“Would the participants be receptive to yoga?”
“Would they think this is all BS?”
“Would we be stereotyped as “granola heads”?
These were questions swirling in our heads as we prepared to teach our first yoga class at ROCovery.
For anyone who has attended a yoga class, you would know that a class is pretty much a one-way conversation. Yoga instructors, like myself, provide all the physical cues to the yoga poses, inspirational thoughts, and sometimes even questions… of course, left audibly unanswered. The teacher teaches, the students listen and move into the poses… quietly. The teacher is the giver, the student is the receiver.
Teaching at ROCovery changed all that.
ROCovery, whose name is derived from Rochester (ROC) and Recovery (overy), is a Rochester, New York based organization that helps individuals recover from drug or substance addiction by promoting sober living through fitness. Sean Smith and Yana Khasper co- founded the organization. Sean is an ex-veteran whose own personal experience inspired him to help other veterans. Today, this 5-year-old organization, is a thriving community of people from all walks of life who share a common goal of being well through physical fitness.
My friend, Mary, and I teamed up to be the volunteer yoga teachers for ROCovery’s Thursday night yoga. As people started walking into our first class, we were both a little anxious and nervous. I noticed about half of the people were men and half were women – ranging from about 21 to 40 years old.
“A good sign”, I thought to myself, knowing that most yoga classes tended to be mostly women.
Although we didn’t know anyone, they all seemed to know each other. My eyes caught the sight of a couple of big guys with tattoo embellished arms. With my little frame, I felt somewhat intimidated. Another woman had similar impressive body artwork.
And I wondered “what might be her story?”
To most, this was their first yoga class. They were curious about what was about to happen. And so were we.
Mary led the first half of the class and I did the second half. The class flowed like any normal class. As the participants listened to the instructor’s cues, they moved best they could into the poses. But there were two things that were different. The first one was an instinct to embrace deep, slow breathing. This breath is the foundation of a moving meditation, like yoga, to relax both the body and mind.
“This is good”, I thought to myself.
The second difference came at the end of the class, after we said our final “namaste”. “Namaste” is a salutation that acknowledges the light and goodness that live in us all.
After our final “namaste”, instead of getting up, the men who, at the start of the class, I found intimidating, stayed. In prayer position with their eyes closed, they quietly sat in meditation. They continued to breathe deep and slow, encouraging everyone else to stay and savor this quiet moment. As I looked humbly at this beautiful scene, I was reminded of the essence of “namaste”: that we are all more alike than we are different.
Suffering is optional. Happiness is always a choice.
Everyday, we try to choose wisely.
It’s been two years since that first class. As I reflect on this time, I have learned that I, as the teacher, was really the student. I have learned many things; these being on the top of the list:
The act of giving is a thousand-fold more like receiving. When done with good intention, the simple act of giving rewards the giver almost immediately. For me, it is extremely satisfying to witness those who find their inner selves, their inner peace. I feel our collective humanity. I am humbled by the fact that I am simply the guide.
It takes a village. We are always stronger with the support of a community. Simply belonging is part of the medicine.
Suffering is optional. Sure s*** happens to us all. But the story does not have to end there. I have been a witness to the resilience of mankind. We have an innate ability to shift our thoughts and mindset, explicitly choosing to be happy and always trying to find the better version of ourselves.
I moved to Los Angeles three months ago. Mary continues to teach Thursday night yoga at 7:15 pm. I will always hold dear in my heart the many friends I have made at ROCovery. Thanks to social media we manage to stay in touch with each other.
By the way, if you asked anyone of them, they would confirm two things: that yoga is not BS and Mary and I are not “granola heads”.