Velta's Yoga 18th Dec 2020 Liz Till
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 
Entering the space of Velta's yoga class for the first time in 1982, I
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.' 
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. 
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
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”
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”.
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. 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. 
Velta taught us to 'peel off' layers of illusions  ; 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
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 ]