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Velta Snikere Wilson on her 100th Birthday Tribute

 

Tributes to Velta Snikere Wilson on her 100th Birthday 

‘Velta is a bright star in the firmament of UK yoga’ 

(John Cain, Historian of the British Wheel of Yoga) 

 


 

 


This webpage collects together tributes to Velta Snikere Wilson on her 100th birthday.   

 

People can add their tributes through the British Wheel of Yoga to this page to honour and remember Velta, one of our greatest pioneers of BWY and of yoga in the UK. 

 

Velta was a founder member of BWY and it was her original letter, more than 50 years ago, suggesting the need for a national coordinating body, that encouraged our much-respected founder, Wilfred Clarke, to initiate such a body. 

 

She has been teaching yoga in the UK since the 1950s. She was a leader, with others, in the first wide-scale development of yoga in this country in the 50s and 60s. Velta, with fellow pioneers, Ken Thompson and Chris Stevens, also developed and ran the first yoga teacher training from 1971. She has probably trained more teachers than anyone else. 

 

Velta is an acclaimed and famous poet, recently awarded a Life Time Achievement Award by the Latvian government.  She contributed hugely to the Latvian Independence Movement.   

 

Overall, she has practised yoga for 87 years, and taught for more than 60 of those years. Velta’s contribution to the Wheel and to yoga in this country over 70 years has been inestimable. Thank you deeply, Velta, from all the contributors to this webpage.   

 

If you would like to be part to this tribute please email your contribution, marking your email in the Subject bar Tribute to Velta, to  
 
Here is access to a PDF of the Spectrum Winter 2020 feature celebrating Velta: Please click here

Thank you. 

Please see the Tributes below:

I was delighted to receive the Winter Edition of Spectrum and to see that Velta is 100 years old.

I was a student of Velta's in the late 80's qualifying as a teacher in 1991 - what a privilege it was to learn with Velta and I remember those days with affection and the excitement at going to the lessons.

Yoga has been a blessing for me personally and now particularly in these surreal times has given me a sense of balance in more way than one.

So thank you Velta and the BWY

Seasons Greetings
Susan Francis

---

What a wonderful occasion to celebrate with Velta Snikere Wilson on her 100th birthday!

 

I have not personally met you Velta, but you and I have a most wonderful connection from our most honourable yoga teacher,  Dr Harijs Dikmanis from Latvia. We are both tremendously fortunate to have studied under him, and I am eternally grateful that you sent me to him. He always spoke so highly of you when he taught me in the 1970s. I wish I had met you in person. 

 

You were likely one of his earliest disciples, and an unforgettable one, whereas I was his last disciple when he passed away in 1979.

 

I still keep your poetic letter you sent me as I wrote my book "Letters from the Yoga Masters" to honour our teacher, Dr Dikmanis. I wish you the very very best and happiest of birthdays Velta. 

 

Namaste with such gratitude to your incredible contribution to yoga and your lifetime of dedication to this sacred path.  


Marion McConnell

 

---

Velta trained me to be a Yoga Teacher when I was in my early 20s. I went on to teach for 15 years in Adult Education Colleges in London and continue to use my learning from Velta in my current role as a Dance Movement Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor. The underpinnings of her Yoga teaching 'do not force or strain' 'respect the dignity of your body' stay with me and I have continued to pass these on to my Yoga students and therapy clients; they are a way of seeing life. Velta integrated physiological understanding and philosophical insight with great ease and I found the integration of these very inspiring within the frame of practicing and teaching Yoga and within my life. Many thanks Velta. I wish you a very happy Birthday.

 

Dr Allison Singer (BWY training with Velta 1991-1993)


---

................................................................................................................................................................

The scholarly and creative conference "Experience and Views: 

100th Birthday of Poet Velta Sniķere” will take place on December 18, 2020, from 4:00 to 9:00 PM Latvian time (GMT+2). The conference will involve literature scholars, poets, prose writers, movie directors, musicians and other cultural people. The programme will be supplemented with greetings from Velta Sniķere’s family, friends and government officials.

Presentations and readings will reveal three vivid parts of Velta Sniķere’s life – poetry, yoga  and public work. This will be the first time that we will be able to look at all the facets of the poet’s life and work.

