Yet another gift from the pandemic has been the opportunity to stay connected with fellow yoga colleagues and even get to know one another a bit better. Greg has been such a wonderful addition to our morning Yoga Vrksa Community. Who would have thought all those years ago, when Greg and I practiced together in Peentz’s Tuesday night class that we would end up together online continuing our exploration of this amazing practice? Greg’s dedication, quick wit and generosity extends well beyond our online classroom. He is always willing to lend a hand and has given much of his time and expertise to helping our regional chapter IYANE
. Enjoy meeting Greg Sullivan, another thoughtful and diverse IYCWM yogi.
Tell us a bit about yourself – My wife Ann and I lived in Newton, MA for almost 30 years, raising two kids in the Auburndale section of Newton. In October 2020, mid-Covid-pandemic, with an “empty nest”, Ann and I moved from Newton to Rockport, Massachusetts. The original motivation for moving was that we needed a separate, pet-free, living area so that we could have dogs and cats and also have our youngest, who is allergic to dogs and cats, visit us. We ended up looking further afield and were drawn to the North Shore, which is beautiful.
I work for a small company, Dover Microsystems,
of which I am a co-founder. I got my Ph.D. in Computer Science from Northeastern, and spent a decade doing government-funded computer science (mostly for DARPA), working first for MIT, and then for a small company that got bought by a big defense contractor. One of the research projects seemed like it might have commercial potential, so we spun out Dover to build and sell a hardware+software cybersecurity product called CoreGuard. I am lucky to work on interesting problems with a talented group of colleagues. For the last two years I have been both working and attending yoga classes remotely. Since I now live out in the boonies, I hope to continue working remotely.
What is a little known or surprising fact about you or your work? Me: I am surprisingly good with babies — surprising because I didn’t actually hold a baby until I held my first child (when I was 32 years old).
Work: I often tell younger computer science students that writing skills are much more important in my high tech job than I would ever have guessed.
What led you to Iyengar yoga? How did you find IYCWM?
I played ultimate frisbee a lot, and during my mid-to-late 30’s someone recommended yoga as a way to manage my aging body more gracefully (and avoid injury). The only yoga I knew of was a class at my church (UU church in West Newton) taught by Peentz Dubble, who is an Iyengar yoga teacher. I started taking classes with Peentz at the church, and stayed with her when she joined Down Under Yoga in Newton, MA. While taking classes with Peentz, I met Susan Elena.
How long have you been practicing yoga? Since about the year 2000, so 22 years or so. My primary teacher from 2000 until she moved to Florida in 2017 was Peentz Dubble. I signed up for a teacher training course with Peentz, at Down Under Yoga, from 2015 to 2017, and it profoundly changed and deepened my connection with Iyengar yoga. I am still not certified as a teacher, but the process of preparing to teach Iyengar yoga has taught me an enormous amount. One of my fellow students in the teacher training class was Betsy Hecker, and it was on Betsy’s recommendation that I signed up for Susan Elena’s Yoga Vrksa series for Fall 2021.
As part of my teacher training, I volunteered to assist weekly classes at Down Under with Tristan Binns. Tristan
also teachers “ropes” yoga, and I learned to love incorporating ropes into my practice of yoga. As a result of the connection with Tristan, I volunteered to create and maintain a website for a book on ropes yoga being put together by Tristan and a few others (including another person from my teacher training class). So now I maintain the ropes.yoga
website — check it out! As a result of that, and Tristan becoming president of the local Iyengar association, I volunteered to maintain the website for the Iyengar Yoga Association of New England (IYANE).
For the first 20 years of practicing Iyengar Yoga, I was largely oblivious of the fact that there are worldwide, national, and regional organizations focused on supporting Iyengar yoga teachers and promoting the Iyengar method of teaching yoga. Now I typically devote several hours a week to various yoga-related organizations, mostly by contributing my technical skills.
What keeps you on the mat?
