By Michelle Annette Tremblay
Kalamazoo, Mich. The early 1960s. Summer. As he walked outside, the yoga instructor couldn't quite believe his eyes. There, standing in the yard next door was a blond girl he'd never seen before: a child, with eyes closed, deeply focused inward. She was moving her body slowly and deliberately. He recognized the ancient Indian asanas immediately. After watching for a few minutes he approached, bewildered.
“Who have you been studying yoga with?” he asked over the fence.
“Yoga?” She responded. She'd never heard of it.
Sitting in her sunny yoga studio in Bancroft five decades later, Springer -- a lifetime Yogini and prana healer -- recounts being painfully shy as a child. In fact, she barely spoke at all. After experiencing a trauma when she was very young, she had retreated into herself and would spend hours alone, often in the forest, lying on the ground. She liked to close her eyes, listen to the forest sounds, feel the subtle vibrations of the earth, concentrate on her breathing, and move. When she stretched and twisted her body this way and that, she was opening up her meridians, letting healing energy wash through her.
For a young American girl to learn about yoga in the early 1960s without a teacher was nearly impossible. But at the time, refugees were settling in the closest city, Grand Rapids, and her family took in a teenage Iraqi boy.
“Fikrat Alkhouri moved in with us when he was 17 or 18, and had a room in the basement,” remembers the Yogini, who looks at least a decade younger than she actually is. She was three years younger than the boy, and still trapped inside herself. But she was fascinated by Alkhouri's boldness. He was a passionate artist and musician who loved to flirt with the older girls, and just by being himself he was “busting up the attitudes” Springer had grown up with in her little hometown of Home Acres. He filled the basement with music, huge oil paintings, and stacks of books. When Springer found herself alone in the house she would sneak down to the basement to snoop through Alkhouri's irresistibly exotic possessions. On one such occasion she found a book that would change her life.
It was ‘Light on Yoga,’ by B.K.S Iyengar, and it was a new release. Pretty much anyone who knows anything about yoga today knows of Iyengar. He is considered the father of modern yoga, and credited with making yoga popular first throughout India and then the rest of the world. But in 1966 ‘Light on Yoga’ and its author were still relatively unknown.
“The most important thing that ever happened to me was finding 'Light on Yoga.’ I've studied every word because it's so brilliant,” says Springer, who had the chance to attend one of Iyengar's classes years later. “He wouldn't remember me. I was just one of a million faces. But I saw him, and sat in his class, and he and his writings are brilliant. It comes from his guru. It's a wisdom that's genuinely passed down.”
By 1967 the hippie movement was in full swing. Drunk on yoga, Springer became friends with some adventurous teens around her age, and together they took off for San Francisco. It was the place to be. There, everything that had made her strange in Home Acres was suddenly celebrated. People were interested in her and her yoga practice. They asked her to teach them, and she did. She's been teaching yoga ever since.
“I've been self-employed my whole life,” Springer tells me, except for a short stint when she taught yoga to children (they called her Miss Yogi), and another when she taught at Grail Springs Wellness Retreat. We are sitting in her studio, a bright pine-walled room built off the back of her house, with views of her garden to one side, and hardwood forest on the other. There's enough room for six or seven students to spread out; or more if people get cozy. Springer teaches from the front, surrounded by a bay window. There is a wood stove in the corner that keeps her classes warm through the winter months, and small shrines to the Hindu Deities with crystals and flowers.
Once they ran out of money, Springer and her friends returned to Home Acres, but they knew they wanted to be somewhere else. Somewhere progressive.
“We had a music producer friend in Toronto. We were so proud of Canada for not supporting the Vietnam War and for accepting the draft dodgers, so we decided to head North.”
Springer and five of her friends stayed in Toronto. They all worked odd jobs. They picked apples and tomatoes, and fixed things. Springer taught yoga in parks and at festivals. On weekends they travelled around rural Ontario, checking out land. They had saved up some money, and were searching for an acreage to start a commune on. They finally found one in North Hastings. A hundred acres for $2000.
“We lived in little log cabins we built ourselves,” she remembers, smiling. “I practiced yoga every day, and taught to anyone who was interested. Time was spacious,” she says, talking with her hands. Springer recounts catching the school bus with her daughter, and teaching yoga to kids in the library at Coe Hill Public School. She had been invited by the school principal at the time, Bill English, a gentle elderly man who still attends Springer's classes with his wife to this day.
“I taught yoga, cut hair, painted houses, built stone walls and foundations; whatever someone would hire me for,” Springer remembers. “We had lots of time. We cut our own wood, grew our own food. The kids would come along everywhere with us. It seems so long ago now... It seems like another life.”
Gradually dynamics changed, on both large and small scales. Members of the commune moved away for one reason or another, and Springer returned to California for two years, where she was once again embraced.
“It was like California was waiting for me,” gushes Springer. “It was effortless. I'd put up a poster and the next thing I knew, I was filled up for workshops. I made a bunch of yoga friends. I made more money than I could have dreamed of. Everybody wanted me.”
The life-long Yogini confesses that she didn't come out of the closet as a healer until an 'ah-ha' moment in California. She was attending a healing conference, and had been asked to speak. At first she was intimidated by the idea. Thinking of herself, and especially referring to herself as a healer had always been difficult, if not impossible. She felt it was un-humble to call herself a healer, even though she had instinctively known since childhood that's what she was.
“I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to hear what I had to say,” admits Springer. “But then I heard the other speakers, and I realized they weren't authentic. I realized that I had helpful things to share. People wanted to explore within themselves; and I had explored. At that moment I understood that I don't have to be anything different than what I am in order to serve, which is what I've always wanted to do. There is a word for those people who want to serve. Das. That's what I am. My spiritual name is Satya Das.”
Springer has always had an instinct about people's health: how their emotions affect their bodies, and how their bodies effect their emotions. Studying is part of her morning discipline. She studies anatomy, the glandular and chakra systems, and health issues specific to the clients she works with. She applies all these things to her healing, which is a combination of massage, acupressure, and 'prana' or energy healing.
“It's manifestation. I have to keep my pituitary open. I have to keep my system open,” she explains. “When I am healing, I am peace. I am love. It becomes clear to me how to relate to a client in a way that they are able to receive.” Springer knows that her yoga practise is what allows her to stay in that space, and be useful to others. “This is what I truly have to offer, and I feel so exceptionally blessed and so exceptionally joyful,” she says, with bright eyes.
Perhaps this is why people are so drawn to her. She doesn't do any marketing, and yet her classes are always well attended. People know about her via word of mouth.
“Everything I've ever needed to know, yoga has taught me,” she says. “I pray everyday that those who can benefit from me will find me. And I truly, truly trust that they will.”