Esalen's First Yoga Teacher
— Teaching yoga since 1968
Pam Portugal Walatka's yoga classes
More than half a century of yoga teaching experience.
81 years of living experience.
See also Instagram @walatka_2
Los Altos Hills Class
The Los Altos Hills class meets on Zoom Wednesday mornings.
To register, click here.
Yoga at the Pavilion
My class in the Los Gatos mountains has a new teacher: I am happy to introduce
Anoul Sivi. Anouk will be teaching Thursday mornings and probably an early evening class.
Watch this space for updates.
Pam's Yoga Class Sequence Photos
You can make your health better by working on it.
Brief video by Sandy Berry showing Pam's Los Altos Hills class, before Covid, when we met in person.
First-class-free offer no longer applies.
As the foundational yoga teacher at Esalen, in 1968, Pam was one of the pioneer yoga teachers in America.
Her style is simple, deep, and mildly amusing.
Article in Los Altos Town Crier
LAH YOGA PRACTICE GIVES ATHLETIC INTRO TO BREATH AND BODY
Published: 15 November 2017
By Eliza Ridgeway - Staff Writerfirstname.lastname@example.org
Pam Walatka, a longtime resident of Los Altos Hills before she moved
to the mountains above Los Gatos in 2011, has been leading "Pam’s Yoga
Fitness" at Los Altos Hills Town Hall weekly more or less without
pause for the past 12 years.
The class, which meets 10:15-11:30 a.m. Wednesdays, convenes in the airy,
light-filled council chambers, a perk Walatka credits with keeping her
students coming year after year. The town’s Parks and Recreation Department
recently added a new feature, the Flex Pass, which allows people to pay for
individual classes and drop in rather than committing to an eight-week session.
"Some of the original students are still attending, and most of the students
have been coming for five or more years," Walatka said.
The class attracts athletic "midlife" types, she said – fitness enthusiasts
looking for something to counterbalance tennis, cycling or running. A few of them
come with a nudge from a doctor.
The class, which emphasizes health and fitness, incorporates traditional yoga moves,
core-targeting Pilates and mindfulness meditation.
FROM MIND TO BODY
Meditation has come a long way since Walatka first encountered it as an
undergraduate at UC Berkeley in the 1960s. The United States has embraced
what was once considered a fringe, experimental practice to the point that
the medical establishment has studied and authenticated its apparent contribution
to good physical and mental health.
As a philosophy major at Berkeley, Walatka learned about yoga as a Hindu
way of thinking, not as an athletic practice. "My philosophy department
did not know what to do with me – it was a few years too soon," she said.
Walatka had been reading works by the American transcendentalists – Emerson,
Thoreau and Channing – since her father started letting her tag along to
Berkeley's library during her high school years. But after writing a
college paper comparing the Hindu concept of expanded consciousness with
American transcendentalism and contemporary LSD theories of cosmic consciousness,
she got a note from her professor whose gist was, "I don’t know what this is,
but I’m sure it’s not philosophy."
"At that point, I changed to the psych department, which also was not
interested in the psyche," she recalled ruefully.
Walatka graduated, moved to Nepal with the Peace Corps and for the first time
experienced philosophies beyond the pages of a book, living among Buddhists
and Hindus who introduced her to the real-life practice of meditation.
She returned to the U.S. and became a resident fellow at the Esalen Institute
in 1967. The other early participants at the Big Sur nonprofit, famous for its
role in the counterculture movement, shared her interest in exploration of
awareness, mind-body connection and "human potential."
At Esalen, a bio-energetic workshop encouraged participants to try a back-bending
cobra pose – and even though the institute was very body-oriented, Walatka said,
"it hadn’t occurred to people to do the poses."
Within a year of her arrival, she was tasked with becoming Esalen's first yoga
teacher, based strictly on innate flexibility, not experience. So she drove into
town, bought a book describing yoga moves and started teaching.
Fifty years later, Walatka teaches a class that looks similar to those early days.
She had continued to study and teach yoga, with breaks when life got in the way,
including a 16-year stint as a technical writer at NASA’s Ames Research Center
that was relatively light on yoga and counter-culture.
If you take a yoga class with Walatka, though, you might not guess at this vivid
and philosophical background. She teaches an athletic practice, one aimed at
moving the body and focusing the mind without hewing to any philosophy or faith.
Some yoga classes include meditative comments from the teacher, or Sanskrit
phrases for the moves – not this one. "Pam’s Yoga Fitness" does focus
on listening to one's own body as it creaks, stretches and bends, but
"I'm not trying to change their religion, and I haven't experienced
a lot of curiosity about that," she said bluntly. "I'm with the
Dalai Lama – whatever religion you have is the best religion for you."
Walatka said she thinks there's an alarming emphasis in yoga classes these days
on rigidity, and teachers have been taught that a pose is supposed to be done
a specific way – move your elbow from here to here, and you’re doing it right.
"It’s a little bit like posing mannequins," she added. "I want
people to learn to listen to the wisdom of their bodies, to learn the difference
between a deep stretch and an injurious stretch. Someone asked me the other day
how far are you supposed to bend in the triangle, and I said, 'Past comfortable
but before injury – learn from your own body telling you, not me telling you.'"
Walatka's mother, who lived to be 101, used to say that you can make your health
better by working on it.
"I think a lot of my students are there to work on their health," Walatka
said. "There are many things you need to do to work on your health, but yoga
is one of them."
For more information, visit pamsyogafitness.com.
Pam's Concise Advice
Please send me your comments.
Triangle photo by Alexander Atkins. Outdoor photo by Deirdre Commie