Gravity, mostly 😉 Plain and simple, yoga keeps me healthy. It is kind of obvious that the primary physical elements needed as we age are strength, flexibility, and balance, and Iyengar yoga teaches all three directly. While the physical effects of yoga are subtle and gradual, accruing over the course of years, the psychological effects are even more subtle, as they are even harder to measure. The yoga sutras of Patanjali, which are the entrée to yoga philosophy in the Iyengar method, set out universal truths of our human existence. Indeed, it is easy to find analogues to yoga principles in all major religions and philosophies. Practicing the yamas and the niyamas, along with maitri (friendliness), karuna (compassion), mudita (delight), and upeksha (equanimity), on and off the mat, are a life’s work and a life’s goal.
What keeps you off the mat? Inertia and Alasya (laziness).
What poses do you love? Adho Mukha Svanasana (down dog) is the “do it all” pose. I like how Utthita Trikonasana consistently pops my vertebrae (in a good way). I like all inversions; sirsasana (headstand), adho mukha vrksasana (handstand), pincha mayurasana (forearm balance).
What poses do you find challenging? I wonder whether I will ever be able to do Padmasana (lotus pose), especially on my right side. Halasana and variations are also hard, as I find it difficult to breathe in those poses.
What do you like to do when you are not doing yoga?
I am no longer playing ultimate frisbee, due to a series of upper hamstring tears. I like walking our dog, Demi, a 3-year-old Pit Bull mix rescue who we adopted a year ago. I spend a lot of time on the couch, with Demi snoozing by my side, working on my computer; which is how & where I am writing these responses.
How has practicing yoga impacted your life? Though I do not have (as far as I know) an identical twin living the same lifestyle as I am but not doing yoga, I can only hypothesize, but I feel confident that yoga has made me significantly more healthy, in body and mind, than if I had not found and taken up yoga.
How does yoga show up in your everyday life? My work colleagues know that I have a good collection of yoga t-shirts 😉 Again, it is hard to measure, but I like to think that I am more balanced and patient in my day-to-day dealings with other people.
How has the pandemic changed your daily life? Does your yoga practice help you in any way? Yoga, and in particular the commitment to show up to classes and the direction of talented teachers such as Susan Elena, keeps me healthy, adds structure, and gets me moving when I otherwise might try to hide in (or under) my bed due to the pandemic. Having moved to a new town in the middle of a pandemic, it is hard to know whether the feelings of loss and disconnectedness are related to the pandemic or the change of home, but yoga provides a community, for which I am grateful.
What has it been like to become part of a virtual yoga community where you do not know some of the other students?
Honestly, not hugely different from going to in-studio classes, in my opinion.
How does this yoga community contribute to your practice? I have been taking Susan Elena’s “Yoga Vrksa” series (Fall 2021 and now Winter 2022), and the class really gets me going for the day. Oddly, though, the fact that I have class with Susan Elena four mornings a week, and one Saturday afternoon a month, has replaced much of my “home practice”. I have always found constructing a home practice difficult, and relying on Susan Elena’s daily morning class has removed some of that burden. On the other hand, I do not practice as wide a range of poses as often as I normally would.
How has the switch to online classes during the pandemic affected your sense of community? How does it help stay connected? How does it fall short?
I am someone who has had more of a community online than IRL (in real life) for a while, and combined with my move to a place without a local Iyengar studio, I am very grateful for online classes. If it were not for the pandemic, I would not have had the opportunity to take regular classes with Susan Elena.
What do you think about the future of hybrid yoga classes – some people in person some online?
With respect to IYCWM, I will always be a remote/online student. I have no issues personally if some of the other students are in the studio with Susan Elena.
Any advice for those seeking to connect to a virtual yoga community?
I suggest joining IYNAUS (the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States).
As a result of joining IYNAUS, you will also become a member of your regional association (IYANE for most of us). First of all, these are good organizations to support financially. Secondly, you will receive occasional emails with notices of classes with senior teachers. A benefit of the pandemic is that you can take classes with senior Iyengar teachers around the world via zoom. Try out a few. You can even attend workshops by Abhijata Iyenger, the granddaughter of BKS Iyengar and the new face of Iyengar Yoga worldwide.