This was written on 13/02/2015
My Teacher Alf
My teacher Alf passed away on Monday 9th February. I am sad and grieving and I know that this sadness is for myself and what I have lost, not for Alf who had an aggressive form of cancer which would be causing him to suffer greatly if he was still here. I saw him on his birthday on Friday last week and he was peaceful, smiling and unscattered.
A few Yoga students I know here in Cornwall got to meet Alf- (Alf came to the Yoga Centre in Truro in October 2013 and taught a workshop which he called ‘Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Bandhas’) however all of you if you have been to one of my classes will have been touched by his teaching because he taught me so many excellent practices which we use all the time. I am especially thinking of the really comprehensive shoulder mobilising exercise- impossible to draw using a stick man so on my lesson plans is simply referred to as ‘Alf’s shoulder sequence’.
I only met Alf a few years ago when I started to train as a Yoga Therapist and an essential element of the training was to find a teacher to work with regularly on a 1-1 basis. I found Alf on Ranju’s recommendation.
I would drive to Tavistock for my lessons at Alf’s little cottage. He would always call me ‘Chuck’, sometime he would make the tea and sometimes I would. Alf always took his tea in a massive mug- I would always say “Big enough mug Alf?” and he would always say “It’s an Alf sized mug” at 6ft4 he was right, a great man required a great big mug of tea.
I was a terrible student- I can be quite lazy when it comes to my asana practice and Alf was very good at spotting when I was creating a distraction to get me out of it. To be fair to myself though, Alf was such a fascinating person and so knowledgeable on so many subjects I often found that I would very reluctantly step onto my mat possibly less because I am prone to being lazy and more because I knew that meant no more chatting.
Alf’s family were always in his thoughts he spoke to me about his children and grandchildren with huge affection. Alf was a social worker for about 30 years- he spent his life trying to heal families and protect children. This role exposed him to some of the most horrible things that can exist in our society.
Alf did his job but his health suffered- the stress of the role did not make him well. Alf suffered with fibrosis of the lungs- an auto immune condition. He used pranayama to help his breathing mechanisms and he impressed the medical world with his excellent lung function in spite of his condition, the consultants were fascinated by his case.
Recently Alf travelled to India to study with AG and Indra Mohan, both of whom he admired for their gentle spirit and generous teaching. He had to get a special certificate to allow him to carry the huge number of medicines he needed onto the plane- he found this very amusing that without a formal document he could be mistaken for a drug mule! In India Alf had a huge allergic reaction to something- his immune system was easily disturbed. He had to spend a few days in hospital but still had a great trip. He arranged for the Mohans to come to the UK to teach in London, Birmingham and Exeter. I didn’t get to attend any of the events which I found very frustrating.
In retirement Alf took on the role of director of the Association for Yoga Studies- in a climate where there are so many divisions in the politics of the people involved with Yoga he felt that all the years he had spent healing divisions in families would give him a good set of skills and a useful perspective to attempt to steer the AYS closer to harmonious relationships with other groups.
The responsibility of being Director of the AYS (or ‘Bimbler in Chief’, as he referred to himself) and overseeing the Mohan visit left Alf very tired. Last summer a tumour was discovered on his lung. Alf stepped down from the AYS directorship and reduced his teaching.
I will miss him terribly and will honour the long list of things he taught me by passing on the knowledge as best I can.