The Midwest Yoga & Oneness Festival is honored to welcome Luke Ketterhagen, senior faculty member at the Himalayan Institute, as one of the premier presenters at the 2018 festival. The Himalayan Institute is a leading yoga learning facility deeply rooted in the Himalayan Tradition as taught by its founder Swami Rama. It is where Luke spent seven years in residence under the guidance of Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, successor of Swami Rama and spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute.
Luke’s down to earth, accessible manner and genuine kindness could be attributed to his Midwestern roots, but is certainly cultivated with his adherence to the yoga lifestyle that has been a part of his life to some degree from a young age. As a popular teacher with a full schedule and busy family life raising two teenagers with his wife, he understands the importance of being grounded. Balance is what he considers a primary goal in the practice of yoga and is his overarching message in his teaching.
Some of you may recognize Luke from the widely popular publication from the Himalayan Institute Press, Yoga: Mastering the Basics by Sandra Anderson and Rolf Sovik. Published in 2000 it is still considered a valuable staple for teachers and students alike. Luke had already graduated from a bio-med program with highest honors from Marquette University and had been living at HI for two years when he was one of the models for that publication.
Recently Luke talked about his roots in the Midwest and his path to senior faculty at HI in Honesdale, PA and a bit more about the roots of the Himalayan Tradition that he teaches in workshops locally, nationally and internationally.
“Do you want to be a doctor, someone who helps a hundred people, or do you want to be someone who helps a hundred doctors?”
How does a Midwestern science-educated young man end up living in, and teaching the traditions of Swami Rama at the Himalayan Institute?
It’s interesting to see how his path unfolded starting from childhood. Luke grew up in an atmosphere of acceptance and diversity. His parents, described by Luke as “ex-hippies’, wanted to move from Milwaukee and open a community center for at-risk youth to get out of the city and spend time in the countryside. It was in this community setting that 8year-old Luke and his younger sister had much more exposure to many backgrounds and influences from people who came to live or spend time with them: a homeless man, a woman from Japan, a man from Africa, for example. “Our eyes were opened early in life” to cultures other than the more conservative viewpoint that they had been used to in Milwaukee.
In terms of yoga and Ayurveda, it all started when his 1year-old sister had recurrent earaches. Conventional treatment didn’t help and so his mother sought the help of a natural health practitioner. One appointment and eight dollars later the earache never returned. The homeopathic, ayervedic healer became their family physician, and, it turns out, the link to the Himalayan Institute. This healer had spent time at the Himalayan Institute and introduced Luke’s parents to systematic meditation, yoga, and relaxation techniques that became a part their lifestyle.
By the time Luke was a Junior in High school he knew that he wanted to go to medical school. “I wanted to help people and I thought being a physician was the way to do it.” Luke went to Marquette, earned straight A’s, had excellent references and experience in the field but didn’t score high enough in all four sections of the MCAT. He scored high marks on all sections except the reading portion. He was a slow reader and that presented a challenge in the reading portion of the test and kept him from scoring high enough to get interviews for a medical program.
In the summer after graduation, faced with studying for a third attempt at the and wanting some time away, Luke went to the Himalayan Institute with his father who was attending a workshop by the spiritual head of HI, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait.
“Every person I talked to (at HI) was like a long-lost friend; every bite of food was like nectar. I’m a scientist and this was a bit much.” Luke had a chance to sit down with Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, who asked Luke to move to the HI. Motivated by the nurturing atmosphere and thinking it would be a great place to focus Luke moved, studied, took the MCAT for the third time and, remarkably, received the exact same scores as the first two attempts. Talking to “Pandaji”, the person who would become his teacher and great mentor, he asked Luke “Do you want to be a doctor, someone who helps a hundred people, or do you want to be someone who helps a hundred doctors?” With that, Luke was put into the training program by Tigunait himself, and, from the desire to want to help as many people as he could, Luke didn’t become a physician but started on the path to learn all he could, become an influential yoga teacher and ultimately become a senior faculty member.
This path may seem as though it unfolded easily for him but “as meant to be” as it was, that doesn’t mean his path and spiritual work was easy. “We all have opportunity and mine was unique to live at the HI under Pandaji’s guidance and tutelage, but it wasn’t easy. Tapas is not the easiest or the most comfortable way, but it’s what brings us spiritual fervor, builds our will and determination. We have to have good company, ‘sat sangha’, otherwise it’s too easy to stick with the old habits until we hit crisis mode and realize we need to change.”
What is the basis of the Himalayan Tradition?
“It’s a practice based on Raja Yoga. Its goal is to use all the understanding and practice of yoga, health and well-being – ayurveda and tantra - to create the most accessible path for people to follow to achieve freedom and fulfillment in this life; to live a life of meaning and purpose. Because there are so many different people, there are many ways, using specific tools and techniques of the philosophical foundation that is supportive of the human. You can approach from any path and get to this understanding that we are here for a certain reason. We are here for a certain time. We are here to achieve a certain purpose and dharma. All of this, I’d say is the Himalayan Tradition.”
What is your goal in teaching the workshops and classes that you teach?
No matter what the topic, whether it’s foundational work, mula bandha, postures, mediation or mantra, whatever I teach, if there’s one philosophical, overarching goal, that I really shoot to disseminate it is BALANCE. It’s through this practice we can learn to balance ourselves in our busy lives. Through the practice we can create stability and grounded-ness to be balanced.
Luke will teach a Friday intensive: From Sthira and Sukha to Bhoga and Apavarga (5 CEUs) and several workshops throughout the weekend including Stoking the Light of Compassion and Power: The practices of agni sara, nauli kriya, and surya bhed, Prana Samvedana,: The pranic subtle counterpart of breathing, and Mantra and Meditation for Peace. Visit the registration page here. To see Luke Ketterhagen’s bio, go here.
Karen Kramer is a yoga instructor and festival blogger.