On Saturday, March 6th, hundreds of yogis came together for a historic event – practicing in Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills, with all proceeds going to Women’s and Children’s Hospital. I was there with Yogis in Service. We had dreamed, planned; we even had a countdown going, and today was finally the day! Armed with awesome YIS t-shirts, generously donated yoga mats, and full, excited hearts, our troops marched right into the stadium and firmly took our place on the turf that we’d only seen on TV.
Right away, I noticed something. It didn’t matter if you arrived in a Ferrari or a bus. Your age wasn’t a concern (people of all ages took naps on their mats, a nice change of pace from the practice I’m so used to). Your size, the color of your skin, your sexual orientation…none of that matters on the mat. In an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people, our little yogis found their inner warrior and thrived. Wherever they took their mats, they had a home, a community. I’d like to think the YIS instructors had a part in this, but really, the kids did the work. They showed up, in every sense of the phrase. And together, we embraced a beautiful day, a heart-opening practice, and – most importantly – we embraced each other.
It’s easy to think of yoga as a way to look more toned in a bikini, (you usually do anyway), or just really great physical exercise, (which it is).
But that day, hopefully, everyone felt the same euphoria I did. The sense of community. The unity. The oneness. The true meaning of the word “yoga.” YIS is yoga. Sometimes, the kids get it way more than the teachers.
They’ve taught me that the best way to truly improve your practice is not obsessing over your handstand or making sure your core is always engaged. The way to be your best yogi, and best human, and best part of this universe, is to practice off your mat.
Endure when things get tough. Life can be a real chair pose sometimes, and the kids in YIS know that better than almost anyone – seriously, we have a particular student who lets the entire East Side know how much he hates chair, every single time it is asked of him. They’re honest, and they’ll tell it like it is, but they grit their teeth and dig the f in. Checking out is easy when you are surrounded by unemployment, poverty, and violence. I know, in my bones, that yoga helps these kids check back in. To know their bodies and minds are capable of doing the seemingly impossible. As teachers, we see this, and we are inspired. We try to give them as much hope and courage as they give to us. So give to others, even if you don’t feel like you have a lot to give. You do. You really do.
We were all tired, hungry, and deliriously happy when we took a picture around the fifty yard line. Staring up at the enormous blue sky, I held the hand of a little person with a future. He could be a doctor, a lawyer, a great dad, or maybe even a yoga teacher. The best part is, he knows this just as well as I do. He believes in himself, and YIS believes in him. We were in a circle of possibility, and all of us – rich, poor, black, white, in between – will carry that circle, and that day, with us, for the rest of our lives.
Thank you, yoga, for everything. And thank you to all my amazing teachers, especially, on this day, Catherine Cook-Cottone and Steven Procknal. You two are sharing your multitudinous gifts so beautifully, and I am beyond blessed to know you both.
Article written by Hannah Duke.