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Yoga from the Beginning by Beatrice Mattaway

12/11/2023 9:12 PM | Anonymous

It was the late 1960s, and I was living in Kamakura, Japan, where my parents were doing research for their degrees in Asian art history. Each Saturday, we would go to our local Zendo of the Sanbo Kyodan lineage, where Zen-Buddhist master,Yamada Roshi, resided. To prepare our bodies and minds for a full hour of this rigid and disciplined form of meditation, my mom had a local yoga instructor give us a weekly private class in our home, beginning when I was six years old.

Upon our return to North America four years later, my parents continued their spiritual quest, exploring numerous world religions and traditions, even moving us all into a commune that we later realized was a cult that they had to kidnap us from in order to escape!! Crazy times, for sure.  

But between all this exposure to different religions and ways of thinking and seeing the world, the one thing that became solid within me was the knowledge that at the core, the true teachings are all the same. No matter the external package, the message is universal. And so it was with ease that I slid into Hindu philosophy and, more specifically, the traditions of Kashmir Shaivism, when I met my own spiritual teacher in my mid 20s. My on-and-off lifelong meditation practice became steadier, and I now had a sangha to study and grow with. I had been working as an actor in LA for a number of years, and after being cast as and playing the role of Amanda Krueger—the mother to horror icon Freddy Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child—I found that my opportunities suddenly became limited to horror films only, which was not at all the kind of work I had wanted to do. For that, and a few other personal reasons, at the height of my career I decided to walk away from it all, and I moved to an ashram in Ganeshpuri, India, where I chanted and meditated and did yoga daily and offered my seva working on their mobile hospital, where we would travel from village to village, serving the Adivasi population, providing basic medical care and nutrition, and my job was education through storytelling, with the aid of an interpreter. 

I was learning all about the Yamas and Niyamas, taking wonderful yoga classes with world-class teachers, and blissing out on nightly kirtan, rising before dawn for sublime meditation, and chanting the Guru Gita. I also was undergoing so much Tapasya, as layers and layers of my outer shell was being annihilated. It was the most blissful and the most difficult two years of my life. One morning, I awoke to discover a deep transformation within me. I felt completely ready to dedicate the rest of my life to the seva I was doing and to commit to a monastic life, living full time at the ashram. I hadn’t spoken a word to anyone about this shift that I felt, but I just felt certain that this was where I wanted to spend the rest of my life.  

But that very morning, seemingly out of the blue, one of the monks found me during breakfast and asked me to follow him to his office. Once there, he informed me that my guru had, just that morning, instructed him to “let me go.” 

What do you mean by 'let me go'?? Am I being kicked out?” 

It is time for you to leave the ashram,” I was told flatly. “You haven’t done anything wrong, but you can no longer stay here. You are to pack your things. You will be taken to the airport and sent to the ashram in New York, where you will have one week to find a place to live. Your time in the ashram is done.

I was shattered. Shattered to the core. And New York? I had spent most of my young adult life on the West Coast and knew only one person in New York, an author I had met in the ashram in India. I rented a room in his apartment and found myself a temp job with a fortune 500 company, of all places. At its holiday party, I met the man who, two years later, became my husband. Fast-forward a few years and my husband and I moved to Rockland County, NY.  We bought a lovely home and began to create a family. I was taking prenatal yoga at Yoga Mountain, and a few of the teachers suggested I take their teacher training program, and the rest is history. I received my 300- and 500-hour certifications there and opened my own studio, Willow Tree Yoga, in 2006.  

For me, yoga is how I live, how I breathe, how I see the world, and how I move through the world. I am an extremely rough work in progress, with faults and blind spots galore, but I am forever grateful to the teachings and practices of yoga that have seen me through the death of my daughter (who died in my arms moments after her birth) and have given me the strength to go through my son’s three open heart surgeries (to rework his heart that is missing its left ventricle). Every time I sit on my mat and face a class of students, I am filled with gratitude for the incredible gift and honor that we, as yoga teachers, are given, to be able to share this incredible practice with our fellow journeymen on this mystical, challenging, and ever-sacred path of life. 

So hum.

Please join us for Beatrice's workshop on chair yoga stretch on January 13, 2024. Note there are both in-person and Zoom-only options.

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