A lot of die-hard yogis find that their thinking about yoga evolves over time. Rick Bernstein, who has been teaching yoga and meditation in Honolulu for nearly forty years, was an overweight sales manager for a downtown Honolulu copy machine company in 1972 when he dropped out of the business world and took up yoga. “These were the days of incense and hippie bookstores and vegetarian restaurants and the Beatles and transcendental thinking and flower-power and communal living—and yoga was one of the threads that ran through the fabric of all that,” he says. He went hard-core, practicing up to eight hours a day and growing extremely fit. I meet him at his home, and he shows me an album filled with black-and-white photos of him from that era, long-haired, heavily bearded, totally ripped and executing one advanced yoga pose after another.
Today’s older, grayer Bernstein doesn’t spend as much time as he once did tucking his feet behind his neck or balancing on his forearms while touching his toes to the back of his head. Yoga shouldn’t be an “egoistic fetish in the pursuit of physical excellence,” he says. It should be available to everyone. So now he promotes a gentle approach to yoga emphasizing the “awesome energy that comes from moving the body, breathing, relaxing” and appreciating the moment. “It’s not yog-uh,” he says. “It’s yog-ahhhhh!” Still, at one point in our conversation, he drops onto his white shag carpet, pops into a headstand and effortlessly throws his legs into the pretzel-like Lotus Pose … just to show he’s still got it.