Alice Rocky and the Practice of Precision

January 28th, 2021 - 8:57am

The posture, like its practitioner, gets better with time.

Alice Rocky is a testament to the power of regular yoga practice. The 80-plus year-old College of Marin (COM) instructor is spry, flexible, and full of vitality.

“Chronological age and biological age are not the same,” Rocky proclaims. She proselytizes the benefits of regular yoga practice, and in particular her favorite approach, Iyengar yoga, to neighbors, friends, store clerks, and fellow COM colleagues.

She makes a convincing case. Rocky is nimble and strong and still teaches yoga multiple times per week. Many of her students are senior citizens as well; and, after years of work with Rocky, are masters of arm balances, inversions, and other advanced yoga techniques.

Ryan Byrne, COM’s Director of Student Services: Kinesiology, Athletics, and Health, is astounded and inspired by her.

“Where to start? She’s a wonder,” he said. “She’s a living proof of the benefits of yoga and exercise. She’s miraculous as an instructor and a human being. She has such a following in the community, too.”

Iyengar yoga, Rocky’s specialty, is a departure from what many laypeople and beginning yogis (what yoga practitioners are called) think of when they hear the word “yoga.” Instead of the more widely known vinyasa yoga which emphasizes faster, fluid movements between poses and synchronized breathing, Iyengar holds poses (or asanas, as they are called in yoga) for longer periods of time. Iyengar yogis are encouraged to seek precision in their postures and to fully immerse themselves into their practice, settling into a meditative state as they hold their asanas. The result is a full mind-body-spirit connection that is restorative and therapeutic, according to the Iyengar philosophy.

Rocky is fully a devotee of the Iyengar approach to yoga. Her own students, she said, have transformed in front of her over time after participating in her classes. The once-hunched senior citizens who are largely sedentary slowly unfurl, their spines straightening once more, and experience an overall improvement in their wellbeing, thanks to the regular stretching and strengthening exercises in Rocky’s classes. It is something she said she has personally witnessed in her more than four decades of practicing yoga and teaching at COM.

Her arrival into yoga was unexpected, however. Her first love was dance which she taught in high schools in San Francisco. It was the late 70s, and San Francisco was the epicenter for the nation’s counterculture. With two young children, Rocky was looking for steady work in the field she loved—and COM was looking for a dance instructor.

Unfortunately, when she called, the position had already been filled. But, they were looking for a yoga teacher and asked if she would like to teach it.

“I was just sort of dabbling [in yoga] then. I couldn’t have gotten away with it now,” Rocky laughed. “I said ‘Sure! I can do that!’ And I started studying like mad.”

That was the beginning of what would become a more than four-decade-long teaching career at COM. Rocky did eventually get to teach dance at COM, but her true longevity in both her career and her life were fully steeped in yoga.

Her passion for Iyengar yoga found her traveling to India to deepen her practice while in her middle age. Alongside fellow yogis, Rocky got up in the morning to practice yoga for hours, only to return to practice for hours again in the afternoon. The retreat attendees practiced six days out of the week, alongside some of the top Iyengar teachers in the world.

Of course, Rocky’s classes have shifted just like the rest of the world in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. She and her assistant practice and instruct at COM to an empty yoga studio, projecting their voices toward the camera on their school-provided laptop. This format is a fact of the matter when it comes to life in the time of COVID. For Rocky, this virtual learning environment has its benefits and its drawbacks.

“There’s an intimacy to it,” she offered. “I see [the students’] bedrooms, their cats, their dogs, their kids. It’s a whole different thing.”

The other silver lining to a virtual format? Former students who moved away have started coming back to practice with her.

Fellow COM employee Gina Longo has attended Rocky’s classes for years. She has faithfully continued attending her classes after they shifted online. She said COM and its students are lucky to have a true expert available to them—many other yoga teachers are not nearly as accomplished.

“Alice Rocky is a living county 'treasure' and her loyal yoga following is proof of that,” Longo said.

David G. began Rocky’s classes 30 years ago and has returned to continue his practice via Zoom with her. Rocky’s precision and dedication to Iyengar yoga is so rigorous and focused that at first David called it “yoga for Marines.” He said she gives individual compliments when earned, and when she does, it is a coveted honor that everyone knows is a recognition of excellence in the form of the asana. He calls her a “virtuoso” and a “superb teacher” who easily captures the attention of a class of 50 or more diverse people.

“After an Alice yoga workout, where not once did you think of any of your mundane day-to-day problems, you will emerge refreshed, invigorated, and looking at life more favorably,” he said. “I often see quiet smiles on calm, centered souls stepping lightly into the evening.”

And this is, in part, why after more than four decades, Rocky is still teaching. She said countless former students have told her how her classes have helped them, particularly with their mental health.

Byrne said the college is hoping students and employees take advantage of physical exercise to help alleviate some of the stress of the pandemic era.

“During this time of staying at home, mental health is really in danger, and we’re seeing it manifest in many ways,” Byrne warned. “One of the big benefits of physical exercise is the mental health benefits you get from it. Things feel more manageable when you carve out time to exercise. In so many different studies, it shows that your brain just works better after you exercise.”

“I truly do feel that I have helped a lot of people,” Rocky said. “And I will see people and they will remind me of it. I would’ve retired a long time ago if it was just about making a living. I love what I do. I keep saying ‘Is this going to be my last year?’ and then someone will tell me how much yoga has helped them and it just makes me want to continue.”

There's still time to register! Find a class that fits best with your schedule. The last day to add a class is February 14.

COM also offers many different physical education courses online this semester. Some courses are synchronous, where you have a specific time you meet each week, such as Yoga, Zumba, and Mat Pilates; others are asynchronous physical education courses, including Yoga, where you can exercise on your own time while still having the advantages of instructor interactions and valuable resources to assist you.

Apply or register today and revitalize your body and your mind through the rejuvenating power of exercise!