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Yoga in the Heart of the City


Yoga Centre Toronto has run a five-day summer intensive called ‘Yoga in the Heart of the City’ for… decades; decades and decades. Anyone who knows Marlene Mawhinney will know a global pandemic is not going to stand in the way of a YCT tradition, especially as Marlene has cottoned on to Zoom. It seems she said something to the effect of… if Abhijata Iyengar can do it, if Prashant Iyengar can Zoom, she could Zoom, too. After the intensive was over, Marlene asked some of the students what it was like to do an intensive (8-9am Pranayama, 9.30-11.30am Asana) in isolation.


Hilary West, of Toronto ON, tells us all about it…

Hilary in Tadasana in pre-virtual times

Well… Technically, Yoga in the Heart of the City was an intensive in isolation, however, in actuality, it was anything but. There was the presence of our community. Hearing people be exhorted, directed, encouraged to do this or that, I could visualize the speaker, imagine the spoken to in my mind’s eye and work to make their correction, my correction – as is so often the case. That’s not isolated; that’s together. Practising in actual isolation for months is an entirely different experience; there, there is no benchmark, no context, no extra inspiration shot in from… anywhere, anyone.

Because we have been in isolation, the intensive underscored the power of presence. I’ve ‘known’ all along presence is key, but the pandemic has really put a spotlight on priorities. I’ve done so much yoga in isolation, pretty much daily since 16 March when the doors shut in Ontario: Sadhana, assignments, preparing to teach, teaching… so why was the intensive so intense? Why did my muscles ache more? Why did I feel different in body and mind when, in my practice, in Abhijata’s workshop, in Prashant’s sessions, I didn’t feel nearly as much? The Iyengars both have enormous presence and impact but… it’s not the same; there’s a different investment. Both Abhijata and Prashant reminded us – the hundreds of people around the world taking the class – that we are not their students; they are not our teachers; we have our teachers, here, near us, every day.

It’s presence, more than a voice, more than words; it’s people and intention; it’s connection. The YCT intensive was an energetic exchange and interaction within our community, between teacher and student, student and student. It was something of a reunion – some people tuned in from around the world, people we’d not heard from in forever, almost giddy. Further, after so long apart, nothing was taken for granted. We were all aware of our responsibility to be present, for ourselves, for everyone else. Doing the Invocation together, following the ‘come and watches’, hearing familiar names, being seen, being taught to what is being seen.


So, that was a Yoga in the Heart of the City experience, one example of our virtual community. Kudos to all those yoga teachers across the country for having the guts and the zeal to leave their comfort zone and reach out through social media. Massive applause to them for managing to see and teach by squinting at a screen, by figuring out how to help people practise in their homes without all the usual studio equipment. “No problem, how about this…”  is so beautiful and I love hearing it; experimentation abounds, innovation is everywhere. Extra thanks to the teachers who are sharing practice tips and clips of their on-line work on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook: you are so generous. Thank you, thank you, thank you; these are a lifeline for learning, but also the bow around the gift of the community you are nurturing and keeping together.






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