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A Non-Intentional, Intentional Community: How a YTT Fostered Community During a Crisis

In response to a few cases of COVID in Peru, the Peruvian president closed the borders to all travel entering and leaving the country. For us, this was half way into a 200 hour YTT. 20 students were from the US, Canada, and Europe. The 4 teachers were from Peru and the US. We were in the village of Moyobamba in the Amazonica region. Moyobamba is located 3 hours from the nearest airport in Tarapoto. And, Tarapoto is about 2 hours by air from Lima.

The President’s announcement came as a surprise. We realized that our flights home were cancelled. There was no way to get to Lima. Essentially by 8 PM that day we were stranded in Peru.

The 200 YTT was at halfway point and we would be there for an indefinite period of time. I was curious to see how the group would evolve. I wanted to see if the group would maintain interest in and focus on YTT, how group dynamics would evolve, and what would happen as this YTT became an involuntary community due to an international crisis.

That night the group met. At that time the borders had been closed for the next 15 days, which would extend 11 days after YTT ended. As the news sank in, we realized that we would be where we were for the remainder of the week then would need to find alternate living arrangements.

The following morning, our thinking was widely divergent. One overarching concern was where would people live. Some began to search for ways to get home. Others were looking for housing. Some wanted to prepare for the Zombie apocalypse. The first day of the new reality found the group lacking cohesion. The teachers decided to continue the YTT. Students participated and all made an effort to focus. But many told me that they were feeling distracted. At the same time, most in the group found comfort to the consistency of daily yoga practice, meditation, and meals together. Although there was internal turbulence, the structure of the program and its communal nature created a container where folks felt cared for while continuing to study yoga. Everyone seemed to be at peace with the new reality.

There was a wide variety of emotion. One person cried nightly. A nurse felt guilty that she was not in the US helping. One who believed that the-world-as-we-knew-it was coming to an end welcomed the opportunity to start over. Several said that they did not feel stranded since it had been their intention to stay in Peru after the YTT. Several came to this YTT during periods of transition and found it comforting to know that their time for transition would be longer. Others were concerned. One woman began to worry about job security. One woman was concerned for her son (she was able to make arrangements for him to be at his father’s house). Some who did not speak Spanish were concerned about staying on their own.

A shift occurred when the owner of the hotel agreed to keep the hotel open for our group until the end of the “National State of Emergency”. Most remarked that they felt very relieved when they learned that we could stay together and at that location. This bought a palpable sense of relief.

For the remaining days of the YTT students and teachers were both engaged and distracted. Everyone completed the YTT and there are now 20 certified yoga teachers. All completed their projects, practicum assignments, classes, did their practice teaching. At the same time they were engaged in creating this new non-intentional, intentional community.

After the YTT ended, we settled into our life. We had a pool. We had yoga class every morning, sometimes led by one of the students or a teacher. Each night we had restorative yoga or a movie, a trading blanket, or ecstatic dance. We made a running trail. One participant, a chiropractor, saw everyone who wanted an appointment. A massage therapist, offered massages to one person daily. A reading group started. Some began art projects. Some studied Spanish. One woman led a daily cardio- HIIT workout. Others started AB/core workouts. The combination of being in a safe place, in a town where there was no Coronavirus, with like-minded people, fostered more the feel of a yoga retreat than being stranded in the jungle in a third world country. A community evolved. People took on roles, friendships developed. While there was plenty to do it was easy to find time alone. Except for the fact that this was caused by a terrible pandemic it seemed quite nice.

A week after the YTT ended everyone was involved in the community. No one felt anxious. Many spoke of how supportive the community had become. Everyone was using time productively. For some that meant reflecting on the next steps in their lives. For some it mean study. Several learned that they could work remotely, full or part time. Some did but continued to make time for discussions, yoga, fitness classes, journaling, etc. Several decided to read books about yoga. No one felt bored or useless.

The end happened quickly. The night before we were to leave the hotel, the Irish embassy picked up the one Irish citizen. The next day the American embassy arranged transportation for 7 Americans. Within a day the Canadian embassy picked up the Canadian citizens and transported an American to Lima. One group who had planned to stay longer did. And, three teachers and the one male student stayed in Peru.

An obvious question is: How was this experience shaped by the intensive YTT? There is no basis of comparison, but it seems that the intense focus on yoga shaped and informed the experience of being stranded together.

Several remarked that they were changed by practicing yoga twice daily, having morning and afternoon meditation class, studying asana, yoga philosophy, etc. Indeed, this is the point of an immersive experience.

Whenever a group comes into a stressful situation it would seem logical that emotions would elevate and that stress would take its toll on individuals and on the group. I did not see that happening. I expected more evidence of stress. I expected cliques to develop. I expected to hear more criticisms. But, I noticed almost none.

As I reflect on my own experience, although a leader and caring for others, I also felt supported and cared for by this forced community. I think that this happening at the end of a YTT that focused on living the yogic lifestyle dramatically impacted the group’s evolution. It gave us the opportunity to live as an intentional community built upon common values and practices. It gave us the opportunity to live as a community of yogis.

It worked.

 

Before becoming a yoga teacher, Dr. Loren Thomas retired twice; once from being a school district superintendent and then from being a college faculty member. He began to practice yoga in 1997 and was inconsistent for years. But, upon retiring, yoga became his daily passion. He now teaches yoga and teaches in YTTs, focusing on philosophy and meditation. In addition to career and yoga, he is an avid marathon runner, rock climber, cyclist. He found that the combination of meditation and his outdoor physical activities supported him in his work as an active professional. He now works to promote healthy habits, a positive approach to aging, enjoyment of life. He encourages everyone to be active and pursue what calls to them.

