Yoga Is for the Mind, Body and SpiritDutch Disciple Teaches Meditation as Much More than the Lotus Position
Ron Katwijk is sitting cross-legged in front of seven barefoot people dressed in comfortable sportswear. The meditative silence is smoothly broken by his words, spoken in English and containing a trace of a Dutch accent.
"Yoga is about energy control," he says. He introduces us to "shushumnanadi," an energy channel that opens up in the balance of "shakti" and "shiva," the equivalent of yin and yang, to female and male, inertia and action.
Mr. Katwijk, 36, is at the Samwon fitness Center in Itaewon, where he teaches four yoga classes a week. When one of his students is not able to go an exercise correctly, he calls her by name and says, "There is no failure in yoga. Failure does not exist."
Yoga is one of six India systems of philosophy, or "darshans." The many promises of yoga ? good health, a strong and flexible body and mental peace ? attracted Mr. Katwijk to the philosophy 16 years ago. It was at a point in his life when he desired change.
"I felt I didn't have life under control," Mr. Katwijk said. "I was living by circumstance."
A typical yoga class includes body postures, breathing exercises and meditation. While the health benefits have been proven, scientists have yet to discover how yoga produces them.
In yoga, the body is "the carriage of the soul" The physical poses are preparation for mental training. Certain poses require considerable agility, but are not as jarring to the joints as running. There are about 200 established poses, many suitable for older people.
According to the Korea Yoga Institute, 100,000 people practice yoga in Korea. About six million people practice yoga in the United States.
Yoga is Mr. Katwijk's "whole life, but not an obsession." "Yoga is me. I'm yoga," he said. "It changed my entire life."
Instead, Mr. Katwijk teaches 13 yoga classes in Seoul. His teaches an Indian women's group and the ambassadors' wives club, as well as at the California fitness Center in Myongdong.
When the Indian ambassador's wife, whom Mr. Katwijk refers to only as Mrs. Kumar, was searching for an instructor, she interviewed Indian yogis based in Seoul.
"A yogi is someone whose heart's 'chakra' or energy wheel is open. When that happens, you start to see the beauty inside people and that on one in essence is bad," Mr. Katwijk said.
When Mrs. Kumar asked Mr. Katwijk, a yogi, to teach her and several other people, Mr. Katwijk was honored. Yoga, after all, is an Indian legacy," said Mr. Katwijk, who has never been to India.
The legacy has eight stages, beginning with two that are related to ethics: "yama"(moral principles) and "niyama"(moral ideas). The next two stages are physical ? "asana"(physical postures) and "pranayama"(energy control). The fifth stage is "pratyahra" ? the ability to become detached. The remaining three steps are mental. "Dharana" is the ability to concentrate on a chosen object. When students are able to concentrate steadily, they have reached "dhyana," contemplation. At this point, meditators perceive they are one with the object of meditation.
Mr.Katwijk has reached samadhi only occasionally. "To reach samadhi you have to meditate for an hour or more," he said. "It's a state when your physical body ceases to exist. You're aware of just your spiritual body. It's like total peace."
Mr.Katwijk's loyal following in Seoul is a recent phenomenon. As recently as this summer, a depressed Mr.Katwijk left Seoul for Holland. His classes at the Seoul Club in Namsan were folding. Most of his foreign students at Samwon had gone on vacation. At the end of last year he had given up studying for a fourth-degree black belt in hapkido to concentrate on yoga. In a half-year period he moved twice. He wound up in the hospital with fever.
"It was really stressful," Mr.Katwijk said, rubbing his face. "Too many things changed in a short time. I couldn't control my life."
He scraped some money together and left to be with family he had not seen in over two years. Mr.Katwijk returned to Seoul on Aug. 12. "My destiny lies in Korea," Mr.Katwijk said, "if not forever, than at least indefinitely."
On the day he returned, a manager at California Fitness Center called, asking if he was interested in teaching yoga. Soon afterwards Mrs.Kumar called.
While yoga may now be the focus of Mr.Katwijk's life, he says it was dharma, or destiny, in the form of hapkido that brought him from Amsterdam to Korea more than three years ago.
He was 20 years old when he found the book "Teach Yourself Yoga" in a library in Amsterdam. "Coincidence doesn't exist," Mr.Katwijk said. He began practicing yoga every evening. "1984 is when my new life started," he said.
A desire to "do something" involving his body led him to a hapkido school a year later. Hapkido is a Korean form of martial arts that Choi Young-sool created in the late 1940s.
"I totally devoted myself to hapkide," Mr.Katwijk said. A few years later, the hapkido master, Yoo Sun-jong, a ninth degree black belt and the eldest son in his family, left for Korea because of filial responsibilities.
"I decided to follow him," Mr.Katwijk said. The desire to go became an obsession. "I had to come here to lose my obsession," Mr.Katwijk said. "I did. And now I can go on."
It took Mr.Katwijk nine years to save enough money to get to Korea.
Mr.Katwijk immediately began hapkido training. "The first four months I didn't come out of my neighborhood," he said. But later he met several Dutch natives who expressed interest in learning yoga.
"I started with two people in November," Mr.Katwijk said. He eventually gave up hapkido and deveted himself to teaching yoga. When asked why he decided to teach yoga, Mr.Katwijk answers cryptically, "I feel I have a pot of gold in my possession. My mission is to share it."
by Joe Yong-hee
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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