From hijacker to healer: At 81, author starts yoga and dance studio in Rancho Santa Fe
By Claire Harlin
A Hungarian native who spent his first 25 years under an oppressive Soviet-run communist regime, Frank Iszak risked his life when he and six others hijacked a plane and flew it to freedom in 1956, reaching a NATO base in West Germany, and three years later, the United States. It’s no wonder the local man feels lucky to be here, and gives back through his nonprofit, Silver Age Yoga, which has been providing free, specialized yoga instruction to seniors since 2003.
“I owe that to this country, because it’s a privilege to have been accepted into the free world,” said Iszak, 81. “That’s my way of reciprocating. I never got paid for it and I put in a lot of money and a lot of time, but it’s worth it to bring smiles to faces that seldom crack a smile.”
Iszak has excelled in many careers over the years, from being a reporter to a chemical engineer to owning a publishing business. He taught martial arts for 30 years while working as a private investigator — and he still takes on the occasional investigative assignment. His latest business venture, however, sprung from a passion he will carry the rest of his life — yoga.
Three months ago, Iszak and his wife, Serpil, 56, opened Rhythm Yoga & Dance at 16081 San Dieguito Rd. in Rancho Santa Fe’s Del Rayo Shopping Center (858-759-7590). The two started teaching yoga and Pilates together nearly 20 years ago, soon after they met at a French restaurant in San Francisco, where Iszak lived most of his life. The two escaped the city life to settle in Rancho Bernardo in the mid 1980s, and they have furthered their knowledge of yoga ever since. Both attended Duke Integrative Medicine’s intensive senior yoga therapy training, and they developed their own senior yoga training program. The two also taught for 10 years at Carmel Valley’s Pacific Athletic Club.
Rhythm Yoga & Dance offers zumba and yoga-inspired dance courses in addition to yoga training. In an effort to combine their expertise of therapeutic yoga and Pilates, the couple has also installed a 120-bracket “yoga wall” at the studio, a modern feature that sets it apart from most other facilities. The couple holds an informational session about the wall every Sunday at 1 p.m., in which they suspend from ropes to demonstrate some of the more than 300 wall postures.
Watching Iszak execute seemingly effortless maneuvers on the yoga wall, one would never think he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a year and a half ago. He said although he can tell that communication between his muscles and brain is not like it used to be, he firmly believes that yoga has helped to stall the process — and he said the practice is his only medication.
“The muscles have their own memory, and that brain communication perhaps is less as effected than it would be if I didn’t practice yoga,” he said. “When you keep moving the body, the body remembers.”
Iszak also said he and his wife are research partners of the University of California, San Diego, and they helped conduct a study group recently at St. Michael Catholic Church near National City that showed a link between weight loss and the attitude change that results from practicing yoga.
Iszak often thinks about his first 25 years of life living in a totalitarian society, a time when he said he was “punished for what I thought, let alone what I said.” Never did he imagine getting to the happy place in life where he is today. The memories and emotions never left him, and about seven years ago he traveled back to Hungary to fill in the pieces, his research leading him to author the book “Free for All to Freedom,” which he published about a year and a half ago and is available on Amazon.com. He said a third of the book describes the escape — the hijackers’ forceful seizure at pistol point of a Hungarian airliner.
“There was a team of seven posing as passengers, escaping through the Iron Curtain,” said Iszak, who is currently working on a screenplay version. “We invented hijacking. Nobody had done that before.”
The remaining two-thirds of the book explains why one would go to such means to escape.
“It describes the conditions under oppressive regimes,” he said, “what it’s like to be a slave in every sense of the word.”
For more information on Silver Age Yoga, visit www.silverageyoga.org, and for more information on the Iszaks’ new Rancho Santa Fe studio, visit www.rhythmyogaanddance.com.