This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Barbara Meyer. Barbara is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For thirty years, I’ve wanted to be a Peace Corps volunteer. One year ago, my dream came true—my husband and I received our invitations to serve as Peace Corps volunteers. After several months of preparations and clearing 30 years of accumulated possessions out of our home, we departed for Philadelphia to meet our fellow volunteers. Three days later, we were in southern Africa’s Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. Khotso is a common greeting here, meaning peace in Sesotho. Our host families greeted us with wild ululation, song and dancing and dozens of people pressed against usas we walked to our home for training—a traditional thatched roof rondavel with no electricity or running water. Among the items that made the final cut into my two suitcases were my yoga chimes, a golden silk shawl from India and a travel yoga mat.
During three months of training,I was able to use yoga for stress reduction when things got rough. Since moving to my work site (for two years), I’ve been practicing yoga three to four days per week. We live in a studio (half of a duplex) set in a garden with an amazing view of the mountains. Despite the cramped space, my husband agreed that we needed to preserve the space by the window for yoga.
The Peace Corps ads say it’s “The hardest job you’ll ever love.” One of the hard parts is daily uncertainty about so many aspects of life. Aside from creating my own job on a daily basis, I’m learning a new language (Sesotho), a new culture (Basotho), meeting many new people and trying to figure out how pretty much everything works.
Yoga has become more precious to me since becoming a Peace Corps volunteer. The challenge of cross cultural living in a poor country brings some strain. Children often knock on our door in groups of three or four and say, “I am asking for bread.” Or they may ask for candy, money or a job. When walking through the village, similar requests are made by children and adults alike. The struggle is that we have the means to help some but not all. How do we decide when to respond and when to pass by? In contrast, at our work site, a hospital, many Basotho are extremely well educated with good professional jobs. Life in a developing country is complex. The HIV rate is 23% among adults and many children have lost one or both parents to HIV. Unemployment is nearly 50%. There is so much to think about! And have I mentioned that we live on $250 per month in a town with no restaurant? In fact, no store where you can buy cheese or chocolate! For this reluctant cook, starting from scratch (e.g. make own tortillas and injera) on a daily basis has been a test of my self discipline.
This is where yoga comes in. Three or four mornings a week, my first activity of the day is to clear my yoga space and lay out the mat and clean towels on the floor. I face the river valley with mountains beyond and lengthen my breath. As I proceed through the asana practice, I feel the slowing down and calming that yoga movement brings. Through pranayama breath practices, I have to let other thoughts go as I focus on the counting or the technique for the day. That brings me to meditation. I have chosen three qualities that I want to enhance in myself, qualities that I need on a daily basis here and sometimes find in short supply. I like to end with a short chant that we used to close each class during yoga teacher training. Chanting helps me to visualize the support of the community of people I have met through Whole Life Yoga. It is easy to feel alone in the Peace Corps! Because of my practice, I carry these friendships with me through my day. I end my practice with three chimes. Folding up my travel mat (thanks for the tip, Suzanne Stephens!), I feel calm, peaceful and happy. I am ready to face the uncertainties of the day with some equanimity.
One year into my Peace Corps service, things have become easier. We are building relationships with people here and our work is starting to show results. Maintaining a sense of non-attachment is so useful. Things have a way of moving forward then backward often at a very, very slow pace. One project that I abandoned as a lost cause resurrected itself months later. Someone came up and asked me to get a replacement for a stamp that had been designed for the outpatient department months earlier. I didn’t even realize that they had started to use it again!
Another gift I received from one of my teacher training colleagues was a really useful quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
In my Peace Corps service, regular yoga practice is as necessary as food. The emotional grounding that comes from yoga practice has helped me immensely to meet the challenges I face. Thank you so much, Tracy and the Whole Life Community for all of your support.
If you are interested in reading more about our adventures in Lesotho, our blog is www.alesothojourney.blogspot.com
More information about Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program can be found at our web site: Yoga Teacher Training at Whole Life Yoga.