Velta Sniķere, a Latvian poet, translator, and yoga teacher, was born on December 25, 1920 and grew up in independent Latvia. Since 1946 she lives in London, United Kingdom. Velta  Sniķere studied philosophy and history at the University of Latvia and comparative religion at King’s College London. She was part of the Rama Gopala Indian dance troupe, an active participant in the International PEN and PEN in Exile (she still chairs the Writers in Exile, London Centre), and equally active in the British League of European Freedom. Velta Sniķere is a founding member of the British Wheel of Yoga. She has released several collections of
poetry and translated Latvian folk songs and the work of other poets into English. In 2004, Velta Sniķere received an award from the Cultural Fund of the World Federations of Free Latvians (PBLA), and in 2007 she received the Order of Three Stars. In 2019, Velta Sniķere was granted the Annual Latvian Literature Lifetime Achievement award, and this autumn she received a certificate of commendation from the Cabinet of Ministers for upholding the idea of independence among Latvian emigres and making such an outstanding contribution to the world of Latvian literature.

Organiser of the conference: Institute of Literature, Folklore, and Art (University of Latvia) in co-operation with the National Library of Latvia and the Museum of Literature and Music
Supporters of the conference: the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Latvia; State Culture Capital Foundation; Education, Culture, and Sports Department of Riga City Council; Latvian Educational Foundation in United Kingdom; and British-Latvian Association.

The conference will be streamed online via Facebook and Youtube

Link to the information about conference on Facebook:


Velta's Yoga 18th Dec 2020 Liz Til

Velta chose her first yoga teacher in Riga when she was 13 years old – Dr Harijs Dikmanis, a disciple of the great Sw Sivananada of Rishikesh. She approached him after attending one of his lectures on yoga philosophy. At first he refused to teach 'a child'; but he was persuaded to meet her, and found her already adept. "You must have been a Raja yogi in a previous life” was his explanation.

From the age of three, Velta knew she was a dancer, but her distinguished intellectual father would not allow her to have ballet lessons. Three times she had pneumonia, and the third time she was on the point of death, aged 16, having contracted TB as well. She announced to her father "Now I shall have ballet lessons”. He must have been shocked. She started dancing lessons, and recovered.

After many adventures, Velta arrived in London in 1946. In 1947, Ram Gopal , the great S. Indian dancer, travelled to London. He became her second teacher. In his Indian travelling company of dancers, financed by the Indian government, she was the only European; and she danced with them at the Edinburgh Festival, the Royal Festival Hall, and in Paris.

From Ram, she says, she learned gentleness, moving without strain, a deep respect for the human body.

Gentleness = Ahimsa, non-harming, non-violence, is the first Yama, guiding principle of the Eight Limbs of Yoga defined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras [ch 2, vv30 & 35]

The outcome of practising this principle completely is :-

By abiding in non-violence

one's presence creates an atmosphere

in which all hostility ceases [1]

Entering the space of Velta's yoga class for the first time in 1982, I

experienced this.

She is seated in Equanimity; this aura pervades the room.

We set aside the trials and tribulations of daily life, step out of the tyranny of time.

Her voice calms the waves of tumult in our emotions and thoughts.

We fill the room with harmonious sound : the Bija Mantras of the Chakras, chanted continuously.

We watch the embodied poetry of yoga asana, and follow her instructions, which are given with the exact clarity of a trained physiotherapist.

Every movement has the grace of Indian dance.

In relaxation she takes us on an inward journey, visualising the Chakras.

We emerge, deeply refreshed.

The purpose of Yoga, Velta says, is harmony of body-mind-breath-spirit.

She does not ask us to believe her words : we are to follow the instructions, as in a scientific experiment; and observe the results of this experience directly in our bodies, physiology and mental processes.

Yoga, she says, is the ancient science that underlies spiritual experiences, and the religions that arise out of them.

We do not guess that her equanimity has been tested in the fire of a very eventful life.

When did Velta begin teaching? She was looking for a teacher for herself around 1960, when she saw an advertisement in a national newspaper encouraging people to practise yoga, placed by Wilfred Clark. They met; and having become acquainted with her knowledge and abilities, he declared that she, herself, was ready to be a yoga teacher.

