Interview by Sarah Holtz
Our Volunteer of the Month is Peter Spera, registered yoga teacher and one of the voices of WRBH’s Friday edition of the Newspaper of the Air! Check out the full interview recording below:
How long have you been reading for WRBH?
I began reading, I believe, in the spring of 2008, so a little over seven years now. In 2008, I was working with a Catholic priest from Pakistan, who was in town on sabbatical. He and I would meet, and he was sort of my spiritual advisor – still is – and he told me that I should read more often, and I should write, and I should do something for my fellow man.
Almost at the same time, there was a show on WWL that Frank Davis had, and Frank interviewed the people up here at WRBH, and they were looking for volunteers. So I thought to myself, ah, here’s a chance to do something, not too hard, won’t have to get my hands dirty, so let me try volunteering at the radio station. I came up here and I interviewed with Jackie, and they let me read in the beginning some of the news articles and half-hour shows. About a year or a year and a half later, I started subbing for the Times-Picayune, the live show, which I thought was a great honor, and I’m still doing the Times-Picayune on Friday mornings with Charles McKinley. I really enjoy the live broadcast of reading the Times-Picayune and the Advocate.
What do you most enjoy reading, both at WRBH and in your free time?
I enjoy the non-fiction books – the book I’m reading right now, Rising Tide, is about the flood of the Mississippi River, but it’s also about the socioeconomic strata of the South during that time, which I believe still persists.
I read a lot of self-help books, books on meditation, books on just trying to be a more productive individual, and that’s what I like reading on the radio when I’m not doing the Times-Picayune.
I also have heard that you practice yoga. You mentioned meditation – do you read about yoga as well to incorporate that into your practice?
Yes. I’m a registered yoga teacher and have taught for almost six years now. I’ve practiced yoga since 2003, so close to 13 years of practice. I do read a lot of books about yoga, about the different aspects of yoga, about the body-mind-spirit thing. That’s probably overworked a lot, but if you begin practicing yoga you would find that there’s more than just a physical part of the exercise – that the breathing and maintaining focus, mind over matter, being able to overcome your fears – all these things come into the yoga practice.
I also practice zen meditation, which gives me an opportunity to sit, to be still. I always preach this to my yoga students, but probably the hardest part of the practice is at the end when we try to cool down in savasena, in the end, that stillness, and just to take three to five minutes to be still in almost impossible for anyone, so it’s a challenge. But yes, I do enjoy yoga and zen meditation.
Where do you teach?
I teach at the Mel Ott Recreation Center in Gretna. I also teach at the West Jefferson Medical Center at their fitness center and at the fitness center at Oakwood in Gretna.
Do you have any words of advice for someone who hasn’t practiced yoga before but is interested in getting into it?
My advice to anyone, and I hear this all the time that people tell me, number one, they’re not flexible; number two, I want to lose a little weight before I start. I’ll tell you, begin immediately. Yoga is all levels, so the yoga student, the yogi, does what he or she can do in the class without worrying about what anyone else is doing. A good yoga teacher will always make sure that that person is going to be able to progress at their own level without injury. So don’t hesitate.
The thing that I always preach about yoga? Yoga de-ages us; it begins to make you more flexible, not only in your body but in your mind, you become more awakened to what’s going on in your world. It’s a great way to ward off arthritis because it keeps the joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments all flexible and moving. Even if it’s just twisting in a chair, if you’re interested, please start yoga somewhere. There are classes all over the city, and they’re for every level.
So you teach yoga in Gretna, and I also understand you hail from the West Bank.
Yes, I’ve lived in Gretna all my life.
What’s your favorite thing about the Gretna and the West Bank?
I think that the thing I like about Gretna – even though it’s just minutes across the bridge from the city – Gretna is its own self-sustained city. The old part of Gretna, the downtown part, the area that I know and grew up in, it’s still there. The Gretna Fest, which is in about two weeks, the first weekend of October, is probably one of my favorite times of year. The weather changes and to go up on the river batture in Gretna at sunset and see the lights start to come on in the city and the cool breeze off the river, that’s just a special place. That’s what I love about the West Bank and especially Gretna.
Has it changed much since you were a child?
Oh, it’s changed tremendously but it still clings to a lot of values, and the city itself has grown with the West Bank Expressway. At first, everyone was worried that the Expressway would be the demise of Gretna, just sort of like the interstate crushing the neighborhood along Claiborne Avenue. But they fought it, and there were a lot of compromises, and they built the Expressway up higher so that you could still see under the bridge, and they’ve done landscaping and put in walking paths and things. They could’ve done more but what they did has helped. There are a lot of new businesses coming in the downtown area. There’s a historic district where your homes have to live up to…almost like the Vieux Carré Historic District. So it’s wonderful that we can embrace the old and the new at the same time. It’s just a great place to live. I just love living in that city.
Tell us a quick story that you often find yourself telling to other people.
A quick story…well, if I go anywhere, everyone knows that I teach yoga. My wife is my biggest…I call her my agent, because as soon as we’re anywhere, she says, “Oh, do you know that Pete teaches yoga?” Right away that will open a conversation about, “Well, why do you practice, or what do you do? Oh, I could never do that.” So I always try to piece together something that can just kind of pique their interest to try something to improve their own lives. Even if it’s not going to be yoga, start walking, start doing something, get off the couch, change your nutritional habits. So that’s sort of my mantra now, to just try to help people realize that they don’t have to do a whole lot, but they have to do more than what they’re doing. So that may be the conversation that I use the most. It’s a journey. It never just starts and ends. It just goes on and on.
What is one thing that you can’t live without?
One thing that I can’t live without? That’s a tough one. I couldn’t live without my wife and her support for one thing for sure, because she’s always there for me and she gives me constant praise and constant positive thoughts to live with. She and I have been together now, it’ll be 44 years in December, so she is the one thing that is a constant in my life, through all sorts of experiences, she’s always been the rock in my life. So I would say that Debbie is the one thing I couldn’t do without.
Congratulations and thank you so much for your service to the station.
You’re welcome, and I greatly appreciate the honor. It makes me feel special, and this station is special to me. So it’s a great honor to be the Volunteer of the Month.
I have know Pete for over 50 yrs and am so very proud of him and what he has done in both his personal and family life. He is one of my hero’s.
What a great thing to do Pete! I am proud of you!!!
Terrific interview, Peter! You are such an asset to WRBH in every way!