Yoga for Hope: Honoring David Oliver
Last year, the Arizona yoga community, and the world, lost a great teacher. Dave Oliver was an incredibly influential teacher in the Arizona yoga community. He was a story-teller, a compassionate friend, and an inspiring teacher. On October 30th, we honor David Oliver during the Yoga for Hope event at Chase field benefiting Natural Therapies Cancer Programs. To pay tribute, we were honored to speak with his wife Cheryl about the love-filled life Dave lead, and how we can continue Dave’s legacy of love, kindness, and Ashtanga Yoga.
Dave was a beach volleyball player before his journey as a yoga teacher. Years of playing at a high level left him with a hurt back. He came to his practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa, which originated in south Indian and is the historical basis for everything that we now call power or flow or Vinyasa. Ashtanga represents the 8 limbs of yoga; it is a systematic way of acting and behaving in the world and as a person. One of Dave's favorite sayings was "the best way to defeat sorrow is to learn something new." And Dave dedicated his life to not only helping others learn new things, but to being open and joyful in the process of learning. Dave understood that people come to yoga for all kinds of different reasons, and likewise everyone stays for a different reason.
Spiritual Gangster: Dave was loved and known for his stories. Can you share with us one of his favorite stories to tell?
Cheryl Oliver: David had a few that were his favorites…Vira Headra, which describes how Warrior A, B, and C got their shapes. He told it so beautifully - people would become enraptured. He'd use props or anything around him…he became the story. Dave also loved to tell about the Journey of Rama, which is a very significant story in yogic teachings. A Prince gets exiled to the jungle for 13 years, and it is about his journey to himself. It really is the story of us - the story of humanity. Storytelling was one of Dave’s super powers. He brought people together and to themselves through his transcending stories.
Spiritual Gangster: You are an accomplished Vedic Chantress. How did you bring chanting into your relationship with David?
Cheryl: Vedic chanting involves chanting in ancient Sanskrit. Dave was my first Sanskrit teacher. For 3 months he was my teacher, then he told me now YOU are the teacher. Dave said that I wasn't learning Sanskrit, but rather remembering it - like it had been apart of me all along.
Dave asked me to chant in some of his classes when we were just student and teacher. Even though he was the teacher, he wanted to learn and be open and vulnerable to this new skill like everyone else. He was always learning and always teaching. Learning something new demands you to pay attention, and it demands courage. In chanting, you have to make the sound - sometimes some weird sound you’ve never heard and have never made before. Dave already had an appreciation of it, and he wanted to learn more, as I wanted to learn. He was so willing to share something he had learned. Dave always had the right thing to say at the right time, to help you on your journey to yourself. Dave was an eternal teacher, yet always learning new things.
Spiritual Gangster: For all yogis- beginners, experts, and gurus alike, what would your one piece of advice be?
Cheryl Oliver: Never stop learning. Assume a beginners mind so you’re always open to learn new things.
Spiritual Gangster: What does being a Spiritual Gangster mean to you?
Cheryl: Never accepting dogma, never believe something just because someone tells you to. A Spiritual Gangster explores everything for themselves, and explore if it’s for your highest purpose in that moment.
Spiritual Gangster: What is your favorite mantra and why?
Cheryl: “Maha mrtyunjaya” The great victory over death. It's a literal chant about a cucumber. It means “unbind me like a cucumber”. A cucumber grows and grows and when it achieves it's full cucumber potential, it automatically detaches from the vine. You don’t have to cut it or pull it - there is no violence in letting go. You simple let go when you have achieved your highest potential.
Spiritual Gangster: What legacy did Dave leave behind?
Cheryl: I am the person I am today because of Dave. I am so brave, and I have done so many things because Dave believed that I could, and if Dave believed in me, of course I could do it! Dave guaranteed that his students would be safe and would be successful- even when never doing a pose before. You felt safe and supported - like you could reach your highest potential with him. When you were around Dave, you just knew that you could do anything. That was a huge gift and a huge part of our life together.