Her first classes were held in the living room in Crouch End; but soon, there was not enough room for all the eager students.

In 1963, Velta approached Haringey LA Adult Education's coordinator, Mr Marsden, who invited her to bring her class in to a larger space, as an Adult Education yoga class – the first in London.

THE WHEEL OF YOGA BEGINS

In the same year, 1963, Velta wrote to Wilfred Clark, who then realised that 'we need to form some sort of organisation to coordinate yoga activities and organise teacher training.' [2]

There were, by now, a number of yoga teachers, 'apprenticed and approved' [but not trained] by Wilfred, Velta, and a few others. The group called itself, in 1965, The Wheel of British Yoga; Ram Gopal was its first Hon. Patron.

In 1970, the Wheel committee constructed a syllabus for a teacher's Diploma Course; and asked Velta to teach the course. "If not you, who, then?” they said. So in 1971, Velta taught the first London BWY Teacher's Diploma course ; once again, it was an affordable Adult Education evening class.

Since then, several hundred people have sat at her feet, learning and teaching yoga. [3]

She called her 'school' Nataraja Yoga – from the Sanskrit Nata = dance; Raja = "Lord” . "Lord of the Dance”.

All this time, Velta was working for the National Health Service, having qualified as a Chartered Physiotherapist in 1955; and she continued to offer physiotherapy privately, even after she retired from the NHS work around 1980.

LEARNING TO TEACH --- SAFELY

Velta always invited students first to deepen their personal practice and understanding of yoga – and only then, to develop teaching skills. Her courses were a profound journey of personal development.

One student told Velta "I have been in psychotherapy for years, and it hasn't done anything for me. And now this course has

cured me.”

The cornerstones of her teaching are Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga, including the Yamas & Niyamas. Our first task, as student teachers, was to learn these ancient guidelines by heart – and then apply them systematically, as a tool to explore our own practice and life experience. Week by week, we reported results of this research back to her and to our fellow students, taking heed of the second Yama : Satya = truthfulness, non-lying.

Velta is a playful teacher. She told us students "If I phone you in the middle of the night and ask you 'What is the third Niyama?' you have to be able to answer!!”

Yamas & Niyamas are not rigid rules : they are universal, natural laws, ethical guidelines for self-observation; and when followed, they offer both physical and psychic protection from the temptation to compete, to be 'show-offs', or to imagine at any time that we have guru powers.

Everything is to be 'offered into the refining Fire that is Yoga.'

Study of ancient texts is required, but written essays do not prove that we truly know what we have written about. Velta has had a vigorous relationship with bureaucracy, including those organisers at the British Wheel of Yoga who sought to standardise everything on paper.

"There are as many different ways of teaching as there are yoga teachers” Velta says.

Safe teaching requires that we accept that every yoga student starts with a different body, and their own unique life experience. Each one will find an individual yoga path.

In Velta's words :

Yoga is not an acquiring of flexibility

But a discarding of rigidity

Not an accumulation of information

But a discarding of ignorance

No two leaves are exactly alike

no two individuals

no two yoga paths.

Yoga is becoming alive to one's own inherent path

being guided by universal laws

"Err on the side of caution” is one of Veltas's sutras – corresponding with the Hippocratic oath taken by doctors " At least do no harm”. Asana practice is adapted to the needs of the individual. The headstand is not suitable for everyone who wants to practise yoga; however, several other postures can combine to attain the benefits of headstand, without the risks.

Regular, careful yoga practice is generally very beneficial to health.

Velta's sutras on yoga and healthy living are wry, astute and memorable:

"Most people dig their graves with their teeth”

"You are as young as your spine”

"Your allotted lifespan is measured in breaths, not years”[4]

In safe yoga practice, there is no 'end-gaining'. Each student has to be responsible for self-awareness, and practise within their own safety zone.

As student teachers, we learned deep respect and awe for the subtlety of the human body-mind. She taught us that "The whole body heals any part which is dis-eased : therefore, work with the whole body”.

LIFELONG LEARNING

Yoga is an endless learning process. Velta set a great example : she regularly participated in the In-Service Training required by BWY to be attended by all qualified teachers, to encourage us to explore and refine our practice and safe teaching skills.

