It’s hard to imagine a residential college dean balancing on his hands and chin, his legs raised unsupported behind him in mayurasana, or “peacock pose.” But Dean Hugh Flick of Silliman College pulls it off almost effortlessly. Three times a week, he exchanges his desk chair for a yoga mat and lifts into his best peacock pose. Sometimes the flowing poses of the sun salutation, another favorite, follow.
Flick started practicing yoga in the 1970s as a voluntary naval officer during the Vietnam War. Just out of college, he was stationed in Japan where he developed an interest in Buddhism and its birthplace, India.
“We had a lot of free time at port,” he says, “and my idea of spending that free time was to read and explore.”
Yoga, he says, was just a way to follow his newfound interests. Flick sounds as if he’s describing a favorite book; yoga isn’t something he discovered once, but rather, something he knows. And his appreciation for it only seems to strengthen with time.
For Dean Flick, yoga isn’t just a way to keep in shape — he already goes to the gym every morning. It’s about a greater fitness.
“Yoga is designed to be this mind-body type of exercise, a kind of meditation,” says Flick. “It allows you to put things in perspective mentally and psychologically, to cut through the mind games we play as we think about the world.”
He came to understand this view of yoga after translating Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra from the Sanskrit. He calls the Yoga Sutra an “amazing document,” and he notes that “it doesn’t tell you how to do asanas [yoga poses], but it tells you how to cut through the illusions and veils that we put in front of our true selves.”
Flick admits that when he arrived at Yale in 1988, he was hesitant to attend yoga classes filled with younger, more limber graduate and undergraduate students. But, remembering the Yoga Sutra, he realized that it was only his own veil of self-consciousness that got in the way.
“It became an opportunity to let go of my vanity and ego,” he says. And in his line of work lessons like this have often proven useful.
“An important part of my work is listening, and yoga teaches you to listen to your body and your mind. Yoga teaches you that we’re all god; that the individual soul is the same as the universal soul. Once you realize that, you treat other people differently.”