My First Time At “Yoga Mass”

Since my freshman year of college, I’ve been immersed in the world of yoga. During sophomore year, I was obsessed with it, making sure not to miss a day and even taking a yoga class for college credits at school. Here, I learned even more about the health benefits- both mind and body- and found solace in my practice. Unfortunately, a busy schedule and wanting a more intense workout has resulted in me not practicing for a while now. Often times I glance over at my mat sitting in the corner of my room and realize “wow, that hasn’t moved in a while…”, which makes me kind of depressed, but there’s no point in being sad about something you can change at any moment in time (something I learned from yoga!!).

It wasn’t until I slowed down on my practice that I noticed how much yoga really does help our minds and bodies. For one, my lower back started to ache and feel stiff. I never realized how much bending, stretching and breathing was really helping my body. Also, I was forgetting the ultimate lesson we learn from the practice: to stop, take a breath and let things go; to stay at an even level at all times.

But fret not Erin! Today was exactly the push I needed to restart my yogi journey.

In 2013, yoga instructor Amanda Reh started Yoga in Lake Eola Park with the intention of bringing awareness of health and community to Orlando, and today I got to be just one of 173 practitioners who took part in this “yoga mass”.

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It was beautiful weather. The clouds were patchy across an otherwise clear sky. We set our mats down under a tree providing shade in the back (because we were late… what’s new??). I kicked off my practice with a quick sun salutation to warmup, drawing into myself and quieting my thoughts. Even though the weather was nice, it was sweltering hot. But the heat was actually really motivating, because it forced me to quiet my mind and be ultra-focused on my breathing and poses.

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This Sunday we had Amanda as an instructor. She, of course, looked like an awesome yogi, with her dreads piled high into a ponytail and a big megaphone projecting her instructions to the back of the crowd.  During warrior three and tree pose, she had all of us grasp our neighbors’ arms for balance. Personally, I love when instructors do this.  When you’re in a big group of humans breathing and moving simultaneously, you can really feel the vibration of energies all around you, and being physically connected to the person next to you creates an even more intense flow of energy, giving me the strength to hold a pose longer or stretch further.

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Now, the main intention of Sunday’s practice was learning to let things go and forgive. Usually, you’re supposed to take these intentions with you into the real world and utilize these tools to get you through your day. I never thought these lessons would actually come in handy during the class. As we all meditated with our eyes closed, a man came up to my friend and tried to steal her phone!!! She caught him just as his fingers slipped under it, and she was able to grab it before he pretended to fall on the ground and run away. My friends and the people near us were all distracted by the scuffle and couldn’t believe he would try to steal from someone as they did yoga and meditated- talk about bad karma. I’m guessing he probably does this every week, unfortunately. Even though we were all pretty surprised at what happened, my friend laughed it off, noting how the intention of the practice related to the situation so closely. Sometimes people do bad things. You’ll never know or understand why they do them; its out of your power. All you can really do it let it go, move on and forgive.

After the class we walked over to the Orlando Farmer’s Market and ate some refreshing acai bowls (the best post-yoga snack), grilled corn and tacos. But, in the end, there were too many cute dogs walking around for me to handle and we just had to leave.

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All in all, it was a great day and, as I said earlier, the perfect push I needed to restart my yoga journey. It reminded me how good it felt to take a moment to breath and move with intention, especially among such a large group of yogis. So… here’s to hoping I stick with it!

Peace!

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Orlando United Day

One year later. Three hundred and sixty-five days since one of the worst mass shooting in United States history had occurred. Fifty-two weeks since 49 angels were so viciously plucked from this Earth. And all in the place that I called home. Minutes from the very clubs I like to spend time with my friends, dancing enjoying music and having a drink. I remember seeing the news on Twitter. Then the television. Then I was driving from my hometown to Orlando to go to a concert. When I arrived in Orlando, there was this eerie feeling that followed me wherever I went. There were very few people on the streets, out in public; it seemed as if the world had stopped.

Only when the community began banding together to give back and to honor the memory of the 49 did the Earth begin rotating again. And Orlando had it spinning full speed.

Days before the one-year anniversary of the Pulse shootings, the infamous rainbows began making their heartwarming appearances. Store windows, billboards and buildings began shining the symbol for love. It gave me chills every time I set eyes on one; a reminder of the tragedy, but also a reminder of just how supportive my town was.

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It was actually a weird coincidence how similar June 12, 2017 was to the unforgettable day the year before. It was gloomy weather, and I was driving to Orlando from my hometown of Stuart, exactly like I had been in 2016. My friends and I had planned to go downtown to pay our respects. We drove almost in silence, passing rainbow-lit pillars on the 408.

We parked at my friends work and called an Uber to drive us to Lake Eola. I couldn’t stop thinking how amazing it was that they were giving free rides to and from the lake and Pulse Nightclub if you used the code ORLANDOUNITED.

Nearly ten thousand people surrounded the Walt Disney Amphitheatre at Lake Eola when we arrived. The celebratory feeling of Orlando United Day (June 12 has officially been named Orlando United Day by city officials) had an underlying tone of sadness, for obvious reasons. Some people were smiling and waving flags, taking selfies. Others were crying quietly and sharing hugs. Speakers talked to the thousands of people, their voices being broadcasted to the other side of the lake. They talked about how much the community has banded together in the past year.

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Being the person I am, I couldn’t help but feel the spirits of the 49 Pulse victims surrounding us, as we sang songs and talked about how their deaths have impacted Orlando as a whole. I wanted to cry, but the love being projected from all the souls who took the time to come out and honor these people was too overwhelming. It really felt like a family of likeminded people who just wanted to add their loving energy to the moment.

My favorite part of the night was when the Orlando Gay Chorus performed “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway show Rent. It’s always been one of my favorite songs, and brings tears to my eyes when I listen to it. When they announced the song, I immediately started crying. I started thinking about the lyrics, and how perfectly they fit the moment. Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure, measure a year? Let’s celebrate, remember a year in the life of friends. Remember the love, measure in love. Seasons of love.

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Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes had passed that day 49 innocent souls were killed, because of the way they love.

 I’ll never understand why this happened, or why similar tragedies continue to happen. I think that’s why I’ve finally decided to start writing about it. Putting it into words seems to help make some sense of it. Either way, in the moments since June 12, 2016, I’ve learned something about humanity, and about myself. One senseless act of violence, no matter how big, will always overshadow the sheer love we naturally have in our hearts. I heard someone once say, we are only here for three reasons: to give love, to receive love, and to be love. It’s so simple to forget the good in the world when it seems there’s so much bad. But when you take the time to remember, that we are love, the world starts to become a little clearer. 

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