This is the tenth installment in a series about my trip to the West Bank in May 2015.
This morning our taxi was waiting at 8:30am as usual. Eleven women showed up. Some were in the Hijab, and others in tight levis, heavy makeup and no head covering. They came from a refugee camp outside of Hebron, from Nablus, and from Ramallah. A few had tried Yoga before, but most had not. I sighed as I once more dropped into the “beginners mind.” Please God, I prayed, give me patience with the simplest of teachings. Again I drew upon the memory of Swami Satchidananda. What would he say to my momentary impatience? I heard his voice reminding me that everything is sacred, the simplest of teachings, and that the Divine was in every person in that room. I took a deep breath and settled into the moment. Shraddha and I began with a little philosophy as to the physical, mental and emotional benefits of Yoga. Before they could start giggling with a distracted mind, as other groups had, we had them breathe and put them in poses so they could feel the affects of Yoga immediately. We all stood up to take the Mountain pose of Tadasana. We demonstrated how easily they could be thrown off balance by touching their back and moving them off their feet. Then we had them imagine growing down into the earth like the great roots of an olive tree and then out to the world like the branches of the tree. They also practiced standing as a mountain peak, growing upward while keeping the consciousness beneath the earth. It worked. When they tested one another to see if they could be easily toppled, they were unwavering and strong like the mountain. We explained that this was like moving out of the valleys where we cannot see and being able to rise to the peaks of the mountaintop where we have a more expanded view of life -- and the situations that arise all around us.
After imagining growing into the valley beneath their feet like the olive tree that spreads it’s roots far and wide to grow it’s branches to the sun, they tried to push one another off balance but could not. They were firm, “like a rock,” one woman said. “This is the pose to use at the check points.” I reflected on our time at Qalendia, one of the worst checkpoints with the longest lines. “I practiced Tadasana,” I told the women. It is like a standing meditation that gives us greater patience, strength and a sense of inner empowerment.” They laughed but listened intently, I could tell, they too, were going to practice Tadasana when waiting at checkpoints.
The next morning, they returned with renewed interest and positive observations. Shraddha and I noticed that there were emerging potential teachers in this group who expressed an interest in one day teaching Yoga to people in the refugee camps in Hebron, as well as to their friends and families throughout the West Bank. Their beautiful faces, which expressed eagerness and even hunger to learn more about Yoga, were unforgettable. After each workshop the faces of the students would appear to me at night as I held them in love and compassion with the light of healing and protection surrounding them. There is so much work to be done here. Even in the youngest person, the spines are bent with the weight of the occupation. They have the posture of one who holds the futility of broken dreams and future uncertainty.
As we taught the three part breath (breathing into the belly, ribs and chest) and then the back breathing of the six part breath, their frozen backs began to move and the spine began to unfurl. Necks began to lengthen and some said their chronic neck tension was lessening and even disappearing. They felt more space inside, and a lightness in their body and their mind. We could see the changes the second day as the faces radiated a light that was not there the day before. This is the therapy of Yoga, I thought, the simplest and yet most deeply profound teachings. I could feel Swami Satchidananda nodding his head in approval as I remembered Mother Theresa saying, “It is far better to pick up a pin with the love of God, then move mountains without.”