Respected Yoga Practitioner on The State of Our Spiritual Affairs

"Yogi Rick" Teaches the Well-Informed on Oahu; Now He Sits With Us

Respected Yoga Practitioner on The State of Our Spiritual Affairs

Palo Alto native Richard Bernstein, or, "Yogi Rick", is one of those easily recognizable characters who has become a mainstay in the lives of everyone that has come in to contact with him, let alone taken one of his Saturday morning classes in Nu`uanu Valley. Bernstein began his yoga training on O`ahu in 1972, studying with a teacher at UH Manoa who pioneered an experimental Yoga Philosophy program at the university. Practicing Vedantic teachings along side hatha yoga, breathing, meditation and relaxation, it is these principals that "Yogi Rick" still follows today. Albeit, with knowledge he acquired from many of the leading yoga practitioners around the world. Names like Ram Dass, Kalu Rimpoche, Mataji Indra Devi, Swami Muktananda and Paul Reps, to name a few, have all come to influence Bernstein's approach to full-body healing.

However, much unlike the drones who stick to rigid schools of practice (Bikram comes to mind), Bernstein attests, "I do not represent any one teacher or school of yoga. When asked, 'What kind of yoga do you teach?', I have a very hard time answering the question. Each class is different. This allows me to be free from the dogma of the "system" yoga class," he says, offering a glimpse in to what has made him so popular with free-thinking students.

We sat down with this 45-year Hawaii resident to chat about the state-of-affairs surrounding people's health, a spiritual connection to the changing shift in global awareness, and what role Hawaii plays in all of it.

B on Hawaii: Can you start us off by describing where you grew up, and how you made your way to Hawaii?

Rick Bernstein: I grew up in a Palo Alto, California. It was a wonderful town with great schools and lots of nature near by. It is the home of Stanford University. I had a friend who moved to Hawaii in the 10th grade. We were both track athletes. He attended Punahou and we traded our newspaper clippings during high school. When we graduated in 1962, his family moved back to Palo Alto and met many of his classmates who were arriving on the mainland to attend college. I became friendly with some of them and my family became their home away from home. When I arrived in Hawaii in 1965 I had a soft landing because I had a few friends here.

B on Hawaii: And the reason you've stayed in Hawaii so long...

Bernstein: The cultural diversity has always been a hook for me. I am half Jewish and half not Jewish… Irish and Dutch. Because I am, in a sense “hapa”, race was always an issue in my life. In Hawaii, lot’s of people are hapa and of different ethnicities. My wife Annie was born in China, raised in Tokyo, and educated at The American School in Japan. Somehow race is no big deal here and I have always felt comfortable being part of the Hawaii mix.

B on Hawaii: Where are we, as a global community, in the time-line of "mental wellness" and/or "spiritual enlightenment"?

Bernstein: It depends on where you look and with the type of eyes you look with. If you tune in to a certain band of talking-head news stations, I would say we have yet to emerge from the dark ages. On the other hand, there is much positive and generative information available. If you are so inclined, it is easy to link up with a collective spiritual consciousness that is evident everywhere. The Internet has the potential to be the "innernet" and connect us together in positive ways. There are so many teachers emerging from all parts of the world with messages of love, compassion, healing, unity, and enlightenment.
The sooner we realize that it is just us chickens here on Earth, the better off we will be. Bob Marley said “Until the color of a man’s skin is no more important than the color of his eyes, there will be war”. I agree. It’s just us mortal souls sitting on this beautiful orb, spinning round and round. We forget that we are only visitors here and get caught up thinking that we are somehow “entitled” because an accident of birth has put us in some particular geographical location. The way I see it, we are all essential beings occupying bio-degradable time capsules which are on loan from the universe. There is no permanence. A friend gave me a tee shirt that says, “God bless the whole world, no exceptions”. It is just us and we are one. That pretty much says it all regarding spiritual enlightenment.

B on Hawaii: Same question, regarding yourself: Where are you on that journey?

