October 5, 2013

Enlightenment in Silence: What I Learned From A Deaf Yoga Instructor. ~ Nicholas Gaeta

“Live quietly in the moment and see the beauty of all before you. The future will take care of itself…”

~ Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi

Africa Yoga Project, an outreach Yoga organization based in Kenya and co-founded by Paige Elenson, recently made a stop at the studio where I practice. Although the saying, “I had one of the most amazing experiences” has become a bit lackluster due to overuse, I am happy to say it fits the bill perfectly. If interested (you should be interested) here’s some more info regarding this amazing project and the illustrious Paige Elenson: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/07/africa-yoga-project-a-must-read-interview-emily-goligoski/

To provide a brief introduction of what this group is about, the Africa Yoga Project’s statement of purpose is as follows:

“Africa Yoga Project educates, empowers, elevates and employs youth from Africa using the transformational practice of yoga. Our vision is to create opportunities for youth to step into their greatness, become self-sustaining and leaders in their communities.”

Yeah. I can dig that.

During the first night of their visit, Wanji, Rufus and Walter, the three Baptiste certified African teachers, led the class through a powerful Vinyasa flow, filled with energy and excitement. It was downright fun. Afterwards, a group of us were given the opportunity to sit with them and ask questions. Many of the inquiries were focused on the “How” aspects of introducing yoga into Kenya, but what interested me the most was the “Why.”

Why yoga?

There are so many different passions, obsessions, vices, addictions, so many different avenues that we can take in life that can grab a tight hold on our time and attention. Everyone has their own unique tale to tell and when told truthfully it is what I find to be the most genuine, honest, and inspiring part of my experience as being a teacher, where I grow the most in my personal yoga journey.

Every story from drug abuse, divorce, to a simple and very acceptable, “Why not?” flowed from the hearts of the group when sharing what it was that brought them to yoga. One AYP instructor, and former acrobat, Walter, explained his relationship with yoga as “a calling.”

I signed up for another class the following day, which turned out to be under the instructor Rufus.

Many of my peers were posting videos and information about AYP before the class took place at the studio. As such, I was able to learn more about Rufus. It was in this way that I discovered he was deaf. I watched videos of him dancing and playing around, his jovial personality leaping from the screen, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect from his class.

On the fated day, I placed my phone next to my mat and touched record.

After being introduced by the owner of the studio, Rufus slammed down on the mat, getting our attention but good. With the universally recognizable gesture of rocking a baby in his arms, the entire room quickly found Child’s Pose. I couldn’t help but worry that I was going to spend the entire class constantly pausing to look at him so I could try to figure out what I was to do next, never able to fully allow myself to completely let go and lose myself in the flow of the practice.

Instead, like many situations in my life, my concerns were proven wrong. What was to follow was one of the most fantastic physical and spiritual experiences I ever had the great fortune to get from a class.

The sound of breathing undulated throughout the room. The deep inhale lifted us all together while the exhale pushed us further and deeper into ourselves. We communicated with each other by the cohesion of our breath, guided and assisted by the timeless rhythm. The occasional sound of Rufus’s foot or his hands orchestrated us through our movements, a silent maestro conducting a powerful symphony. His endearing smile and spontaneous dances, especially in Chair Pose, kept the entire room loose yet utterly focused.

In the absence of what can sometimes be the didactic vocal guidance of a teacher, we were together able to open to the feel of the flow of the class, to feel the vibrations of our movements and breath, just as Rufus did. Usually when people talk of the asana or physical aspects of their practice they are referring to the poses.

Under the direction of Rufus, a deaf and silent yoga instructor, I was able to experience for the first time a powerful physical impact of cohesion in a class through nothing more than movement and breath.

After the class was over, it was then Rufus’s turn to respond to the question, “Why yoga?”

He signed his story in Wanji, explaining to us that before he found yoga he sought solace in drugs to ease his pain. It was finally through his discovery of yoga that he was able to find a positive and healthy way to communicate with the world without the use of hearing and speech.

With a great, big smile, Rufus finally signed, “American yoga teachers talk too much.”

As if to confirm, the playback for the recording on my phone during my session with Rufus was indeed oh so quiet. Who knew how much one could get from something as simple as silence? into-great-silence-the-story-of-a-trail-runner-video-katinka-saetersdal-remoe

We can at times get so caught up in spiritual jargon that we lose track of the true purpose. We talk the talk so much that we forget how to simply walk the walk. We forget that the method is not the goal and we get so passionate about our practice that sometimes we try to convey that spiritual message by filling up the seemingly empty, void moments of class with (sometimes) inspirational and (mostly) metaphorical words.

Too much talking.

Like many of us who practice it, I no longer believe that yoga is a coincidence. It is a calling and, in one way or another, it is something that I know I want to do for the rest of my life. Who cares that there are more yoga instructors than students? Who cares that people want to patent aspects of yoga? http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/08/5-reasons-why-ill-never-quit-teaching-yoga-nancy-gerstein-2/

With all the awful tales of drug addiction, violence and war at the forefront of everyday news, we are without a doubt faced with difficult times. There are so many things we may choose to do with our free time or professional life, however, many of us opt for yoga, foregoing the partaking of the aforementioned tragedies.

Even when putting the focus on just the basic principles of yoga, there is no way a yogi can rationalize violence, like an unjustified war. This is a great revolution that we are collectively experiencing in our lifetime and it will continue to impact the lives of people all over the world. This is a step in the right direction for humanity.

We are beginning to build our own “Peaceful Army” if you will.

The next time a class is in session, attempt to drop all the wants and focus on the needs. Try to allow breathing to be the guide and let passion do the talking. To quote Charles Bukowski, “Find what you love and let it kill you.” Find your inspiration, not with words, but with silence.

For me, I hope that I am at a point in my life where I can try to begin to embrace the experiences in front of me exactly as they are.

The majority of us are so fortunate to never have to experience the trials and tribulations the individuals of AYP have faced on a daily basis, particularly Rufus, maintaining strength of character and integrity through the quiet power that is yoga.

 And for me, that is what truly makes them an inspiration.

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Assistant Editor: Andrea Charpentier/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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