January 31, 2013

“Swaha, Swaha, Swaha!” ~ Tracey Toomey McQuade

Throw it into the fire and let it go.

“The best laid schemes of mice and men, often go awry.” ~ Robert Burns

I work as the jury coordinator of the Hamptons International Film Festival. The jury is comprised of accomplished people in the world of film—some of them are bona fide celebrities. My job is to oversee their schedules. This year I got to host Sting and meet Meryl Streep —all in all, not a bad day at the office!

I put so much time and energy into organizing their itineraries so the festival runs smoothly, yet nothing ever goes according to plan.

The changes to their schedules and the minor chaos that ensues used to frustrate me. Over the years, however, I’ve learned not to take it personally. I take a deep breath, amend their itineraries and move on.

Now, I’m trying to apply this lesson to other areas of my life. Plan as much as I can so I’m as prepared as possible, and then let go of the rest, or as we yogis say, “Swaha!” Swaha or svaha literally means “offer it up to the sacred fire.” In the Tibetan language, it’s translated as “so be it.”

In other words, control what you can, and surrender the rest. Throw it into the fire and let it go.

As a yoga teacher, I always plan a class before I teach it—down to the most miniscule detail. I practice the sequence dozens of times. I come up with a playlist that matches the rhythm of the postures. I distill a spiritual teaching from a favorite book or poem, making sure it is all integrated into the overall theme of the class. And then when I walk into the studio that day to teach, something always happens that forces me to deviate from my carefully constructed plan.

If I have crafted a twisting sequence, three pregnant women will walk into the room and roll out their mats. Suddenly, I can no longer teach deep twists—time to swaha! and improvise. If I plan to break down the alignment points of chaturanga dandasana, I can be sure at least one person in the class will have a torn rotator cuff. Do I get frustrated and force the student to lower slowly into a push-up position despite the searing pain in her shoulder? Of course not. I inhale, exhale, swaha!

My mom used to recite the Serenity Prayer to me:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.

Such simple words we’ve all heard a million times, but it’s so hard to assimilate this wisdom into our daily lives. When we’ve put tremendous effort into something, it’s difficult to let go. We want things to go our way. We want to be rewarded for our hard work. We don’t want to offer our tremendous efforts to the fire and watch them burn.

But if we don’t swaha!, aren’t we just making everything harder on ourselves?

I’ve learned I can beat my head against the wall of the United Artist Theater in East Hampton or Yoga Shanti in Sag Harbor, or I can use my wits to change an itinerary, amend a sequence and swaha!  That way I’m less likely to feel depleted and unappreciated, and I’m more likely to have time to grab a glass of wine with a filmmaker, or attend a screening or two myself.

And who knows?  I might even run into Sting and Meryl.


Tracey Toomey McQuade is a writer, actress and yogi living in NYC and Amagansett. She co-authored the novel, The Perfect Manhattan and the tongue-in-cheek advice book, Cocktail Therapy, and has freelanced for Glamour, Marie Claire, Runner’s World, Gotham, Hamptons and too many gossip mags to count! A devoted practitioner and teacher of all-things-yoga, Tracey loves chanting to Krishna and going upside down – especially at the beach. She can talk about Shiva for hours or have equally long conversations about sample sales, wine, or which juice cleanse is worth the cash. A founder of Breathe Repeat, an online resource for the modern yogi, Tracey is excited to help her fellow yogis navigate how to be a spiritual being in a material world. www.breatherepeat.com


Assistant Editor: Sara McKeown

Like elephant I’m not “Spiritual.” I just practice being a good person on Facebook.

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