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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bethany Hall

There probably would be no Uttara Yoga Studio if there wasn’t Bethany Hall.

True statement.

When I took my yoga teacher training I had no intention to teach adults or to do anything so bold as open a studio; my concept was to bring yoga to the schools and to children.

Keep this in mind if you sign up for a yoga teacher training and you think you have a "plan" -- your whole way of living and being in this world is going to change. Guaranteed.

In our training we were assigned Personal Reflection Questions; they were questions designed for self-exploration and understanding. It was optional to share them with our Program Advisor. I always shared mine, because she really "heard" me and always offered helpful comments and suggestions.

One of our assignments was to meditate on a group who might need our help. I did the meditation, and Bethany Hall popped into my mind. Which was a bit odd. I knew that there was this house next door to our church called Bethany Hall; and that only women lived there; and that they were in some kind of therapy or something related to addiction. That they occasionally helped out at the church with cleaning and other duties, and often kept our children in the nursery on holidays. The women were always kind and polite; just average people, like me. Looking back, I’m embarrassed to admit that after years of attending our church, I really had only the most remote idea of what was happening next door.

So, when I answered the question, I wrote that the women of Bethany Hall came into my meditation, and that once I was certified and a “real” yoga teacher, perhaps I might offer them a class.

My advisor, in her infinite wisdom, noted in the margins: "Why wait? If you wish to be taught, you must teach.”

Well, that sucked the wind right out of my sails; I mean, seriously, it was just a short meditation, right? What was I supposed to do, just call them up and say “Hey, um, I’m not really a yoga teacher yet, but I’d like to teach you yoga.” And what about mats? And what would they wear? And a place to do the class? And music? And . . . and . . . and . . . .

It was a time to either show up or shut up. So I called the main number. Was referred a nurse, who was open to alternative therapies. And, low and behold, she said “Sure – that would be great. We already have mats, someone volunteered a couple years back to teach yoga classes. When do you want to start?”

I contacted the church, who graciously allowed us to use their basement; ordered some blocks; collected my husband’s old neckties to use as straps, and we began.

I will never forget the start of that first class. I carefully arranged the small room that has windows, setting up a small altar; had my class all planned, mats laid out; we would do most poses at the wall, which is great for beginners.

For whatever reason, perhaps the size of the house, I expected a handful of women. As they began to file in, I began to count. I believe there were 14 women. Some were pregnant. They didn’t exactly looked thrilled to be there, and a small scream of panic rose up in me. What about my careful plan? No way I could teach that planned class to pregnant women. And we couldn't do the class at the wall! What about the beautifully arranged room?

We quickly relocated to the large, dark, windowless space in the other part of the church. All my planning, poof. That’s when my memory stops. I have no idea what I taught, how I taught it, or how it went. When grace flows through you, it's like that. All I know is that when I got them all settled down for savasana, the deepest feeling of peace and love and service fell over me like a blanket.

Week after week, we met in the church basement (we still do!), and week by week I realized how much I loved teaching them, and how much it made me grow. These women come from different backgrounds, different cultures, but something has brought us all together for healing. That great cosmic truth has been proven to me -- when you give, you receive even more in return.

That was where the seed was planted to open a studio; to create a beautiful, holy space; a place where people with children were welcomed; a place that provided mats and props and blankets; a place where you could come as you are and feel utterly and completely accepted.

I hope that Uttara is that place for you, as it is for me.

And now, it is time for me to return the favor to Bethany Hall. Their budget has been slashed by the Commonwealth of Virginia; giving is dropping off, and they are at a critical point. They are the only addiction program in this entire state that allows pregnant women and women with children to come into the program. It is unique, it is vital, and it has a proven record of helping women fight the curse of addiction and return to society as productive people, as loving mothers, as providers for their families.

It is coming up on the end of year, when many people plan their giving. I know money is tight for most people. It does not have to be a big check; little donations can make a big difference.

Can you help? Please mail checks to Bethany Hall, 1109 Franklin Road, Roanoke, VA 24016; all donations are tax deductible.

Can’t donate? Then pray; please.

Thank you.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Sound of Silence

My life is very noisy. What about you?

Even in the stillness of a recent evening on the porch, you can hear distant traffic; the rumble of a train or jet, the hum of heat pumps. Even natural sounds, like crickets and birds, rustling leaves, dropping acorns.

I’m a little more aware of silence lately, because the ipod player for my car broke. It is so interesting how you get in the habitual pattern of getting into the car, and immediately turning on some noise; music, radio chatter, an educational cd, whatever.

It has been interesting to become aware of the relative silence in the car, and how soothing it can be.

Oh, yes, there is noise. Sometimes the thump-thump-thump from the car behind me can literally be felt before it can be heard. The car itself makes noise, the traffic, there are lots of sounds. But yet, there is still a peaceful stillness that comes from not contributing to the cacophony.

Reminds me of this past Winter, going to a friend’s house for tea. It had recently snowed (a LOT), and the ground was well covered with the white stuff. We pulled up in front of her home to see a whole group of children sledding. Without even opening the car door, you could hear music blasting. Either a child or a parent had deemed it necessary to play music on the front porch of the home where they were sledding, and wow, it was loud.

And it was sad. I have such lovely memories of the sweet crunch of boots upon fresh snow. The deep hush that envelops the world when layers of icy flakes dampen down the harsh sounds of winter. The sound of snow pants swishing against each other. Children playing, laughing, the awareness of the sound of breath amplified by the visible exhalation.

I have such lovely memories of those sounds and experiences; these kids, I’m thinking that when it snows and they are adults, their memories will conjure up some Lady Gaga song.

I wonder, what does silence really sound like?

Even in meditation, with the senses turned inward, the outer world (hopefully!) falling away, sinking into the rhythm of your breath, there are sounds. My Guru calls it the “thundering silence.” I’ve gotten glimpses of it, but have yet to be able to rest for extended periods in that deepening stillness. It is a practice, I remind myself.

If this weekend you can carve out a few moments for yourself, try to spend them in silence.

Enjoy it while you can. The leaf blowers are coming.


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