Hall of Fame - Past Officers

The following people have contributed to the college community through their long and steadfast service as officers of the Yoga Club.  Here they are, along with a brief word about their experience as Yoga Coordinators.

Holly Kandel

Teacher of English and Life Sciences, Senegal

People sitting next to a tree

Before I comment on what the yoga club has done for me, I need to tell you a bit about my new living situation.  I can say that I have officially been living in Senegal for 4 months. Time is really flying by. I have been working very hard both inside and outside of work. At work, I am the teacher of 85 students. I have 53 students in 7th grade (broken up into 2 separate classes), in which I teach them English and general life sciences. (The science course is taught in English). I am also an 11th grade English teacher for 32 students. Since it is a bilingual school, the students are considered to be at the level of a native speaker by the time they are in 11th grade, so it’s taught as a normal English course, not as an “English as a Second Language” course. Therefore, we have already done 2 Shakespearean plays (Romeo and Juliet and The Merchant of Venice), and we will continue to read and analyze English literature throughout the year. We also touch upon advanced English grammar, but mainly focus on literary analysis and writing skills. Each day presents new challenges as well as beautiful surprises. I now understand the immense difficulties, as well as the immense rewards, that are present in the lives of every teacher. It is not an easy profession!

That being said, outside of work, my job is to try to integrate myself within Senegalese society. The culture, cuisine, societal norms, style of dress, language, work ethics, etc. are all new to me. I am taking individual lessons to learn the local dialect (Wolof), as well as continuing to work on my French (the official language). At the school, there is a staff of 29, of which 3 of us are American, and the rest are Senegalese. My students are all Senegalese as well, so it is also a new working environment for me, but I have strong relationships with my Senegalese colleagues and students. All of my professional interactions are in French, but I am obligated to speak to my students only in English. They are very bright and driven to work hard, and they inspire me every day.

My challenges have been vast. They range from cultural misunderstandings, feelings of being overwhelmed, physical exhaustion, feelings of loneliness, frustration, and also pain when I have been forced to confront certain aspects of myself that were difficult to confront. This has all been part of the growing experience.

I cannot emphasize enough that turning to my spiritual practice has been what has anchored me during times of difficulty. In all honesty, I had never felt a stronger desire to cultivate my spiritual practice than I have felt here in Senegal. It is what stabilizes me when nothing else around me is stable. My breathing and mantra is what keeps me calm in moments of distress. Believe me when I say this, that I now feel the need more than ever before and am so grateful for the foundation Lars helped to instill in me during my 4 years at Geneseo. I am now also fortunate enough to have the influence of good company from a local family. They have given me their family name and I spent my birthday with them at their house. They are teaching me their traditional methods, such as cooking, doing laundry, clothing, and speaking the local language. I often still feel overwhelmed, but it is a necessary part of the journey, and I aware of the need for unconditional patience, on both ends.

It brings me pleasure to know that the Yoga Club shared an evening with Hillel. Being here in Senegal, a predominantly Muslim country, I am able to appreciate the overlap that exists among all faiths. Here, there is absolute peace between Muslims and the small Christian minority. As a Jew myself, I have come to realize that what unites us all is our values, and when people share the same values, they can share the same faith. The family that has “adopted” me happens to be Christian, and they have invited me to a weekend in which women share stories, discuss the lessons they learned, dance, sing, pray, and relate it all back to God. This was entirely new for me, not only because it was a Christian gathering, but it was also a Christian gathering with African influence. I found it very interesting! The people there had open arms to people from any faith. My other close friend that I have made here in Senegal is from Tunisia, and he is a Muslim. We have discussed elements of our faiths that are different and the same, and this is just one example of many exchanges I have had here so far. One of my American colleagues is Rastafarian, and we have both discussed meditation, its benefits, and how it helps us here in Senegal and at work. 

Susan Cerny

Co-owner of Tangleroot Organic Farm and Yoga Instructor

Susan Cerny

At my first yoga club class in 2004, when I was a freshman at Geneseo, it was clear to me that there was more knowledge informing what we were doing that went beyond my current understanding of yoga as a relaxation and stretching routine.  I recall exactly where I was when I introduced myself to Lars.  I was excited to learn more.  Years later, I find myself coming back again and again to the teachings and classes that I was a part of as a yoga club coordinator.  For me, learning yoga as a dedicated lifestyle practice from a genuine practitioner, teacher, and mentor was a special experience.  Yoga club challenged me to inquire into my own way of engaging with the world, and it helped me to create a foundation of compassion from which to live my life. 

As I graduated college and worked in many different and difficult professions with at-risk youth, my personal yoga practice was sporadic, but it nevertheless informed me on how I engaged with my students, my peers, and my friends.  When I began creating space in my life for my own practice again, I was able to be a more effective version of myself.  It was not long before I started my own business.  I now own and manage a diversified organic vegetable farm in upstate NY and teach yoga and meditation classes in my community.  I think that the most valuable aspect of the yoga club for me was to see yoga as a practice that, when used, can help anyone live a more balanced, healthy, and joyful life.  Yoga is not a religion, and it does not make you qualitatively a better person than the next.  It's simply a way of being so you can choose to experience life in a more present and full way.  In our society, most of us are asked to learn so much, but we are never asked to consider what it would be like to live each day with compassion in our thoughts, our words, and our actions.  To seriously consider such things and to undertake them as a practice is the work of yoga and of the yoga club. 

