Ganesha is one of the most widely revered of the Hindu deities, well known by many as the chubby, lovable Elephant God.
Ganesha is known as both the Lord of Obstacles as well as the Remover of Obstacles. Why? Because he does both. Ganesha is the one who places obstacles in our path, when they are required to avoid danger, or when they are needed to teach us a powerful evolutionary lesson. But Ganesha is also the one who helps to remove obstacles for us, when we need the path cleared in order to flow with Grace, or when we simply need a little bit of extra help to overcome our struggles. Therefore, it is no surprise that Ganesha spent the day with us at the Yoga Reaches Out Bay Area Yogathon this past Saturday, where close to 200 yogis came together to remove obstacles for children.
Alain McLaughlin photography www.AMphotoSF.com
As I entered the grand space of the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, California, the sun filtered through the glass rafters and the room buzzed with positive energy. As the pavilion began to fill up with yogis, I placed my mat down alongside all of the others who had come together to raise money for this important cause. Yoga Reaches Out is a non-profit dedicated to raising money for children’s funds. On this day, their first ever event on the west coast, we had come together to raise money for both the Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland and the Africa Yoga Project. From my mat I looked out the window and I was immediately inspired by the beautiful view of the San Francisco skyline off in the distance, across a glistening San Francisco Bay, with a backdrop of clear blue sky.
As we began, our first teacher of the day, the big-hearted, always-smiling Pete Guinosso, connected us to our breath, centered us and prepared us for a great day of hard work. Once Pete warmed us up, then Debbie Steingesser took over the reins. Since we were supporting the Africa Yoga Project, how perfect that Debbie has a background in Traditional West African Dance. Veering away from a typical vinyasa class, Debbie got us up on our feet and shaking our booties to the rhythms of African drummers. And this is when Ganesha made his first appearance. Invoking the energy of the elephant deity, Debbie had us performing an African-style dance routine in his honor.
There is an African proverb that says, “If you can walk you can dance, if you can talk you can sing.” On this day, nearly 200 yogis embodied that energy as we raised the roof dancing with vibrant energy.
Alain McLaughlin photography www.AMphotoSF.com
Never a dull moment, during our lunch break we had the opportunity to play with some acroyoga, try out yoga slacklining, or watch some stand up paddle (SUP) yoga demos. So many choices, what’s a yogi to do? I opted to connect with strangers during the lunch break.
I am a Bostonian, and as luck would have it, I happened to sit down at a table with a fellow Bostonian, easily detected by the accent. But there was even more wildness to this chance encounter. Through my own writing projects, I had just recently connected with a well-known yoga studio back in the Boston area. Though to my knowledge that connection had nothing to do with my own connection to the Yoga Reaches Out organization, it would turn out this lovely soul was in fact from that very yoga studio. And it was through a series of synchronistic events that he even found himself there, having flown into San Francisco all the way from Boston. I have been a devout yogi now for four years, and I never ceased to be amazed by the magic and synchronicity that occurs when you put a bunch of yogis in a room. I am reminded, over and over, that we are all connected.
After lunch, and with full bellies (just like Ganesha!), the lovely Janet Stone, master of the chant, led us through a powerful chant once again invoking the energy of Ganesha. With a powerful presence and a mellifluous voice, Janet led us through the chant until we were quickly delivered to a peaceful state and the powerful energy surged through the tightly packed group. I could feel the strong vibrations pulsating out the windows, across the sparkling Bay, and out into the world.
Photo courtesy of Yoga Reaches Out Bay Area.
Now in a peaceful state of bliss after our evocative chanting session, next on the docket was Buddy Macuha, and once again we were off and moving. Buddy is known for his high energy, crazy music and club-like atmosphere. Now the sweat was flowing. I’m pretty sure we had done 100 chaturangas by the end of his session. Youch! Sufficiently worn out, we then closed out the day with Kevin Collins. Not letting us off too easily, he continued to lead us through some dynamic flow, before winding us down and bringing us back to Earth.
Having survived more than six hours of yoga and dance, we sunk into the floor and rewarded ourselves with a much deserved Savasana. After our welcomed rest, we moved into our final closing circle. The almost 200 of us came into a wide circle and held hands, the palpable energy surging from one person to the next, all the way around the circle. We truly were connected, as yogis, as supporters of a good cause, as human beings, as brothers and sisters.
We had come together, from all walks of life, to support these two wonderful children’s causes. In doing so we had worked ourselves hard, we had made new friends, we had raised over $55,000 and we had changed the world for the better. And with the help of Ganesha, we had in fact removed obstacles for the children of Oakland and Africa. Jai Ganesha!
A special thanks to Sarah Gardner, Founder of Yoga Reaches Out, for her beautiful vision. Thank you also to Laurin Panzano, Malia Hill and Jenn Perell for making this wonderful event possible, and for all that you do for the world.