Michael Hopp showed up in my yoga class in Santa Fe around 1990. Each yoga style has a type and Michael did not look like a Kundalini Yoga type. During the class he struggled but did his best to keep up. After the class he shared his true mission. He was interested in organizing all the yoga teachers in Santa Fe to create a strong yoga community. His approach was to attend a class from every teacher to better ‘know’ them. I was already impressed with this man’s approach to life. Then he acknowledged his struggle in my class and how he kept telling himself, it is yoga and wondered where the resistance came from. So to better understand kundalini yoga, and himself, he decided to sign up for one month of classes. I was amazed by this person standing in front of me. ‘Who thinks like this?’ I thought. It would be like seeing a growling dog and saying, “Come here boy.” But that was Michael.
Over the month of classes, he came 3-4 days a week and slowly he found a way to better experience the unique qualities of Kundalini Yoga. His own style was Integral yoga which involved more holding the position than powerful breathing and moving the body. He also met a woman during that month who was a regular student in my class. She was attending her last month of classes as she had decided to move to California. But life had other plans as she and Michael began a relationship. The short story is she did move to California but soon returned to live together with Michael for the next eight years.
In Michael’s drive for community, he did organize all the yoga teachers in Santa Fe. We would meet to discuss how to better promote ourselves, creating a safe space for the student, getting medical professionals to recommend yoga to their patients, and how to create a strong yoga community. This last point we did with open evenings, special workshops and a fabulous winter solstice celebration. On this darkest day of the year, we did 108 sun salutations to bring all the light we might need. Different teachers would take turns leading 10-15 repetitions for the 80+ participants. Sometimes the style of the postures would change with the teacher, but the students would quickly adapt. The whole event was to raise money for charity and to have a great pot luck party afterward. This special experience was so wonderful I made it an annual event at our yoga center in Heidelberg.
I believe the organizing work that Michael started was responsible for producing some notable teachers. From our small group, there were authors, nationally known teachers and others who made important contributions to promote the benefits of yoga.
Once Michael called me up to ask if I would substitute for his class at the massage school, as he would be on a multi-month journey in India. I protested, “But, Michael, you know I only teach Kundalini Yoga.” He simply said, “I have already told the students you do yoga differently. They are ready for you.” Of course I said yes. Later I became concerned that these students might like Kundalini Yoga and stop his class. Michael simply said, “The students decide for themselves what class they want to attend. It is their choice.” Yet again Michael impressed me with his humble, trusting and relaxed approach.
In his never-ending search for ever more community, Michael had arranged with the local Monastery for he and I to teach them yoga. This took place during a special week they had each year to introduce other spiritual traditions. Michael and I went and we each taught a few classes during the week. Some of the priest and nuns and laypersons enjoyed the experience very much. They also liked to discuss the common beliefs we shared. This was so popular we were invited back each year.
In keeping with his focus and commitment, Michael started the Santa Fe Community Yoga Center, where he and other teachers taught classes. He also had a small treatment room for giving massages. The center still exists. He created programs for children, prisoners, and other community-based programs. Many of these programs still exist more than 15 years later.
I last time I saw Michael was on a trip I made back to New Mexico in 2001. As always, it was a great joy to be with him. It was the last time we would meet in this life. In 2004 Michael died of a gas leak while in his sleep. He was visiting his sister, sleeping in another part of the house where a heater malfunctioned and deadly carbon monoxide leaked into his room. Michael received the spiritual name, Maitreya, from his teacher, Sri Swami Satchidananda. It fit Michael perfectly. It simply meant, ‘A Friend to All’. And he was exactly that.
In addition to my friend Michael dying, 2004 was also the year Yogi Bhajan died, my mother died, and a long term relationship ended. It took years to process everything I felt from those deaths.
Michael was a gentle, powerful soul. It was a great honor to have known him and learn from him. He was a warm, relaxed, friendly, kind, trusting yogi, and an example of the kind of human being I continue to work to become.
PHOTO: Michael is the smiling person on the right. He was attending a conference in Santa Fe with a dear friend, Matthew Cross, who is to the left. Sort of amazing to find this one photo of Michael on the internet pictured with another friend of mine. But then, that was Michael.