Our Centre Community: Piet Suess

Piet Suess, part of our centre community

Piet Suess, part of our centre community

Dear Salt Spring Centre of Yoga,

I am truly blessed to have you in my life – to have known you growing up and to call you home when I am there.

Some time in 1981 the property was purchased and the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga was born. A few months later I decided to be born nearby.

After being born onto the island, my next task was to find some good people and friends and adventure. This I did thanks to my mom commuting to work in Victoria and my dad moving to the yoga centre. My sister and I followed. However it had taken me much longer than I had originally intended, and I was now the ripe old age of two. Looking back, perhaps having developed better motor skills and body control was a necessary step in being able to appreciate what the yoga centre had to offer.

Nayana, Piet, Maya. Halloween 1982.

Nayana, Piet, Maya. Halloween 1982.

Having found the appropriate location for my adventures, I gathered together some like minded individuals whom I could enlist in the games and projects that were soon to begin. Caleb Corkum was a frequent visitor at the centre, and my most constant collaborator. We had met in our earlier development, at half a year old. Now at the yoga centre we undertook many treacherous missions together and eagerly sought out darshan with our guru, Babaji, whenever he visited. We also quite enjoyed the candy with which he saw fit to train our hand eye coordination. Two other key individuals that accompanied us on our journeys were Mallika Hutchings and Naomi Jason, whom we found to be enlivened with the same adventurous spirit which drove Caleb and me.

Caleb & Piet (note the boots) on the back steps, 1984

Caleb & Piet (note the boots) on the steps at Sharada’s house, 1984

On the land there used to be an old hot water tank on its side that had an opening just large enough for small nimble beings to crawl into. The inside had bars running across, perfect for sitting on and pondering the deep questions of life, in near darkness with a contemporary.

According to Usha, Caleb and I would be playing in the sandbox near the big tree and swing, (which is now a garden and a baby tree) and we would get called in to her class to demonstrate for the older children what exemplary listening and attention looked like. We well understood that this was a simple task when our minds were set to it. Of course we did our best to help out the taller kids. Besides, with Usha leading class, there was little cause to get distracted. I was an eager student and participant in the Salt Spring Centre school’s naissance as a near-naissance myself.

Piet on the rope swing, circa 1984

Piet on the rope swing, circa 1984

Piet with Usha, Advent ceremony, circa 1985

Piet with Usha, Advent ceremony, circa 1985

Most of my time was spent self-determining around the land, playing in the forest or labouring on self-assigned work projects; like painting a fence or pushing a box of carrots off the deck. Fortunately my father had more distracting things to worry his mind than what it was that my sister or I were doing. During this time of naissance for the yoga centre there was occasionally much heaviness on the minds of the parents and builders of the land. I am told that in the mornings when I came downstairs on my father’s shoulders and found everyone in the kitchen, clearly needing some lifting of their spirits, I would try to help out. I was oh so blonde at that age and tiny and round in the face, and I would spread my arms and say ‘Good morning everyone!’ as boisterously as I felt would make a difference. This period of time was one that has left an indelible mark on me and I always feel oh so blonde and fortunate to have been blessed with such rich guidance, freedom and adventure.

Piet on the back deck with Babaji, circa 1984

Piet on the back deck with Babaji, circa 1984

At some point things changed, as they do, and I no longer lived at the yoga centre, though I visited often. Eventually my family moved to Vancouver where I began to forget how wonderful a day could be, and started to learn the many complications that people create for themselves. I visited the centre less and less. With the confusion of public school, city life and the social complexities of elementary, and then high school, I stopped attending the summer retreats. Fortunately Babaji’s teachings had been firmly planted in the earth of my being, and my desire to be there, and the memory of those days were close to the surface.

Having attended very few retreats throughout my teenage years, I was now graduating from high school, having done a lot of theatre. My sister Maya was on the phone with Sharada discussing the upcoming Ramayana. I thought to myself that it would be fun to maybe play Hanuman at some point eventually, and with that I was promptly handed the telephone:

“Hi Sharada.”
“Hi Piet, do you want to come to Saltspring and play Rama?”
“I do!”

And I did. In 1999 Caleb and I returned for the summer and we had fun living once more on the land and rehearsing, then performing the Ramayana. It was an incredible return for me, I was welcomed with open arms, and it made me feel at home again. I turned 18 at the Centre that summer, and for the following years I attended the retreats faithfully, eagerly participating in the rock crew projects and taking photographs. I always made sure to bring anyone that was close to me, to share in the experience. Since 1999 I don’t think I’ve missed one (maybe one) summer community retreat. I moved from dish-pig to dish-manager and then beyond. Many have said that the dish crews under my gentle reign were the most fun and desired shifts during the retreat. Or at least I just said that just now. The Ramayana in 1999 was the last year in which that play was done on Salt Spring; as well it was the last year that the Hanuman Olympics was done.

Piet as Rama, Ramayana dress rehearsal (so no makeup), 1999

Piet as Rama, Ramayana dress rehearsal (so no makeup), 1999

In 2010 I was casually asked if I’d like to be involved in organizing the Hanuman Olympics and help bring them back. I said yes. A while later, I happened to Google my name as I do every few hours, and found a newsletter for the ACYR which proclaimed that the Olympics were back headed by Piet Suess and his band of Karma Yogis. I was surprised, but happy to have a work project that I could spearhead on the land once more. Of course I enlisted Caleb for the task, and also my brother Max who had become just about as regular at the summer retreats as I, since his first visit as a two year old. This was also-also when my reign as dish Übermeister ended and the board saw fit to create a new dish-room in my honour to signify my departure. Or so I like to interpret it.