 

Listen to Episode 9 of the Yoga Trade Podcast to hear COMMUNITY VOICES and other pandemic stories from the global yoga and wellness community.

 

Meditation As A Lifesaver

It was the day before my birthday (May 21st, 2019) and I decided to celebrate at Shipwreck Beach on Kaua’i. I didn’t expect to go cliff diving that day, but it ended up happening and meditation practices saved me. I remember looking at the cliff and saying to myself, “That shit is way too high, I’m not jumping off of that.” About five seconds after my thought, two guys walked by and were talking about jumping. So I went ahead and followed them. Before I got to the cliff, I read a warning sign:  Diving or Jumping May Lead to Serious Injury or Death. The first guy jumped and his friend looked at me and nervously chuckled as he said, “Well, I had to make sure he made it before I jump.”  He then jumped in, then I followed landing perfectly in the sea.

All was well, until I swam back to the surface and realized that both my contacts flew out of my eyes due to the impact. At that point I was blind. I could, however, make out a slight blur of the two guys swimming like torpedo dolphins for a split second before they were out of my sight. I began to swim back to what I believed was the shore. I swam like a turtle, because that’s how I swim. I began to notice that the strong waves and current were pulling me toward the cliff’s gigantic rocks. I wasn’t making any distance from the cliff. I then realized I was going into a panic. I was over exhausting my mind with fear. This was causing me to use an excessive amount of energy.

I knew I had to find a way back to a calmer state of mind, so I started focusing on my breath. I began to find myself in a meditative state of being fully present. I couldn’t see the beach, but I could feel the current of the waves pushing me toward the shore. I knew the currents were too strong to fight head-on. So, instead I swam sideways, parallel to the current. I thought to myself, “This is how people die and, if I’m going to die. I’m going to die in gratitude enjoying every moment I have left.” This time I swam like a dignified turtle. With every stroke, I started to use a simple breathing mantra I do when meditating – “Inhale Thank, Exhale You.” I began observing my thoughts changing. I would not allow myself to die here! I thought to myself, “I won’t die here! I will live to heal others.” My strokes became graceful and strong. I then began to see the beach. I made it back to land and felt a deep gratitude for being alive!

Shortly after the experience, I came up with the vision of guiding a 200hr Meditation & Yoga Teacher Training + Peruvian Shamanic Ceremony in Peru, January 4th-24th, 2020. I am inviting anyone who wants to take yoga beyond the mat and into the sea of life to come. The way I teach my students is based on the core philosophy of yoga, bringing the practice back to its roots. Yoga for me is not solely about the asanas, but the remaining seven limbs of the practice as well. The eight limbs of yoga will be discussed and practiced during this teacher training.

The first limb of yoga is Yama, which signifies the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The five yamas are Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non stealing), Brahmacharya (continence), and Aparigraha (noncovetousness). The second limb of yoga is Niyama, which emphasizes self- discipline. The five niyamas are Saucha (cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas
(spiritual austerities), Svadhyaya (study of one’s self), and Ishvara Pranidhana (surrendering to the source of creation).

The third limb of yoga is the most commonly known in Western society, Asana. Asanas are the physical postures of yoga. Yogic philosophy believes that the body is the temple, so taking care of the physical body is essential. Asanas, however, do not only assist with physical well-being, but they assist with developing concentration and discipline which is used in meditation. The fourth limb of yoga is one of my personal favorites, Pranayama. Pranayama is commonly known as “breath work”. These specific breathing techniques enable us to send prana or “life force” throughout the body. I am trained in many different breath work techniques and I enjoy sharing them with others.

The fifth limb is Pratyahara, meaning withdrawal or transcending the senses. Practicing Pratyahara allows us to see life from a larger perspective – to transcend beyond our emotional and mental stimulus. Each limb of yoga prepares us for the latter, therefore the next limb is Dharana. Dharana is the sixth limb of yoga and it means concentration. Pratyahara helps set us up for this deep concentration that Dharana teaches us. Dharana is used when we heal a specific energy center in the body, by giving all of our attention and awareness to it. When we are deeply concentrated on a particular mental object or energy, we can listen to the messages that it is trying to communicate with us. This brings us to our seventh limb of yoga – Dhyana, which is meditation. So, using Dharana, we are able to access Dhyana and a deep state of contemplation. Dhyana is more immersed in the everythingness and nothingness at the same time. It does not take much focus but more immersion and letting go. This is where you can see deeper aspects of the self, and your relationship to all. Last but not least, the eighth limb of yoga is Samadhi, meaning ecstasy or some people call it “nirvana”. The purpose of all of these practices encompassed as an ultimate state of bliss. The overall journey of yoga is to reach a state of divine peace.

After practicing yoga for over a decade, I have fallen in love with sharing this unique practice with the world. The reservoir of unlimited peace is within all of us, and it would be an honor to guide you into finding this peace within yourself. Yoga teacher trainings are great for anyone, regardless if you plan to teach yoga in the future or not. They help develop a consistent practice of yoga in all aspects of life, beyond the mat. I am looking forward to this teacher training in the Sacred Valley of Peru.

Aloha and Namaste. 

 

 

 

 

Wolf Kinsmen, the founder of HĀ Yoga, has over a decade of experience in yoga & meditation. He has taught and trained all over the world. In addition to his yoga training, he has studied Shamanic practices while in the Amazon of Peru and received the name ‘Smiling Wolf’ from Don Howard. He completed the Wim Hof Method Advanced Instructor Training and was told by Wim Hof that he is a ‘healer’. He considers himself a lifelong student of nature! He learns from teaching others. He does this through being himself and giving a genuine experience wherever he happens to be.

Connect:

https://hayogallc.com/

IG: @hayogallc

 

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