Yoga instructor who taught his first class in jail will retire after 49 years
Yoga instructor Larry “Lar” Caughlan will roll up his mat for a six-month hiatus after 49 years spent as a student and teacher at SF State.
“It’s amazing to have such a long run in the same place because I would have never thought I’d be here since 1965,” said Caughlan, who has both taught and attended classes at the university.
Caughlan began his undergraduate degree as a music major in 1965. During a brief 90-day stint in jail, while a junior at SF State, Caughlan had his first teaching gig when he showed other inmates yoga to pass the time.
Upon his return to school, Caughlan was met with the beginning demonstrations of the 1968 campus strike, which he participated in by handing out pamphlets until events became increasingly violent and against his belief in the Gandhi tradition of social change.
“It was probably one of the worst campuses on earth at that time because of the chaos,” said Caughlan. “If universities get too radical, you can’t just be a student and focus in. I didn’t participate in any of the radical stuff, that’s why I was doing yoga out on the lawn.”
Almost immediately after graduating in 1972, Caughlan was given a position teaching free yoga to students for a year under Phys-Ed for the People, a university-sanctioned group at SF State that taught classes not offered in the curriculum.
SF State Women’s Physical Education soon wanted to incorporate yoga into their program and offered Caughlan two co-ed yoga classes that turned into five sections. By 2004, there were 17 different yoga sections taught by various instructors at SF State.
“This was a pretty radical idea, having men and women doing yoga together in the same room,” Caughlan said. “There was hardly any yoga around, but students wanted to learn.”
Suzanne Caughlan, once an eager student interested in learning the art of yoga, married Caughlan 11 years after she took one of his classes at SF State. Suzanne had become intrigued and continued to come back to his classes each week before starting to teach her own.
“He’s good at allowing everyone to have their own spiritual space,” said Suzanne, who will take over Caughlan’s classes while he is on leave. “His teaching is unique to the individual.”
Caughlan prides himself on teaching the basics of yoga to his students without all the fuss of modern forms. To maintain the goal of delivering an honest spiritual journey with every class is what he hopes students will carry with them.
“For reasons largely unknown to me, I have a strong cathartic experience during almost all of Lar’s classes,” said Dave Peterson, a graduate student and first-year music major. “I suppress my tears. The outcome is that I feel an increased capacity for love and patience in every other facet of my life.”
Caughlan taught at multiple schools and recreational centers to earn a living. With no summer break and balancing over ten yoga sections at different facilities, Caughlan feels an increased strain spiritually and physically on his 68-year-old body.
“I’ve been teaching here for 44 years and I need a break,” Caughlan said. “I hope to come back. I don’t want to stop teaching, I just love it too much.”
After a six-month break, Caughlan hopes to teach half of the sections he does now to maintain a more practical regime.
“I kept on teaching at state because I started realizing the impact I have on the students,” Caughlan said. “I never went into yoga to make money. I went into yoga just to help people learn it. I just love helping students learn something totally different—how to be at peace with yourself.”