Steve Sanfilippo

Spiritual psychotherapist at Pastoral Counseling and Family Therapy Group, Brighton, New York

Steve Sanfilippo

I distinctly remember a surreal and defining moment in my life that occurred one day in Yoga Club. We had just finished asanas and a short group meditation. Afterwards, we held a short discussion. Lars had been going through each of the ten Yama & Niyamas (ethical principles of Yoga) and that week, we would be discussing Brahmacarya (to see all things as expressions of the divine). We were all familiar with the yoga salute "Namaskar" by then, but Lars was sure to tie this gesture of respect into the lesson. After explaining how Namaskar connected to Brahmacarya, he asked us all to salute the person to our left and then our right with the ideation of that divine principle. I saluted my neighbor, and then turned and saluted Lars, and when I did I saw a bright effulgence from his face and hands. In a way, the lesson became utterly real to me. I saw in Lars the Divine. When I left, I left in an altered state of consciousness and could not help but see everything around me as divine manifestation: the trees, the sky, the campus, and all the bright, shining students around me were glowing with a new light, and they stayed this way for what felt like weeks. In hindsight, I feel bad for Lars because after that life-changing experience, I followed him around like a lost puppy, hoping to stay connected to that sentiment. I've since come to recognize the Divine everywhere and learned to cultivate that feeling of devotion within, but I owe so much to this first lesson all those years ago in the Yoga Club.

Now, after years of struggle (the essence of Yoga), I have begun practicing as a private therapist in Rochester alongside therapists who share a similar spiritual outlook on the world. My participation in the Yoga Club helped me to see that the "biopsychosocial" model of psychotherapeutic care is very good, but it's missing a piece. I believe very strongly and the latest neuropsychological research corroborates with my belief that we should all be calling it the Biopsychospiritual Model in honor of our three part nature and the overwhelming need in society to recognize the whole being in treatment.

To all my Geneseo brothers and sisters that read this, I sincerely hope that you develop a thirst for connection to the divine, both within and without. We are so lucky to have the foundation that the Yoga Club provides.

Joy Sutera

Physical Therapist and Yoga Teacher at Planet Earth and Yoga Teacher at Willard beach Studio

Joy Sutera

I am grateful and honored to be included in the Hall of Fame! The website is awesome, and I love the Rumi poem.   It is brilliant!   Writing this brought me to tears multiple  times as I reflected back on our shared experience together.

Seeking out the yoga club was one of the first things I did when I arrived on campus in 2005. It was a time of great transition and decision making, and connecting with Lars and fellow students in the club felt like finding safe harbor in a storm. My yoga practice, cultivated weekly at the club and within study groups, became my compass. I am forever grateful to Lars for creating such an inspiring space to learn how to trust myself and how to connect more deeply with other beings. Lars was, and continues to be, a beautiful friend, mentor, and elder. I feel so happy that the yoga club continues on for all who choose to journey there.

My practice of yoga continues to evolve but its roots are grounded in the cultivation of compassion, self-awareness, and gratitude. I studied at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health for my 200 hour yoga teacher certification in 2010, and I received my DPT from Stony Brook University in 2015. After finishing school, I moved to Maine and am now exploring the yoga of gardening and surfing to be incredibly fun. I also enjoy weaving yoga and physical therapy together to assist individuals on their healing journeys. The yoga club is a large part of my foundation for where I am today, and I am forever grateful for the infinite nature of this practice.

Nick LaVigne

Graduate Student in Applied Mathematics at Cornell University

Nick LaVigne

Come for poses, stay for spirituality seems to be a common thread among Yoga club members, and I was no different in that respect.  Once one starts to look inward, it is hard to look away!  Spiritual life is something often neglected in our education, and many students think they must sacrifice some component of their happiness or wellbeing in order to succeed academically.  Yoga club was a space that helped challenge that assumption for me while establishing my own spiritual practice. I was very fortunate to be able to befriend and learn from Lars and the other yoga club members/coordinators over my four years at Geneseo, and I am honored by a spot on this list.

I am currently working towards my PhD in applied mathematics at Cornell. After graduating, I was very fortunate to be introduced to the broader Yoga community. It might seem that what we do at Yoga club is just happening in a small corner in Geneseo, but there are countless other spiritual aspirants around the world on the same path!  I understand very deeply now the importance of satsaunga, sharing the company of spiritually minded people.  I also now understand the importance of consistency. Needless to say, my experiences with Yoga club at Geneseo color every aspect of my life today, and I can’t imagine where I would be without them.

Allie Peraino

Yoga Instructor

Allie Peraino

Coming into yoga club my freshmen year in 2012, I expected what I had learned from “main stream” yoga—a heavily asana based class with a bit of philosophical teaching, but not much discussion. Maybe this was my ego getting in my way. To my great benefit, yoga club was completely about a shared experience with your peers, full of deeper discussions and questions we all ask ourselves. I may not have known it at the time, but these discussions of ancient texts, teachings, and stories were exactly what I needed to enhance my Self in my college years. To my great surprise, I took a leadership role very soon after I joined yoga club and continued until I graduated. These meetings guided my way through college and brought me amazing friends and mentors. Through the Medicine Wheel group I became very close with Nick and Maddie (two other Hall of Famers!) and through my role as Secretary and later President, I learned an enormous amount from Lars about not only yoga, but culture, buddhism, secrets to success, acupuncture, meditation practices, gardening, astrology, diet, my personality, my relationships and so much more. How does one even express enough gratitude for that? 

Although I struggled with the idea of the type of yoga I was exposed to at school versus the yoga I am exposed to at home as a certified instructor, I have found my happy medium between Tantric and Vedic teachings and incorporate the great compassion and devotion I learned from yoga club into my asana classes. As a recent graduate (2016), I continue to teach yoga at home and plan to move to Park City, UT for the winter season to find new adventure and hopefully a new satsang as well. But anywhere I go, I bring yoga club with me as it continues even now to teach me and remind me of what is important on our spiritual journeys. Baba Nam Kevalam! (Love is all there is!)