In 2004, the Maitri Yoga Education Fund was established by the Friendship
Yoga Community. Maitri (pronounced “my-tree”)
is the Sanskrit word for friendship. Its purpose is to
support Iyengar Yoga Education in the Iowa City/Coralville/Johnson
County community and to provide access to classes, workshops,
and supplies for individuals of limited financial means.
To that end we have created the Theresa Semel Memorial
Scholarship. Theresa Semel was a longtime student at
Friendship Yoga who passed away after a long illness in
November 2003. I was honored when Theresa asked me
to speak at her Memorial Service and what follows is the
text of my remarks.
Theresa was my friend, yoga student and a fervent supporter
of our yoga community. I know that she badgered many of you,
her friends and colleagues to try a yoga class, and maybe her
inviting me to speak today is really her one last attempt to get
the word across to you. In fact, I can not help but think that
she would probably be delighted for me to turn the sad event
around, now that I have you all here as a captive audience,
close the doors and turn this a yoga class, but I will pass on
Theresa started attending classes at Friendship Yoga
approximately 6 years ago after studying on her own for many
years from a book. For those of you who are unfamiliar with
yoga, it’s an art, a science of health, and a spiritual practice.
One of Theresa’s favorite poses was sirsasana or headstand.
Unlike many of us, she had a natural inclination to stand on her
head, and in fact, from what I hear, had been standing on her
head at parties for years going back to her graduate school
days. However from what she learned in class and from her
own practice, her headstand was tranformed from a party stunt
to something far more sublime. Every yoga posture is supposed
to exemplify two qualities: the sanskrit words are sthiti and
sukka, steadiness and delight. Theresa always seemed to radiate
B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the foremost practitioners and teachers
of yoga in the world today, describes the benefits of practicing
headstand in his book Light on Yoga. He writes: “regular
practice of headstand develops the body, disciplines the mind,
and widens the horizons of the spirit. One becomes balanced
and self-reliant in pain and pleasure, loss and gain, shame and
fame, and defeat and victory.” Theresa proved him right.
Not all of my students embrace the notion of going upside down
with Theresa’s enthusiasm. I have to cajole those who feel more
fearful that the perspective gained from studying the world from
an inverted position will prepare them to face with courage and
confidence the inevitable events in life, which turn our worlds
up side down, and unhinge us from what seemed settled, secure
and fixed. Theresa exemplified this in her ability to maintain
grace and equanimity with the tragic onset of her illness, and
throughout its course. Although at times I honestly was not sure
it was the right thing for her to do, she insisted on continuing
with class over the past four years and did so consistently until
the beginning of this fall. She resisted any attempts I made due
to her illness to modify her practice and remained a resolute and unwavering participant throughout.
We were all inspired by her determination, friendliness, exuberance,
and compassion for others, especially in the face of
her own struggle. Even as her illness progressed and her health
deteriorated we were awed by the clarity and beauty of her spirit.
She was a truly an inspiration to us all.
You can mail your contribution to Maitri Yoga Education Fund c/o Friendship
Yoga, 1231 Gilbert Ct. Iowa City, IA 52240.
A limited number of work/study scholarships
and (partial) tuition waivers are available for both on-going classes and workshops/retreats.
Submit the Maitri Scholarship
Application Form (.doc) or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.