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Sarasota Downtown & Beyond Magazine
meditation.jpg
Gary Halperin: Meditation at Home
Photo by Bill & Hope West

Sarasota Downtown & Beyond Magazine
February 2005
 
Being Here--Now
Gary Halperin Teaches The How and The Why of Living in The Now
By Susan Fernandez
 
Outside the house, a small, dark-haired girl blows soap bubbles with her mom.  Inside, Gary Halperin, yoga teacher and author of Feel Better Now...Meditation, talks about how he and his wife, Rose Anne, and their daughter, Madelyn, got to this quiet, friendly street in Sarasota.
 
Born into a family of high achievers, he had no exposure to Eastern spirituality while he was growing up.  (At age 29, his father was an Assistant Secretary of Defense.)  Halperin thought the way to feel good about himself was to be successful.  And so he set off to do just that.
 
Success came easy to Halperin.
 
He was captain of his high school basketball team and class valedictorian.  Then came Amherst College with a degree in political science.  In 1990, he entered the Peace Corps and served in the Dominican Republic.  After his service, he felt he was at a crossroad in his life. He had to get away from family and friends and spend some time alone to decide what to do next.
 
For a few months he tried teaching in the New York public schools in a program designed for returning Peace Corps volunteers, but he found it too stressful.
 
His father had friends who had been to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts, and suggested that he check it out.  A week or so later Halperin read a review of Kripalu in The New York Times
 
"I said if it's in The New York Times it has to be real," he laughs.  So, without knowing what he was getting into, he signed up for a two-week retreat.
 
He arrived and was sent into a room where a yoga class was beginning.  "I didn't know anything," he says. "I just plopped myself down on the floor and started."
 
Right away, he felt at home.  There was something that seemed so natural to him about this Eastern discipline that aims to achieve a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility.
 
Yoga, he learned, is not about competition.  It's not necessarily about success.  It's about paying attention to your body.  Doing what you can do.  Not worrying about what other people are doing. "I'd never been exposed to that," he says.  "It was another way of looking at the world."
 
At the time, in 1992, Kripalu was a residential community of around 350 people, which supported itself by giving workshops and retreats.  He says he thought, "Well, I could never work here fulltime.  These people are a little odd."  But he was drawn back.
 
Halperin signed up for another two-week stint and worked at Kripalu to cover the fee.  That led to a two-month stay, which led to another two month stay.  Then a year.  Then another year.  He was now interacting with the residents and learning from them informally as well as from visiting teachers.  He was exposed to many different kinds of meditation and yoga.
 
He ended up staying at Kripalu, living and working for two and a half years.  When he left, he was a certified yoga teacher and holistic lifestyle teacher.  His meditation style is a blend. "I drew on the techniques I learned at Kripalu," he says, "and tried to synthesize them."
 
For the next couple of years, Halperin moved around the country, taking jobs in various spas.  In 1996, he was hired as spa programs director and yoga and meditation instructor at Coolfont Resort in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.  Soon after his arrival, the mayor of Washington, D.C., wanted to bring 50 administrators to the spa for a retreat.  The mayor wanted an hour-long session on meditation and spirituality and was referred to Halperin.  What started out as a crash course on meditation became the basis for Halperin's book.
 
He began to teach meditation to individuals and groups.  Over two and a half years he refined his material.  When he eventually sat down to write the book, it took him only three days.  Published in 2002 by Avid Reader Press, it is a mere 100 pages but contains everything Halperin wanted to say.
 
In the introduction he tells his readers that the book "is not preachy or new-agey or affiliated with any religious or spiritual point of view.  It is straightforward and to the point so that you can pick it up and, in a few sittings, learn how and why to meditate."
 
Halperin will be the first to admit that one of his more successful accomplishments was meeting his wife, Rose Anne.
 
They met in Greensboro, North Carolina, where both had gone for jobs.  Each had also visited Sarasota and liked the city.  They joked about quitting their jobs and moving.  One day, about four and a half years ago, Rose Anne was offered a position as the administrative director of the Sarasota Music Festival.  So they packed up and moved.
 
Since the kinds of progressive spas that Halperin had worked for don't exist in this area, he had to reinvent his career.  For about a year he worked for a retirement community in Port Charlotte, but the 60-mile commute wore thin.  Then he started teaching yoga and meditation classes on his own.  Currently he teaches four classes a week at the Rosemary Court Wellness Center.
 
"It's the most beautiful space for yoga in Sarasota," Halperin says.  In the class he urges his students not to take things too seriously.  "It's okay to smile while you're doing yoga," he tells them.
 
His classes welcome beginners.  "I've never encountered somebody who couldn't do it," he says.  He explains that Kripalu yoga "is about training the teachers in a philosophy but not turning out cookie-cutter yoga classes.  It's a very wide-ranging philosophy," he adds.  This practice of yoga was developed in the 1970's and has, of course, gone through various transformations.
 
Halperin says most of his students are year-round Sarasota residents--working people like Susan Gollnick, a legal secretary, who has been coming to class for a year.  "I work out at the gym," she says, "but I wanted something calmer. Yoga is also great for flexibility."
 
Halperin has 30 to 40 students in evening classes.  Although beginners can handle mid-level classes, he offers a series of six classes for beginners only.  A new one is scheduled to start next month.
 
Teaching in the evenings works well for him and for Rose Anne because Gary is a stay-at-home dad during the day.  Rose Anne works fulltime as the education programs director of the Florida West Coast Symphony.  She still works for the music festival and plays bass in the symphony.
 
Madelyn, 16 months old, toddles into the room in her little Teva sandals.  In her bedroom is a poster of Babar the Elephant doing yoga.
 
Yoga and meditation, Halperin explains, are wonderful ways to help reduce the stress of parenting.  There is a philosophy and a mindset that you can carry with you.  One of the tenets of Kripalu yoga, he says, is that you are practicing being present.  Obviously that comes in handy when you are around kids.  "When I play with Madelyn, my intention is to play with her and not be thinking of other things," he explains.  When she naps between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., Halperin has time for his own meditation.
 
Because his family was so involved in the world of politics when Halperin was young, he still pays attention to world events, but he tries to stay balanced.  "Otherwise I can make no contribution at all," he says. "After I'm in balance, then I focus first on my family.  I leave the global scene to other people; that's their path and not where I'm designed to be. I can have preferences and be aware of my preferences, but once the world unfolds, then I try to let it be and move on to the next moment instead of dwelling on what has gone right and what has gone wrong."
 
He puts Madelyn into her high chair, ready to share in her delight of being here--now.