Yogi Times Community Teacher Profile
Barbara Voinar by Carolyn Brown
Goodness of Heart
Within the modern yoga whirl of flashy poses and impassioned invocations, Barbara Voinar calmly and expertly guides a community of yogis in an ever-deepening experience of themselves. In Barbara’s classes at 4th Street Yoga in Berkeley, yogis discover a precise and often subtle practice of hatha yoga that reflects more than thirty years of experience. The practice requires a sustained, focused attention. It gives back a sweetness that Barbara describes as “inner well-being.” Day by day, it opens up a rich web of inner pathways, a wider field of awareness.
There is a gentle purity to this practice. Barbara’s own “love affair” with yoga shines through in ever aspect. Teaching entirely without pretense, she rarely speaks directly about her own philosophy o r experiences in class. Yet, students get a taste of it by practicing with her and listening to their own experiences. Barbara’s steady presence, and the concentration of the other students create a powerful atmosphere in which to explore.
It is clear that Barbara enjoys witnessing her student’s discoveries. “It’s beautiful to see,” she comments. “Everyone has come into themselves.” Attuned to her own self, she give her gifts generously. “I like the saying: “Better your own dharma imperfectly than another’s dharma perfectly.” As yoga expands and evolves in the U.S., Barbara has managed to stay grounded in her own practice, which she calls simply hatha yoga. “If I’m trying to do someone else’s yoga, I’m avoiding my own yoga.”
Her yoga involves more than yoga postures. “Are we acquiring all this just to move our bodies in a certain way in the classroom? No. This practice is for life- for the times nobody really sees but you, nobody else knows but you. You are the honest witness.” Barbara continues “I want to be in relationship, to live in the world. Those things help me to be more open-and not just for the happy times. Can I be there in the face of sorrow and pain and unfairness?
Barbara embodies the “goodness of heart” or “inner well-being” that so many people are striving to find. It is no wonder that so many students continue to practice with her year after year, as their bodies change and their lives change and their minds change. She says about her own yoga. “It’s how I experience myself.”
Barbara found her way to yoga as a 17 year old Catholic schoolgirl in New Jersey. Her teacher introduced her to asana practice, meditation and chanting, and offered her information about the various yogis and teachers traveling through the New York City area in the 1970’s. One of those teachers was Muktananda, who opened Barbara to the fundamental idea that consciousness is within you, just as you are. To experience this, he suggested the practice of seeing the divine in everyone.
While living at the Siddha Yoga Ashram in upstate New York, Barbara began teaching asanas to meet the needs of people living in the community. Later, in the 1980’s, Barbara started teaching in California prisons, developing a program that continues today. She found ways to share the heart of yoga in a different context, adapting the language and details to meet the needs of these individuals. In 1993, she co-founded 4th Street Yoga in Berkeley, and continues to teach advanced, mixed level and “gentle yoga” classes there. She is also known for her specialty in pre-and post-natal yoga, and has taught yoga to women with cancer for many years.
Over the years of teaching and practice, she has been struck by the power and adaptability of yoga. “The asanas come alive in a different way,” she observes. “The practice keeps reshaping itself to support us and give us exactly what we need to make this journey in these bodies.”
Correction – Barbara taught in the NY State prison system, not in California.