Yoga enthusiast, 75, also a meditation instructor

Yoga enthusiast, 75, also a meditation instructor

True Alisandre discovered yoga at a time when he needed a better way forward. Since then he has tried to spread its teachings to anyone who might benefit.

Alisandre arrived in Arkansas in 1974, tasked with taking over the Ananda Marga Center in Little Rock so the people running it before could go work in Phoenix.

“I would say that in the ’70s, there was some perception of it being unusual or out of the ordinary or weird or strange,” Alisandre, 75, says of yoga. “But quite a bit of changes happened and now it’s just so en vogue.”

The walls of Alisandre’s Conway apartment are covered with his vibrant artwork, created with oil and gel pens and inspired by Roberto Assagioli’s free-drawing counseling technique, as well as seashells collected from beaches in his native Florida.

He grew up in Miami Beach, back then known as Mark S. Edwards. He changed his name in 1984 to separate himself from what he describes as a difficult past.

“I changed my name from Mark Edwards, to True Alisandre, ’cause I knew I was going to be a father, and wanted to parent in a way quite different from how I was raised,” he says.

Alisandre left home at 17 to serve two years in the military.

“That’s when I began getting involved in the environmental movement, ecology and recycling and all that,” he says.

He helped found an environmental organization in Miami-Dade County in the late 1960s, running three recycling centers. He and his colleagues went to hear a Yogi who spoke in the area.

“We all got mesmerized, although we couldn’t understand what he was saying because he had a really thick Indian accent, but we felt his sincerity with what he was talking about,” Alisandre says.

People lined up for individual instruction, but Alisandre was not one of the 50 or so who got that.

“He wore out before he got to me. I had to hitchhike to Atlanta the next time he came and I got instruction there,” he says.

He was inspired and soon after traveled to Philadelphia for a residential yoga training program.

“This friend of mine and I were both doing street drugs. That was popular back then, you know, to get to a higher state of consciousness,” he says. “We both stopped. We didn’t have any interest in it anymore, in getting high that way, because we meditated and did our yoga stretches.”

He continued his training and was sent to New Haven, Conn., to run a yoga center.

“That means you’re out spreading the word about meditation and yoga,” he explains. “I was hitchhiking — I didn’t have a car — and it was my first winter.”

Then he was asked to move from New Haven to Little Rock.

“The only part I had heard about was Faubus and his refusal to integrate schools,” he says. “I was terrified to come here in a way, because I thought there would be a lot of racial tension.”

He worked part time in a convenience store downtown.

“There was a lot of mixed cultural people coming in and there didn’t seem to be the tension I thought there was going to be,” he says.

A few years after arriving in Arkansas, Alisandre began work on a bachelor’s degree in organizational communications. He was hired at a crisis intervention center, taking emergency calls from people dealing with domestic violence, drug abuse, homelessness and more.

“I actually became the PR director for that organization because back in the ’80s they formed a collective called the Central Arkansas Youth Consortium and it was grant-funded and there were 11 agencies including ours connecting together to serve youth,” he says. “I was giving speeches and making press releases and stuff like that and I didn’t know a thing about doing that stuff but when the position came up I said, ‘I wonder if I can learn just by jumping in.’ That’s what I did.”

In 1987, Alisandre stumbled on a drumming circle in Hot Springs.

“I just jumped in and started playing and chanting,” he says. “It just seemed like it was something that was latent within me.”

He has a collection of drums and he shares his love of percussion with children in an after-school program at a North Little Rock school each month.

Since 2017, Alisandre has led regular group exercises in “Smooth and Flowing Yoga” at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. He will offer a meditation for physical and emotional well-being at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 6 at Righteous Remedies in Conway and at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 22, he will start a weekly yoga class at Unity of Little Rock.

Alisandre, a retired licensed massage therapist, has combined his experiences in that field and in yoga to write a book, “Pictures of Health to Breathe and Move With.” He also composes songs.

“I believe that creating music, even spontaneously — not formally composed — is joyous beyond explanation,” Alisandre says. “To let our creativity flow out in any of a variety of ways is transformational and utterly healing. To express ourselves artistically, and not necessarily in a perfected state, is to be truly human.”

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CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly listed the occupational status of True Alisandre.