Bhairavi (Andrea) Downes – July 2014

Each Month we will feature a Harlem Yoga Studio teacher and learn about their yogic journey, how they integrate yoga into their lives, and what they are currently doing to deepen their practice.  For July we are featuring Bhairavi who comes from the Integral Yoga lineage. 

1) How did you start practicing Yoga? Tell us about your early yoga experiences

I was hit by a construction truck while on my lunch break at work. I had surgery on my knee and various forms of physical therapy. When physical therapy was almost done, the doctor asked me what I would do. I was always an active person, but for once I did not know. I was too afraid to run and jump. The doctor suggested yoga and I said, “Oh no. That’s just a bunch of stretches I did before track practice. That won’t help.”

I always suffered from PMS/PMDD (Premenstrual Dysmorphic Disorder). A couple of months after therapy was over, I was on my way to work. Waiting for a train, I had the worst pain from cramps. It was so bad I was literally crawling down the streets of downtown Brooklyn (in 90 degree weather no less)! Praying for some water, I saw a bodega. As I crawled up the lamppost to stand, I saw a sign that said:

“Do you have menstrual problems?
 Do you have….

Come to Yoga! We will take care of you!”

Right next door was a yoga studio. I crawled up the stairs and cried my eyes out, explaining my story. They gave me water, let me use the bathroom, and gave me a phone to call out from work sick. Once I felt better, the teacher told me to go home, take a shower, not eat for 3 hours and come back for a yoga class.

2) When was the moment you knew that Yoga was different or special – more than just another “exercise” or way to be physical ?

My first class at this Yoga studio was when I knew it was different. There were over 30 people in the class. Before class started, Anita (the teacher) asked who had menstrual problems, back problems, knee problems…she went down the list like a doctor. Many people raised their hands. Some of us raised our hands more than 4 times. One man had such serious kyphosis that he was severely hunched over. As I was going through the poses, my mind kept going to the similar track stretches I did until Anita came to me and said “BREATHE!” She told us to breathe in various places, depending on our issues. She modified poses for others and wasn’t afraid to tell someone “don’t do this pose!’ I was amazed!

6 months later, I went to class early and saw a man in the same spot as the man I had seen earlier who had been so hunched over. I kindly told him that this was someone else’s spot and he will get here any minute (his back was to me). He turned around and it was him, only his back was fine! I was amazed! He explained that he was coming to yoga everyday for 3 years. Before yoga, he tried everything, including surgery, but his “hunchback” (which was actually filled with a lot of pus and mucus) kept coming back. Now it was gone naturally.

That’s when I knew that Yoga was more than stretches…more than special.

3) What is your favorite and least favorite pose, and why? 

My favorite pose is Tadasana, mountain pose. I can stay in that pose for long periods of time and always feel something new. The subtleties of the body and it’s machinations are endless in this pose. Add pranayama and I can feel grounded and floating at the same time.

My least favorite pose is tree pose. Only because my foot slides down constantly! I need to correct this…MY EGO’S least favorite pose is tree pose, lol!

4) What practices do you use to feel more peaceful, present and content? 

Pranayama. Any practice, anything we do can make us more peaceful, present and content when you actively breathe. Everything can be a meditation, even the most basic tasks, when you clear the mind and have one pointed focus.  Pranayama definitely creates this space within.

5) What Yama or Niyama do your find most helpful in your daily life, and why ?  (Yamas are “observances” that are recommended for relating to the outside world, and Niyamas are observances for dealing with internal struggles) 

All of the yamas/niyamas are equally helpful to me.  A lot of them come easily for me so the ones I need to cultivate more are extremely helpful.  I need to be more mindful of aparigraha (greed/non possessiveness) and santosha (contentment).

6) Question of the Month! July = Gratitude!  What are three things that you are grateful for today so far?  The three things you are most grateful for in life? 

Today and everyday I am grateful for love, yoga, and life – within and without (externally)! The term Namaste sums it up best: I honor that place in you which is love, light, and truth. I honor the place in myself. And when we see it in each other…we are one.