

Vladimir Jandov taught Virsasana, Purvottanasana from Virasana and Parighasana. He was followed by Larry Heliker, who taught Virabhadrasana II. Uttitha Trikonasana and Uttitha Parsvakonasana. Larry told a charming story about Lisa explaining the actions of Vira II to Kareem Abdul Jabbar. He asked us to visualize Lisa, a “quarter pounder” of 4’11” adjusting Kareem at 7’3”. Below, he demonstrates the action on Vladimir.

Lisa Wlaford in Virabhadrasana I, Photo by Karen Lee Fisher

Next, Barbara Laird taught Lisa’s “Standing Pose Vinyasana,” a sequence of poses, moving with the breath: Virabhadrasana II, Uttitha Trikonasana , Ardha Chandrasana, Uttitha Parsvakonasana. Barbara eloquently described Lisa’s approach to this sequence as “lyrical,” so elegant in its composition and practice that it brings “pure joy” to the practitioner. After two rounds, Barbara coyly noted that there was one more pose – Virabhadrasana I. The third round included the warrior!

After Vladimir taught Jathara Partivartanasana, the star of the show came forward to lead the class through Ananatasana, demonstrating four stages of the pose as she described its inspiration – Vishnu balancing on a couch created by his wiggly serpent , Ananta. A deceptively difficult pose, Lisa reminded us that, “Life is a balance.” It was, indeed, a special moment – beautiful, simple, pure Lisa.

The sequence wrapped up with Jennifer Edwards teaching chair Sarvangasana, Paschimottanasana and Savasana. During Savasana, Carmen Fitzgibbon read from a blog entry written by Lisa in December of 2013, just before the 95th birthday of our beloved Guruji.

Saffron-laced rice pudding, Photo by Karen Lee Fisher

When class had ended and students sat in swastikasana, Lisa reflected on the significance of her 60th birthday. Here are her words:

“Traditional Hindu culture recognizes that there are distinct phases in one's life, and how each phase contributes to the greater community. The sixtieth birthday is an auspicious and deeply significant turning point, as this is when one is invited to focus more deeply on one's own inner work.

I have studied the Yoga Sutras for many years, and am always trying to find ways to make this material more personal.

Here is my current prayer:

  • Be grateful. This implies respect for all things (ahimsa)
  • Be generous. As Guruji said, giving does not impoverish. It is in giving that we receive.
  • Listen deeply. Listen within myself and to myself so that I may be completely present to others
  • Love sincerely.”

Following class, guests indulged in delectable brownies, macaroons and cookies, courtesy of Jeff Perlman. A special saffron-laced rice pudding, adored by Lisa, was made and served by Affi Bakhtiar.

Huge thanks to them and to everyone who participated in making the evening truly memorable. Happy, blessed birthday, dear Lisa!

Lori McIntosh teaches Level 1, Gentle, and Yoga Kurunta (Ropes) and assists in Yoga for Special Needs classes at IYILA. She is a longtime practitioner of Iyengar yoga and a dedicated student of Manouso Manos.