A career stretch
Enjoying dual careers as an occupational therapist and senior yoga instructor, Ann Kilbertus, OT’81, finds each informs and complements the other.
Having recently returned from her ninth trip to India, the Victoria, B.C., resident remarks that despite practising and teaching Iyengar yoga for more than 25 years, she often feels like “a newbie” when she arrives at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune, Maharashtra. Every couple of years or so, Ann takes a one-month leave of absence from her dual careers as an occupational therapist with the Vancouver Island Health Authority and as a certified senior instructor at the Iyengar Yoga Centre of Victoria, and travels to India to study intensively with Yogacharya BKS Iyengar and his family. “I go to the source to study because it adds a dimension and depth to the learning way beyond the comfort of my home environment,” she says.
Although Ann as a teenager took some yoga classes in her hometown of Montreal, it was not on her radar during her student years at Queen’s. “The OT program was very demanding,” she says. “It also involved internships and summer placements.”
Following graduation she did a two-year stint at Providence Villa and Hospital in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough before heading west for a staff position at Victoria General Hospital. There she rekindled her interest in yoga when she began taking classes at the city’s YMCA. “My teacher couldn’t even use the word ‘yoga’ — it was the Young Men’s Christian Association after all – and so she called it ‘stretching,’” recalls Ann, laughing.
It so happened that this was the renowned yoga teacher Shirley Daventry French, and her classes were taught in the Iyengar tradition.
Increasingly, Ann spent her leisure hours practising and studying yoga. So intense was her absorption that one day Daventry French asked if she had ever thought of becoming a teacher. “That’s when I began my apprenticeship with Shirley. And it was an old-fashioned apprenticeship.”
Iyengar yoga involves the innovative use of props such as blankets, ropes, and wooden blocks, allowing even the stiffest and most disabled students to do the poses (asanas) and to receive the benefits. “It’s very versatile, and I think that’s what appealed to me as an OT. There’s a lot of apology built into the message,” she says.
Over the years Ann has winnowed her OT work down to just two days a week spent in home health care. She dedicates the rest of her time to yoga pursuits, including her own daily practice, teaching four to five classes a week, and traveling across Canada as an assessor of yoga instructors.
Yoga devotees claim to be on a path, and Ann is no exception. “It’s added a lot of depth and interest to my life. And yoga has benefitted my OT practice,” she says. “It has allowed me to be more patient with people and made me a better listener.”