Thus, Velta enabled the BWY to set a national standard for safe teaching in the UK.

By 2014, there were over 4000 BWY teachers and accredited teachers; more than 260 Diploma Course Tutors had contributed to their education.[2] p.8 & p.42

On the lifelong learning path, Velta has continued to nurture us, with seminars in the yoga room at her own house. She offered seminars on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras; workshops on related subjects including astrology; dream workshops to explore our inner worlds; past lives. All these challenged our self-limiting beliefs, and developed our compassion for the limitations of other people.

She took us with her, to seminars organised by the Yoga Biomedical Trust, and the Medical and Scientific Network.

Most practical of all, she offered us Autogenic Training – a westernised adaptation of Yoga Nidra – which develops in-depth self-healing, relaxation and insight. This method is an extremely efficient de-stressor and support for the immune system. It is a form of pratyahara, fifth of the eight limbs of yoga – "withdrawal of the mind from the external senses "- which prepares us for the state of meditation. Autogenics is a life saver; and taught by Velta, a poetic entry into our inner powers, enabling us to overcome obstacles to achieving our full potential. [5]

Velta taught us to 'peel off' layers of illusions [6] ; to find opportunities to grow, through thickets of difficulty, disappointments and despair, towards the Light.

She has enabled us to meet others with practical compassion.

She has taught us, like the ancient yogis, to be free from time-bound illusions – no longer identifying ourselves with this body, these emotions, these circumstances, these thoughts :-- to become the SPACE in which all these happen.

During asana practice, we are instructed thus:

"Arrange your body without forcing or straining, retaining the sense of body dignity ~~

Take your awareness within ~~

Expand your consciousness beyond yourself

aligning yourself with infinity”.

There is no way of knowing how many people have benefited from Velta's yoga – in her own classes, and through the classes taught by the teachers she has trained. The ripples continue to spread. Her wisdom has been transformative in my own life.

When the Dalai Lama was exiled into Nepal, he brought Buddhist teaching to the west. We are immensely fortunate that, as a political exile from Latvia, Velta settled in London, and continues to share the wisdom of yoga with us.

Thank you, Velta.

Yoga is the opening of silence

Within the mind:

The dissolution of clouds

In the pool of clarity

And allowing passage

To the winds of space

Yoga is the arising of a smile

From the roots of silence;

The play of sunlight

On the open petals

And allowing passage

To the breath of grace[7]

References:

1 Stiles, Mukunda[translator] 2002 Yoga Sutras of Patanjali p.25 Weiser Books

2 Cain, John 2015 A History of the British Wheel of Yoga p.2 [pdf available from BWY]

3 Hague, Gill, 2016 Velta Wilson Spectrum BWY Summer issue p.16

4 Wilson, Velta 1996 Living Yoga in Spectrum BWY summer issue, p.16

5 Wilson, Velta 1987 Autogenic Training in the Context of Yoga chapter 10 in

Gharote, M.I and Lockhart,M. 1987 The Art of Survival pp 116-122

6 Snikere, Velta 1999 Husks p.53 Librairie-Galerie Racine

7 ibid p.55 [and [2]]
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
 
I found myself thinking about Velta recently and it crossed my mind that
she must be approaching 100, so when I saw the latest edition of
Spectrum I was delighted to see the tribute to her in honour of her
100th birthday. If anyone deserves such a tribute it's Velta. I did my
BWY diploma with her starting in 1992. It was due to be held in a local
school as part of an adult ed course but there weren't enough takers.
There were five of us who were really keen so for the next two years
Velta ran the course for us in her home in Crouch End, every Friday
night during term time for two years. It was a great honour to be able
to do this in her house, and also meant we occasionally got to meet her
lovely husband Jim. Half way through the course I had a sudden onset of
rheumatoid arthritis. I went from being the most flexible I'd ever been
in my whole life to struggling to get up and down off the floor.
Throughout this difficult time Velta was extremely supportive and
believed in me as a teacher. One day she phoned me up and said she had a
heavy cold. She asked if I would teach her class and she could observe
me. This would be my first observed class (in those days we did 20
essays plus three observed classes over a period of time). Because she
wasn't well she wore a black balaclava to keep warm. She was also
wearing a black polo neck sweater and black leggings. She sat alongside
me throughout the whole class which I found a bit unnerving but also
funny as it was part of Velta's eccentricity. Afterwards I told her it
felt like I had an SAS bodyguard throughout the lesson! I'll never
forget the day of my final observation (with Sarah who is sadly no
longer with us) when I qualified as a teacher. It was a very emotional
moment and was very much thanks to Velta. As a teacher she was quiet,
calm, erudite, a true Yogi role model. She said more with silence than
with words. She is a very elegant lady and an important influence in my
life. I would like to send her lots of love and best wishes (belated -
sorry) on the occasion of her 100th birthday and may she have many more
to come.

