The principals of yoga number many, but there are only 10 that are deemed the Yoga Sutras. These can be considered, for all intents and purposes, the basic tenets of yoga and includes practices such as truthfulness, simplicity, sacrificing of the ego and self-discipline. As a teacher of English as a second language, I see many of these values reflected in the faces of my students, young and old. Learning a second language (something that I flirted with in high school and college, but never had that je ne sais quoi that would grant me mastery), requires a certain sense of raw honesty paired with clarity of planning and practice.
When those two forces are moved to action by a need to adapt to an ever-evolving world, magic happens. Focused entirely on their experience, students of all types are practicing a form of yoga without ever having entered downward facing dog! Despite this, all too often, mental and spiritual wellness is considered a first-world luxury… but my ESL students and I are here to say that it is not! The benefits of yoga can be achieved by anyone, anywhere who had the heart to seek it.
When the yogic path is stripped of all its finery, we learn that this space of peace and oneness is attainable by anyone (and everyone) willing to demonstrate the commitment. All of those brand names and most beautiful props used tantalize us (and our wallets) certainly are nice, but are certainly not the conduit to personal insight or higher understanding. A studio membership is not needed, nor special moisture-wicking atheleisure clothing; even if you lack a yoga mat, you can still practice this way of life! This is the ideal that I try to instill in my students every single day: that they are worth these simple happinesses, no matter their personal, familial or societal situation.
More often than not, this idea is a foreign one.
At the beginning of class, there is a pervasive restless energy that can threaten to derail the entire class period. But channel that attention into a 3-minute sequence of simple, standing yoga poses — think tree pose, a simplified sun salutation — and watch the class transform. To a group of people who have never heard of yoga before, twisting their bodies into all sorts of contortions seems like an impossibility — but 3 minutes a day? Easy as pie; and the difference in the room is palpable. There is positive, productive energy flowing and we can do nothing but bathe in its glow. Class runs two hours every night, and the vibrancy that emanates from our group of 18 is reminiscent of a strong and sweaty vinyasa flow.
We also practice pranayama, or the art of meditative breathing. Again, the onus is not on breathing the deepest of the longest — but to take 5 simple breaths every single day. Focusing on the action of pulling fresh air into their lungs and pushing the stale air out. Enjoying the silence without a teacher, classmates or even their own thoughts bothering them. Stoking that fire that burns away self-doubt and isolation. The feeling is so strong that a majority of the students have actively expressed their enchantment with the daily movements and breathing.
In class, we face frustrations — yet we overcome.
In class, we share vulnerabilities — yet we accept them.
In class, we grow individually, and together — and we are better for it.
Though my esl students consistently call yoga “exercise” and sometimes we all break out in laughter during our five breath meditation, it’s all so perfect in its own way. We’re not trying to be something we’re not. We are a group of 18 people from different walks of life who have come together for a common goal — to learn english for the betterment of ourselves and our community. The ability to see this grace and artistry can not be reserved for solely the yoga studio, but is ever encouraged to be applied off the mat and during the trials of everyday life. That’s where our true potential can be found; right outside of our comfort zone.
We just need the freedom to be able to find it, and yoga helps us get there.
Want to experience the transformative properties of a SwellWomen community yourself? Check out our entire roster of yoga retreats, from Maui to Sri Lanka to Mt. Washington to many, many others!
All photos taken by Shelby Eaton Media