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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

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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

 

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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)


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

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]]


 

 

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