Ann Molyneux

-------------------------------------------------------------
I first met Velta around 1969/70 when I attended a lecture on yoga in London and Velta was one of the speakers. It was odd in a way, because I found out in 1980 that for many years I had been living only 800m from her home.

Wilfred Clarke started a yoga class in the Birmingham in 1962. Within eighteen months four other classes were started in this area. Within three years, Wilfred, Charles Fenton and Margaret Ward, two of WIlfried's first students, formed the Midlands Yoga Association, with Ram Kaushal as Chair and Margaret as V/Chair. People were writing to Wilfred from all over the UK. In London, Velta Wilson, who had started a yoga class at the request of Haringey Further Education in 1963, wrote to Wilfred to exchange views. After receiving a letter from Velta in 1965, Wilfred realised that ‘we need some sort of organisation to coordinate activities and arrange teacher training’.

Wilfred got a group of people together(See the document\: History of the Wheel 2016) and it was from this conception that the Wheel was born. Wilfred called her and the small group that developed the organisation, the ‘Founder Devotees’ !

Later , when local LEAs were asking for qualifications, Chris Stevens(at the time the Wheel’s General Secretary) was asked to put together a teacher training syllabus, Velta, who a Member of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, was one of the first people he contacted and was a major contributor in the team of contributors.

The first ‘pilot’ Wheel Teacher Training Course was run by Ken Thompson at the Hermitage(Brentwood, Essex) and that was immediately followed by Velta’s course in North London followed by Beryl Norton’s course in Leicestershire. Velta continued to teach yoga classes and run Teacher Training courses and a driving force in the early days of the Wheel in the London area. There was always a waiting list for her classes. Velta was also involved in the 1997 BWY Syllabus re-write.

Velta was always a brilliant participant in discussion groups without monopolising the discussion. She had the knack of making an observation or posing a query, which usually simplified or refined the discussion. I always came away from meetings with Velta feeling motivated and energised. A great lady ! A bright star in the firmament of UK yoga.

As I said at the start, use what you want.

Warmest Regards on Velta's 100th birthday . . . . John  Cain

----------------------------------------------------- 
Contribution from Gill Hague

I am so pleased to add my greetings to Velta on her 100th birthday.

Velta is a great pioneer and ambassador of yoga. Her wisdom has informed the practice and teaching of untold numbers of people. We estimated together that she has probably
trained more yoga teachers in the UK than anyone else has.
I have always loved her comments to me when i asked her about modern yoga: 

"People say we need to bring yoga up to date. But I always say that, it’s the opposite. We haven’t
caught up with yoga yet.” 

And her comment on all the new, modern, fast-
paced variations on yoga: 

"As long as they do no harm – just let them play.”

I trained with Velta from 1978 till 1980. I cannot begin to say how much I
have learned from her, how honoured I am that she has been my teacher, and
how much she has transformed my life. Personally, it has been an
immeasurably huge honour to know and learn from her.
Velta’s contribution to the Wheel and to yoga in this country over seventy
years has been inestimable. 

Thank you deeply, Velta.
The gifts you have given us all are beyond price. Happy 100 th birthday.

We will never see your like in yoga again.
my love and respect, in yoga,  Gill (Hague)

Gill’s yoga student group wanted to add: "We have all benefited so much
from Velta’s wisdom passed on to us by Gill. We have learned from her
insights and wisdom. We use Velta’s poem about yoga in almost all our classes
and have done so for more than twenty years. 

Happy birthday, Velta, 
and thank you from all of Gill's students.  You have been a presence in our classes for so long.

 

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