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Yoga at Camino Seguro


May 16th – 22nd

I taught a yoga class to a half dozen of the moms on Wednesday. It was one of the most eye opening and energizing experiences of my life.

I love yoga. I do it as often as possible. I’m no expert, but it’s definitely something that’s important to me. So important, in fact, that I recorded a few sessions before I left San Francisco to make sure I could continue my practice in Guatemala. I’ve already used them a few times, even though I’ve only been here a week.

The Camino Seguro volunteers organized a group that practices yoga at lunch twice per week. I was ecstatic to participate. A Hungarian volunteer organized the class, and also started teaching to the mothers on Wednesday afternoons. She is working with another group this week, so on Wednesday at lunch she asked me to lead the mothers’ yoga session.  I nervously, but happily, agreed. I’ve never led a yoga class, let alone practiced in Spanish, so I was a bit trepidatious. However, I knew it was too good to pass up. Teaching yoga and bringing even a little bit of peace to women who have some of the hardest lives imaginable? Yes, please!

I hurried up to my office and started looking up terms. How do you say, “down facing dog” or “top of a pushup” in Spanish anyway? I spent a lot of time looking everything up to make sure I had it all right. This was too important to mess up. I wanted the mothers to have the best experience possible.

At the appointed time, I made my way over to the building where parents go for support services. The mothers were just finishing their schoolwork. In order to be accepted into the adult program, the parents have to be working towards their diploma. Most of the parents are working toward their sixth grade diploma because a sixth-grade education here opens up a lot of opportunity for higher-paying jobs.

A volunteer whose mother is American and father is Guatemalan assisted me with the class. She and I were talking about the different linguistic styles and codes used by people of different socioeconomic statuses here. She talked about the language used by people who have attended high school as opposed to people who have not. It was clear from the context that it is really unusual for someone to attend, let alone finish high school. That really put the current situation in Guatemala into perspective for me. I didn’t realize how pervasive and normalized the lack of educational opportunity truly is here. That made the importance of the work we do starkly clear.

The mothers are not in great shape. They have really, really hard lives. Their bodies are pretty beaten up from working in the basurero (the garbage dump), having children, taking care of the home, poor living conditions, lack of access to a well-balanced diet and the difficulties of daily life. The kind of exercise that really gets your adrenaline and endorphins pumping is a luxury for the rich. These women are moving all day – but their hard labor doesn’t exactly produce that warm, fuzzy feeling that you get from a really great workout. And, it certainly doesn’t help you de-stress.

I did my best to put together a class that would get the energy moving and help them relax, without being too strenuous. The mothers did an amazing job of going with the flow (pardon the pun) and trying to do what I asked of them. Some of their downward dogs were really impressive. They were great sports and seemed to really enjoy it. Afterward they all expressed feeling better and more relaxed. In that sense, mission accomplished. I wanted them to have the perfect class, but, as these things go, the class didn’t exactly work out exactly as I had planned.

During the lesson I was mostly focused on helping them to remember to breathe and relax. However, a few times, I pointed out what muscle groups a certain pose focused on.  It was also important to me to keep the mood of the class light and energetic.  My intention was to show the mom’s that yoga could be fun, and help them push through if a pose or a movement was difficult.

This experience taught me that if you are true to what you love and share those parts of yourself with others, it will come back in bountiful ways. I feel so rich for being able to give these women a moment to focus on themselves. I don’t mean that I gave them joy and happiness–they already have that. I think in the US we can be so focused on doing more and having more, that we’re never satisfied. These women focus on having enough. Yes, of course, their lives are difficult and they should have access to better living and working conditions. Providing them a pathway to that is a good thing. But, we shouldn’t mistake their lack of material wealth for a lack of emotional wealth. These women know how to connect with others like nothing I’ve ever seen. They have a deep and powerful joy. I think we have a lot to learn about staying in touch with that happiness within oneself. The joy in life isn’t about what you have or don’t have; it’s only what you make of it. It’s all in your attitude, and we can make up our minds to be happy and enjoy life, no matter who we are, where we come from, or what our situation is.

This week I found peace in a moment of pure joy shared with other women whose stark differences only bonded us closer together.

More about Shannon Malone…