Lately I’ve been struck by the inadequacy of words. It can often be excruciatingly difficult to articulate the impact one person can have on another, nonetheless I believe it’s important to try.
I was incredibly fortunate to get to spend three days practicing yoga with a woman named in Maureen in Vieques, an island off of Puerto Rico and I would like to share the experience to the best of my ability.
My expectations of practicing yoga with Maureen, formed by Lauren who has practiced with her over the course of the last three years, were very high. Yet as I swung my arms back and forth during the first few moments of class, I found my mind forming doubts. Maureen had not begun the class with the child pose, seated, or standing mediation that I was used to. In fact she had come in late, taken down everyone’s names (for payment purposes), and had us immediately stand up to warm up. We swung our arms, kicked our legs, and even did a Native American tribal dance. My stiff muscles complained and my skin chafing against my yoga clothes reminded me of my newly formed sun burned. We finally moved into sun salutations, yet these too felt awkward as each posture was modified in a way that felt uncomfortable for my body. Yet when we paused to set an intention for our practice and join our voices in om, I felt a sensation in my body that I typically only feel towards the end of a class. This meditative state continued and deepened through the rest of the class, creating a very powerful experience. Guided by the amrit tradition of yoga, Maureen follows her warm-ups with slow, deep work in just a few postures where the release of the posture is just as important if not more important than the posture itself. By the time we got into final shavasana, I had sunk into a state of relaxation deeper and more profound that anything I had felt in a long time. At one point my entire consciousness went white and I lost all feeling boundary in my body.
At the end of class, Maureen has everyone in the class gather their mats in a circle to share what the experience felt like for them. When was my turn, I shared a realization that had begun to form through doing Gabriel’s yin class. “We’ve only done a few poses, yet my entire body feels open. This makes me think that, what’s important is not working different parts of the body, rather it’s about working the mind. Openness in the body equals openness in the mind.” Some other people talked about simply feeling relaxed, yet two people’s comments were particularly moving. One nervous looking woman with runny mascara reflected that she is constantly filled with anxiety about her kids. This class was the first in months where she had felt a brief reprieve from those worries. Another outgoing man shared that he had been sober for 25 years. Since then he had practiced both meditation and rigorous exercise, yet he had long been looking for a way to combine the two. For him, holding a yoga pose for an extended period of time was more difficult than the most extreme workout. Yet he felt that such was practice was incredibly good for him. He repeatedly thanked Maureen and asked her how he could get in touch with her back in the states. Later that morning, he approached Lauren and I overflowing with enthusiasm about the class. It was extremely cool to see someone become so taken by yoga.
We use the word transformative so often when it comes to yoga that it sometimes seems to lose its’ power. Yet in these two people’s stories I saw clearly just how life-changing just one yoga class can be. Instead of moving us quickly through a series of postures in a vein similar to an exercise class, Maureen gave us the space to allow our minds to open. Then instead of letting people rush off to their days, she had us gather and try to articulate our experience. Who knows if this woman or this man will make the commitment to start practicing yoga regularly. What’s important is that the will have a memory of themselves saying something that was transformative for them. Maureen helped them plant a seed that they can come back to and cultivate if they so choose.