I participated in the 9th annual Yoga on the Mall on Saturday, May 3, 2014. This event was free and part of DC Yoga Week.
Needless to say, I was exceptionally anxious last week leading up to the event. I was up very early Saturday morning and met a group of fellow yoga teacher trainees at the Shady Grove metro station at 7:30 a.m. We each had our mats over our shoulders and the expectation that we were going to have a great time…I think we were all pleasantly surprised.
The specific location of the event was on a grassy, sloping hill adjacent to the Constitution Gardens Pond near the Vietnam War Memorial. The Washington Monument was the back drop.
Much to our surprise, we were the first yogis to arrive! The event crew was still setting up the stage as we formed a cozy row of mats near the front of the stage. Soon, we were joined by a few other friends and many, many strangers trickling in behind us. Music played, and I grew more and more anxious to get started. I really wasn’t prepared for what I was about to experience.
Hawat Kasat, co-founder of the DC-based non-profit One Common Unity, was our host and MC. He introduced himself, the drummers and the volunteers walking around the hill offering assistance to participants.
Gentle sun salutations and twists warmed our muscles and connected us each to the other. I’d never experienced such a strong group consciousness and energy. I could feel myself becoming overwhelmed, but allowed myself to feel whatever sensations my body and mind wanted to feel.
After the 30-minute beginner class, several local yogis got up on stage and demo-ed poses in a gentle flowing exhibition as music floated in the background. There were some amazing demonstrations of arm balances and back bends and forward folds. Just amazing to watch and a great opportunity for me to absorb the beginner class.
Then Kristen Arant, the Drum Lady, led the 6,000 participants in music and singing/chanting and movement in preparation for Shiva Rae to take the stage who led a one-hour flow class. Kristen was accompanied by her “brother” drummers, the Akoma Drummers, and there was no denying their beat. As a participant, my only choice was to move with it.
Then it was time for Shiva Rae to take the stage. To be honest, I had no idea Shiva Rae was going to be there. I had come across her name and some of her images sporadically over the past few months. I knew very little about her but knew that she was an inspiration to many. And she did not disappoint.
For the first few minutes of her hour on stage, she energetically spoke to the crowd in a voice that resonated as genuine, compassionate and natural. There was nothing contrived. She seemed to really care about being there and leading the group. At one point, she walked into the middle of the crowd and asked us to roll up our mats and touch the earth. Our first movements of her class were done mat-free! It was rather liberating and freeing. A great reminder that we don’t need a mat to practice and can get close to nature doing our yoga at any time and in any place.
As the hour came to a close, she asked everyone to gather our belongings and move closer to the stage. The drummers drummed and everyone danced together for the last seven minutes or so. Truly amazing.
As Hawah thanked the crowd and invited everyone to come again next year, I couldn’t control my welling emotions any longer and finally released my tears. Luckily, my friend Birgit was next to me and offered me her shoulder and a hug. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one overwhelmed by the positive and contagious energy the group had formulated and continued to sustain in the aftermath of practicing, singing, chanting and dancing together.
Just amazing. I recommend such an event to anyone and everyone…even those fearful of large crowds like myself. As a matter of fact, I’m heading to the Wanderlust Yoga Festival in Philadelphia on Saturday, June 7. Anyone interested in joining me?
© 2014 Paula Carrasquillo and A Yogini Transformed.
Paula Carrasquillo is an active yogi, author, and advocate and lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area. To Paula, every person, place, thing, idea and feeling she encounters is significant and meaningful, even those which she most wants to forget. Follow Paula on Twitter and check out her other blog.