Bernstein: There is an old saying, “Those who know don’t say, and those who say, don’t know”.
I can tell you that I have been traveling on a thirty-eight year spiritual journey that has taken me to India, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Thailand, Africa, Japan, Hana, and Kalalau Valley. I have met fascinating people, learned hard lessons, and had amazing inner experiences. I am still a regular person who loves to watch sports, hang with friends, and go to the movies. I also adore being with my granddaughter, Gracie. I would never call myself a “Master”, “Guru”, “Swami”, or any other eastern name. As far as I’m concerned, I am an American yoga/meditation teacher. No big deal. By the way, I think that the popular concept of “enlightenment” is over hyped. The Dali Lama has it right when he says, “Just be a good person and give people hope, that is enough”.

B on Hawaii: We've been hearing an echo lately that revolves around this idea of moving towards a period of letting go of technology (for the most part), slowing down the fast-paced, everything-is-so-readily-available stigma and heading to a more sustainable existence. Do you feel that way, too? And if so, how can we help usher it in? By working on ourselves? With children? Anything?

Bernstein: Jack Johnson is doing a good thing by using his talent and success to share the message of “reduce, reuse, and recycle” with the children. For many years we had a non-profit named the Rainbow Foundation. We were funded to work in the community and in the 1970’s Annie and I spent four years teaching yoga and tai chi to 5,000 kindergarten, 1st and 2nd graders in the public schools. We also taught on the playgrounds. For many years we taught in the prisons, with the blind, mentally ill, AIDS and cancer patients, etc. It was a way of helping people to slow down and tune in. It was rewarding work and we were lucky to have been able to do that. The Rainbow Foundation was funded by a philanthropist named Barbara Cox Anthony. Her generosity allowed us to donate our time and teachings to the community without charge. During that period, we sponsored many spiritual teachers and put on yoga and meditation events throughout the Islands.
When I came to Hawaii I bonded with the beach and ocean. Today, I swim from Kaimana Beach to Waikiki and back, five or six times a week. I have been active in issues regarding protecting the beaches from commercialization and pollution. We formed an organization called The Kaimana Beach Coalition over twenty years ago to organize the community on certain issues.
From a yoga viewpoint, doing community service is called “seva”. Seva means selfless service. Seva is an aspect of a well-rounded yoga practice.
I also educate people on the use of the Tennant Biomodulator, a prescription medical device that eliminates physical pain and helps people to stop using toxic pain medications like Celebrex, morphine, and Oxicontin. If people are interested in knowing more about the Biomodulator, they can call me.
Finally, regarding personal sustainability, each of us can do a little bit to make a difference. We have recently planted a vegetable garden and are eating salads from it. We are also founding members of Kokua Country Foods Co-op and shop there regularly.

B on Hawaii: What other practitioners on the islands have classes you've attended that you enjoy?

Bernstein: David Williams is a great Ashtanga Yoga teacher. He lives on Maui and is the teacher’s teacher. Gary Kraftsau lived on Maui and now resides in Oakland. He is the Vini yoga teacher of teachers. Richard Alpert/Ram Dass is living on Maui and is the father of American Yoga. He has a great website, Ramdass.com. Anyone who gets to spend time with RD is blessed.

B on Hawaii: Any philosophies that have recently turned you on?

Bernstein: Currently I am into Drs. Jerry Tennant and Bruce Lipton. They are energetic medical scientists who are at the cutting edge of cellular understanding and healing.

B on Hawaii: What can people expect from your Saturday yoga classes?

Bernstein:My intention is for people to leave the room feeling better than when the walked in. The class opens with three oms. For the first hour and a half we do gentle yoga postures mixed with resting and breathing. The final half hour consists of five minutes of concentrated breathing exercise, ten minutes of meditation, and fifteen minutes of complete relaxation. Unlike yoga gym classes, mine is more of a two hour moving meditation for people who aspire to experience their inner essence.
I would say that in the thirty- seven years I have been teaching yoga, my style has changed as I have aged. As a young person, I became extremely flexible and pushed my body to the far extremes. Now, I do gentle and adaptive yoga postures and teach safe, effective, and age appropriate, methodology. I am appreciative of Vini Yoga, an adaptive and healing yoga system.
The class fee is $10 and is held in Nu`uanu. If people are interested they should call me at 732-7993.

"The Internet has the potential to be the "innernet" and connect us together in positive ways. There are so many teachers emerging from all parts of the world with messages of love, compassion, healing, unity, and enlightenment." —Bernstein