Almost immediately after the Ramayana of 1999 I went to the Vancouver Film School to study New Media (digital arts) and after that packed a suitcase for New York City. There I began my career in film. Outside my career on the land, I have built a career in film that has taken me to many wondrous and treacherous parts of the world. I have adventured and done projects with like minded individuals and seen many cultures and hot water tanks. After a two and a half year stint in LA I recently made my way up to stint in Victoria, via a two month stint at Mount Madonna Centre.

Max and Piet

Max and Piet

Through all of my work, the teachings and values that were absorbed in my early years have guided and informed me. The self-determination afforded me at the Saltspring Centre, and the unwavering moral compass of the teachings of Babaji, have been the fertile soil from which my accomplishments have blossomed. I continue to create media with socially conscious relevance, carefully choose what I involve myself in, and try to uplift everyone’s spirits.

Coming back to the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga truly is like coming home.

Stoking the Fire: Spice up your Autumn meals

As the summer sun recedes and the autumn winds bring chilly rain, consider your digestive fire. During the warm summer months, our bodies need less fuel to warm us, and our digestive juices can take a bit of a holiday. As the weather cools, our bodies call for more warming foods and we may need to bring some heating digestive spices into our diet.

indian-spicesAyurveda places great emphasis on agni, the fire principle, which manifests in the body in overall warmth and in the power of digestion (physical, mental and emotional), as well as in our vision, in our blood and skin. When our digestive agni is strong and balanced, we feel energized and clear, light and centered.

To kindle your digestive agni, here are a few common heating spices that are already available in many of our kitchens:

  • Ginger can be used fresh or powdered. This pungent herb is stimulating and counteracts intestinal gas and bloating. Ginger makes food lighter and easier to digest. Grated fresh ginger with a little salt and lime juice can be eaten to boost our agni. A tea of powdered ginger mixed with hot water may be taken with honey to alleviate colds and congestion.
  • Black pepper is another pungent heating spice that kindles agni. It increases the secretion of digestive juices and stimulates the appetite. Pepper is especially effective in helping to digest high protein foods such as cheese, meat and eggs. It is said to contain five of the six tastes: pungent, sweet, salty, bitter and astringent. Use in cooking or at the table.
  • Cinnamon is an aromatic stimulant that is both pungent and astringent. Cinnamon also stimulates the digestive fire and has a natural cleansing action. It’s perfect to mix in with your morning cereal. It is also helpful to stimulate sweating and relieves cough, congestion and colds.
  • Cayenne pepper is very heating, so use with caution. Cayenne helps to reduce the heaviness of food and makes it light, palatable and easily absorbable. Especially helpful when cooking dry peas and beans, cayenne strengthens digestion and causes sweating.
  • Cumin seeds are aromatic, with a pungent and bitter taste. Roasted in ghee for a few minutes, the seeds add flavor to kitcheri (rice and beans cooked together) as well as to your favorite vegetable dish. Cumin aids the secretion of digestive juices and improves the taste of food.

A few other tips for improving digestion include:

  1. eat only when hungry
  2. eat fresh foods, freshly prepared
  3. sit quietly and offer a prayer before eating
  4. minimize raw foods (especially in cool weather), and
  5. walk 100 paces after each meal

All this talk about food is making me hungry! Must be time for breakfast. Bon appétit!

– Pratibha

Pratibha at her 70th birthday celebration

Pratibha at her 70th birthday celebration

Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que@gmail.com.

Asana of the Month: Supta Padangusthasana

Supta Padangusthasana or Reclining Big Toe Hold

When introducing your students to a challenging balancing pose, try taking it in a reclining, or supta position first. This allows a student to build familiarity with the actions of the pose before adding balancing to the equation. This posture builds the actions for both ardha chandrasana and padangusthasana.

Supta pandangusthasana stretches the hips, thighs, groins, hamstrings and calves. It can help with sciatic and lower back pain.


Coming into the pose

  • Begin by aligning the short edge of your mat with a wall and have a strap ready.
  • Lie on your back on the mat, with the soles of your feet pressing evenly and firmly into the wall.
  • Bend your right knee and hug the thigh in towards the chest.
  • Bring the strap around the ball of the right foot and hold the strap with the right hand as you straighten your leg, moving the sole of the foot towards the ceiling.
  • Extend the left arm out along the floor at shoulder height.


  • Extend firmly out through the soles of the right and left foot, keeping both legs energized.
  • Holding the strap in the right hand, allow the right leg to lower out towards the right side.
  • Focus on keeping the left hip and thigh pressing down towards the mat.
  • If the left hip lifts, support the right leg on a block, chair or adjacent wall until the left hip settles down towards the mat.
  • Continue to press out actively through the soles of both feet.


  • To come out of the posture, lift the right leg back up towards the ceiling, then bend the knee, release the strap and hug the thigh towards the chest.
  • Come back to your starting position, with both feet pressing evenly and firmly into the wall before taking the left side.

Use a chair, block or adjacent wall to help support the leg opening out to the side.

About the Instructor
Julie Higginson has been practicing yoga since 2001 and completed her teacher training in 2008 at the SaltSpring Centre of Yoga. She teaches classes at the Royal Roads Rec Centre in Victoria and assists with yoga getaways and YTT at the Centre. She currently serves on the Dharma Sara Satsang Society Board as treasurer.