Father’s Day Yoga Profile: April & Stephen Liu

In honour of Father’s Day (Sunday, June 17), we’re profiling amazing dads and (in this case) their daughters! Remember the incredible Stephen Liu? The 88-year-old poet, photographer and (most recently) Bikram Yogi is back to give fathers everywhere – especially those who feel they’re too old, too sick or too busy – extra incentive to get in the hot room (and this time his 34-year-old daughter, April, shares her side of the story)!

When did you start practising Bikram Yoga, and why?

April: I’ve been practising various forms of Hatha Yoga and martial arts since I was a teenager, but didn’t really get hooked on one tradition until I discovered Bikram Yoga. My older sister, Miranda, encouraged me to try it when I was visiting her in Los Angeles. She bought me a one-week trial and I went every single day. I couldn’t believe how open and relaxed my spine felt. When I came back to Vancouver I immediately did a 30-day challenge. That was about five years ago and I haven’t stopped practising since – four to five times a week or more, when I’m not on a deadline at work. Otherwise, I try to go at least once a week to keep sane! I also practise a few poses at home, in my office, at the bus stop or with my dad when I visit my parents …

Stephen: My elder daughter, Miranda, is a Bikram Yoga teacher in Pasadena, California. She tells me that one is never too old or too sick to try this yoga. However, it was April who eventually coaxed me into going to my first class about two years ago. I had survived a full hip replacement in one leg, high blood pressure, recurring gout attacks, a minor stroke and a strained shoulder that had not yet healed. I had trouble walking, sleeping and eating. I decided to try the yoga because both of my daughters stubbornly insisted that this natural therapy would improve my health. Once I had tried a few classes, Miranda helped me adjust to the poses that are impossible for me to do, and both she and April are cheering me on and encouraging me to go to the hot room.

How often do you practise together now?

Stephen: When I don’t have any gout attacks, which makes it impossible to walk, April and I try to go to class at least once a week. If I have trouble leaving my apartment, she comes over and we do yoga in the living room. Whether at home or in the hot room, we practise yoga together a few times every week. April cheers me on and encourages me to go, but she never puts pressure on me to do it. She reminds me to listen to my body.

What do you love most about practising Bikram Yoga together?

April: The best part of taking my dad to yoga is the incredibly warm support everyone gives us at the studio. People’s faces light up with a mixture of surprise and joy when they see my dad limping into the hot room. He’s always making new friends in the changing room and I can often hear him laughing from the waiting area. The teachers love to see him and take great care of him at all times, always making sure he has what he needs and feels welcome. It’s really healing for us both to be part of such a great yoga family.

Stephen: My favourite part about going to Bikram Yoga with my daughter is our ritual of coming home after and sharing a meal together. Every time we go to class, my wife Shirley prepares a delicious home-cooked meal that awaits us as a reward.

What are some of the best benefits you’ve gained through Bikram Yoga?

Stephen: Doing yoga gives me quality sleep, relaxation, a better appetite and a much better mood. It increases my positive thinking. It also lowers my high blood pressure immediately and naturally.

April: Honestly, I get every benefit imaginable and probably many more that I’m not even aware of! Overall, I get tremendous energy, stamina and clarity of mind when I’m practising regularly. The greater flexibility, core strength, balance, focus and breath awareness I get from doing this yoga have exponentially improved my martial arts and meditation activities. I feel like I can digest anything and I also eat better because the yoga produces cravings for fruits, veggies and water! Aside from all the physical benefits, I also feel the yoga has brought me a sense of inner equanimity and light heartedness.

What do you admire most about each other, in or out of the hot room?

Stephen: I admire April for her unwearied love and care for a decrepit and fussy old timer like me, and for her recent academic achievement as a PhD graduate in art history!

April: I admire most my dad’s courage and sense of humour, which come across in his poetry, his wildlife photography and especially his yoga. I am most in awe when I watch him pull himself up from his mat after finishing 90 minutes of Bikram Yoga. Even when he is totally exhausted, he can still grin and give his characteristic chuckle, while shouting in his scratchy voice, “What torture!” My dad is pretty much a living Yoda, with his own brand of Zen-like wisdom and quirkiness.

A little bit more about Stephen, in his own words: God-fearing, I’m a retired professor of English literature, a published poet in Canada, the U.S., England and China and a frantic photographer of wildlife, especially birds. I have always reserved my love for anything that is true and good and beautiful, including cats and women.

 

My Father’s Martial Art by Stephen S.N. Liu

When he came home Mother said he looked

like a monk and stank of green fungus.

At the fireside he told us about life

at the monastery: his rock pillow,

his cold bath, his steel-bar lifting

and his wood-chopping. He didn’t see

a woman for three winters, on Mountain O Mei.

 

“My master was both light and heavy.

He skipped over treetops like a squirrel.

Once he stood on a chair, one foot tied

to a rope. We four pulled; we couldn’t

move him a bit. His kicks could split

a cedar’s trunk.”

 

I saw Father break into a pumpkin

with his fingers. I saw him drop a hawk

with bamboo arrows. He rose before dawn, filled

our backyard with a harsh sound hah, hah, hah:

there was his Black Dragon Sweep, his Crane Stand,

his Mantis Walk, his Tiger Leap, his Cobra Coil…

Infrequently, he taught me tricks and made me

fight the best of all the village boys.

 

From a busy street I brood over high cliffs

on O Mei, where my father and his Master sit:

shadows spread across their faces as the smog

between us deepens into a funeral pyre.

 

But don’t retreat into night, my father.

Come down from the cliffs. Come

with a single Black Dragon Sweep and hush

this oncoming traffic with your hah, hah, hah.

 

(Excerpt from My Father’s Martial Art: Poems, Reno: Univ. of Nevada Press, 1999)

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