I was deeply saddened when I recently learned of the passing of Magana Baptiste in May. Magana and her husband Walt were my teachers and inspiration for nearly five years, long before yoga gained its current popularity.
When I first moved to San Francisco in 1960, I noticed a huge sign in an upstairs studio that simply said YOGA. These four letters stood out like a beacon of light in the center of The City. After driving by this sign for two years, I finally found the energy, with baby on my back, to climb the seemingly endless staircase to enroll in Yoga classes taught by Magana and Walt. I did not know at the time that they would change the course of my life.
The classes were taught in a dark room with dim lights and candles. Soft inspirational music could be heard in the background as students with eyes closed propelled themselves through breath, effortlessly into asana. The classes were a marvel. It seemed as if we were in a continual meditative state no matter what the body was doing.
Magana taught Yoga and dance throughout her pregnancy with Baron Baptiste. She maintained her fitness and beauty during her pregnancy and over the years. She was like a Goddess in the way she brought dignity, grace, fluidity and beauty to everything she did. When she invited me to join her Middle Eastern dance troupe, I was honored and excited to accept, in hopes that some of the grace she exuded would spill over onto me.
The Baptiste’s were truly pioneers of Yoga in America. They were both students of Swami Sivananda in India who, through his disciples, populated Yoga here in this country. Together, Magana and Walt brought the mysticism of the East to this continent in an era when many confused Yoga with Yoghurt!
The Baptistes taught tirelessly throughout the years and expanded their work when Yoga became increasingly popular. Their methodology brought the students in closer contact with the inner Self, emphasizing the importance of the subtle body and the direct experience of Union with the Divine.
It is said in the scriptures of Yoga, that great souls are born into the family of Yogis. According to the Bhagavad Gita (chapter six):
“one of the best births, though difficult to attain, is to be reborn into a family of yogis”
Now the Baptiste children, Sherri Baptiste Freeman, Devi Ananda Baptiste, and Baron Baptiste carry on their parent’s work in ever-increasing, creative ways.
Magana and Walt gave me a powerful foundation of deeper Yoga that sustained years of exploration into other methodologies. Now I find students and teachers coming full circle to experience the breath and spirituality in asana rather than separating them from one another.
Even though Magana’s presence will be greatly missed on this earth plane, she and Walt have left an unending legacy of Yoga that will inspire many generations to come.
For this I am eternally grateful.
For more about Magana and Walt Baptiste see the following websites: