He’s Not Your Typical Yoga Instructor
Mike Ricker's class at Sun & Moon moves to the sounds of Springsteen and The Stones.
“I have to be the calmest person in the room,” he explains of this intense work. “I can’t be anxious, or I’ll lose sight of what to say to ensure good rapport with the person.”
How does he maintain that composure? Yoga.
Born in Mississippi and raised in New Jersey, Ricker says he chose the mental-health field after an experience as a teenager in which he dissuaded someone from suicide. In college, at Rutgers, he found he was effective at handling some of the most difficult calls to a suicide hotline.
Around 1985, he began working with adolescent groups at risk. He felt drawn to the field because it’s “real-life stuff.”
“It’s a buzz for me to bring joy and help people feel good, to help people connect with themselves and others,” says the Penrose resident, who moved to Arlington about 20 years ago so his three (now-adult) kids could attend Arlington Public Schools and grow up in a culturally diverse environment.
At Sun & Moon, where he’s been teaching since 2005, Ricker incorporates elements of Gestalt therapy and mindfulness, advising people to tune into their current state of being and adjust their practice to be “crazy hard, subtle, or just right.” He leverages the power of suggestion, urging students to notice sensations in their body and how the class is working for them. Yoga opens a door in people, he explains, and he wants to make sure he fills it with “good stuff.”
The result, says Haidee Schwartz, one of Ricker’s regulars, is a “feeling of empowerment, of being comfortable with and in control of our own lives and bodies.”
Others appreciate their instructor’s “surfer-dude take on yoga,” in the words of student John Dubek, referring no doubt to Ricker’s chill attitude and perhaps his tousled-hair-and-board-shorts look.
Ricker’s relaxed nature appeals to a broad audience. He taught yoga to the Yorktown High School boys crew team for a season, and he runs a class for teenage boys at Sun & Moon.
“He brings a quality of cool,” says Sun & Moon director Annie Moyer. “He models cool, quiet confidence.People are in all varieties of small and large crises at any moment in their lives. Maybe you didn’t sleep well; maybe you have issues with your kids or job. Life is hard. He brings real-world insight to the practice.”
When he’s not working, Ricker can be found biking, taking in live music, or, for “comfort entertainment,” watching Hee Haw reruns.
As the class nears its end, participants move from happy-baby pose to Savasana, and the music segues to twinkly instrumental kids’ versions of Bob Dylan and other classic rock songs.
“You have no one to be, nowhere to go, and nothing to do,” Ricker says soothingly, watering the minds in the room with words of kindness, acceptance and revitalization.
Week after week, they drink it up.
Sue Eisenfeld (sueeisenfeld.com) is a writer in Arlington.