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Fraser Trevor Fraser Trevor Author
Author: Fraser Trevor
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Father Joe Pereira SURRENDER, STILLNESS, SILENCE Despite having been born in India, Father Joe Pereira's coming to yoga was somewhat ...

Father Joe Pereira


Despite having been born in India, Father Joe Pereira's coming to yoga was somewhat unlikely. For one thing, his Portuguese forebears, although settled in India since the sixteenth century (he was born in 1942 in the former Portuguese colony of Goa), were devoutly Catholic. For another, when as a young man he heard a spiritual calling, it was to the priesthood, and so he spent a decade in seminary and received advanced training before being ordained. But he was also a singer and a lover of music, which led Pereira to attend a performance in Mumbai (Bombay) of the internationally renowned violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin—whose own interest in Eastern arts led him to play with sitar maestro Ravi Shankar as well as write the foreword to the B. K. S. Iyengar classic Light on Yoga. At the performance, Menuhin introduced Iyengar as "my next violin instructor," piquing the young priest's interest; he soon began taking weekly classes from Iyengar near his Mumbai parish. That was in 1968; by 1971, Father Joe was teaching yoga, and in 1975, he became a certified Iyengar instructor. He incorporated hatha yoga and meditation into his pastoral duties and eventually added a ministry for alcoholics to the parish's services.

By 1981, he and one of the recovering alcoholics he had brought into the parish program founded the Kripa ("Grace") Foundation, which focused on serving addicts through a unique recovery program combining the "12 steps" of Alcoholics Anonymous with instruction in yoga and meditation taught by Father Joe. Eventually, he added Western psychological models, such as dyads and gestalt therapy as well. From its humble origins in the annex of the parish church in Mumbai, the program has grown to include more than 30 counseling, detoxification, and rehabilitation centers throughout India, as well as offices in Germany and Canada; the program's recovery rate is an astonishing 65 percent. From unlikely beginnings, Kripa today enjoys the blessings of the Church and the patronage of the Archbishop of Mumbai, Ivan Cardinal Dias.

For Father Joe, this work was perhaps the most fitting by-product of his own spiritual journey, for he struggled with alcohol abuse himself as a young man. "I have all the qualities of an addict," he told Yoga Journal in a 1997 article. "I am not exempt from the self-destructive behavior patterns people come here to be healed of." Father Joe's collegial relationship with Iyengar—he returns to the latter's institute in Pune every July for intensive studies in yoga therapy—led him to ask theyogacharya to devise practice techniques and sequences (of asana and pranayama) specifically to help people cope with addictive traits and residues.

In time, the Kripa program, which is formulated around Patanjali's eight limbs, also began serving people who were HIV-positive or suffering from AIDS. The two populations exhibit many of the same emotional responses to their conditions, including anger, depression, guilt, and self-abnegation; Pereira's yoga and meditation instruction, along with the time-tested recovery "steps" and other psychological tools offered, help individuals "honor" abused and pained parts of themselves, find a centering still point from which they can draw strength, move beyond addictive and self-destructive patterns, and vastly improve their quality of life. Father Joe has even had clients who have been HIV-positive for more than a decade and have yet to develop AIDS.

Valery Petrich, a Calgary, Alberta—based yoga teacher who is director of Kripa West Charity and has worked with Father Joe for years (together with senior Iyengar teacher Margot Kitchen, they produced a video, Living with AIDS Through Yoga and Meditation), describes Father Joe as "a healer" and talks about him in near-rapturous tones. "It's sort of like being in Mother Teresa's presence," she says, invoking one of Father Joe's heroes. (The Kripa newsletter calls her "our inspiration," and Father Joe leads yoga-and-meditation retreats several times a year in various parts of India for the religious order Mother Teresa founded, the Sisters of Charity.) "I consider him to be a true man of God in the sense that he's truly selfless," Petrich adds. "Father Joe seems to have unlimited energy from his meditation and yoga practice, which he does for about two-and-a-half hours every morning.

But his spiritual presence is equaled by the practical impact of his work. "I think the best gift he has to offer," says Petrich, who also works with HIV-positive students, "is the successful model that Western countries can study and follow, and so better understand the value of Iyengar's restorative yoga. The brilliance of that model, Petrich notes, is the way in which yoga augments the AA steps. "It's all in the surrender," she says, "handing it over to a Higher Power.

"In the restorative poses, the idea is a long hold, moving into stillness. Father Joe's 'steps include surrender, stillness, and silence; you can't get into silence without stillness, and you can't get into stillness without surrender." What is more, this practice allows the addict to get at root causes. "Addiction is usually about fear," she says, "and not wanting to experience pain. This is about surrendering into experiencing pain, rather than numbing it." As the practice deepens, something miraculous happens. "When the ego moves over," says Petrich, "then the healing takes place. People let their behavior get out of the way and surrender control. Then the divine can work.
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