Get Up and Go: Getting the call from the White House.
I got the call. Many get the call—the call to move, the call to go, the call to take action and change something in our lives. I’ve gotten the call numerous times, but this was different.
I literally got the call. Having spent the previous five days teaching a yoga retreat, deep in the woods, beyond the reach of cell towers, my coming out was greeted with a brief voicemail:
“Can you make time in your schedule to teach yoga at the White House?”
In disbelief, I hit the replay key and listened again—same message, and no recognition of any tone to suggest a wayward April Fool’s prank from one of my slightly twisted friends who think they’re funny.
This was the real deal. And in a schedule that is chronically overbooked, I frantically searched for my day planner buried in my bag, hoping that date was free.
Amazingly it was—the only weekend free for months. It was meant to be.
In two weeks, I was on a flight to Washington DC. I was one of 12 teachers from around the U.S. invited to teach yoga on the South Lawn at the White House’s 133rd annual Easter Egg Roll, the largest annual public event held in “America’s Backyard.”
If you think the growth of yoga in America is anything less than phenomenal, just imagine how many collective steps we have taken as a culture in a relatively short amount of time (say since the Bush years), for us to now have yoga officially sanctioned in the highest levels of society and government.
Yoga at the White House is part of Michelle Obama’s transformation of the event into a day of fitness activities for kids and families, with yoga up front and (almost) center.
The tag line for this year’s event was “Get Up and Go.” It was hailed as a central part of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative. Let’s Move! is a national effort to combat childhood obesity with a focus on health and wellness, encouraging children to lead healthy, active lives.
And get up and go we did. We awoke at 5:45 a.m., put on our new, generously donated Lululemon “official yoga uniforms,” and walked two blocks from the hotel to the White House Lawn entrance. There, we began setting up the Yoga Garden with 50 Easter egg colored, natural rubber yoga mats—courtesy of Manduka—in preparation for teaching to the first group of future yogins to arrive at 7:30 a.m.
Most of the teachers didn’t even have time for Starbucks. Talk about being motivated! We downdogged and barked; we jumped like frogs croaking; we roared like lions; we rolled (& rocked) like Easter eggs; we swayed like trees, got blown over by the wind and—like life—got right back up again.
We taught the kids how to say the Sanskrit “Namaste,” and they learned many meanings of the word. Their favorite was,
“I am awesome and you are awesome.”
Now that’s awesome!
Thirty thousand people received tickets to attend the event. Members of the public from all over the country had the opportunity to enter an online lottery for a chance to receive tickets. This year, over 200,000 tickets were requested, and guests from all 50 states and the District of Columbia were selected as winners.
The day was divided into six sessions with 5,000 people entering the grounds for two hours at a time. We, the teachers, went non-stop for 12 hours. Each teacher took turns to teach or assist 10-15 minute classes for 30-50 kids at a time, with short breaks in between. The weather was perfection, as was the unfolding of the day.
After finishing the last class, we all took a well deserved break to share the highs and even higher highs from the day before picking up and packing out. As I sat on the lawn, under the ground’s magnificent stately trees, I was overtaken by what had taken place that day—organic food, seed plantings in Michelle’s organic garden, yoga, story-telling, kids participating in fitness and exercise activities everywhere one looked. There were no video games, no movies, no iPods, no cell phones and even the parents were digitally unplugged and fully present in the moment with their children.
Everyone was having fun, especially our First Family, and I thought to myself: Wow, I am proud to be an American (yes, again), and there is hope for the nation’s mental, physical and spiritual health.
Peter Sterios is a yoga instructor and owner of m.BODY yoga & massage in San Luis Obispo, CA. He is a former contributing editor and writer for Yoga Journal magazine, and the founder and former CEO for Manduka—a leading eco-yoga products company based in Los Angeles. He teaches internationally, has been studying and practicing yoga for 35 years, is a husband and the father of a three year old princess named Athena. For more information about Peter, visit his website.