Joelle's Yoga

Yoga Mom: Maalaa’s Authentic Voice Came Home

Published in Yoga Northwest Spring 2003

It always amazes me how much my mother, Maalaa, remembers about her childhood. Though her childhood is a lot further back than mine, she still remembers her vivid internal dialogue. “At the age of six” she says, “I remember contemplating what the world was and my place within it.”

When I was six years old, I wondered when my mother would return from the spiritual journey that took her many miles and many years away from me. Now it’s twenty-six years later.

"Ok Kids, we're just about ready to begin." Maalaa says, giving everyone who arrives a huge smile. "Hey there! Nice to see you!" she says, calling out to a couple of kids who just arrived.

The place is City Yoga Ashtanga studio in Kitsilano, Vancouver, BC and a group of seven to twelve year olds are bursting into the room for Maalaa's Kids Yoga class. A few kids already put their mats by the wall and are leap up fearlessly into headstand.

“It’s their latest obsession.” Maalaa tells me.

As the kids arrive, they kick off their shoes and run to the shelves at the back of the room to ditch their coats and backpacks. Maalaa invites us into a circle. We close our eyes and bring our hands together in namaste at our hearts. For a couple of moments all the kids sit completely still and the room is silent. I can feel the contrast between the still silence and the noisy movement that preceded it.

"This is one of the very difficult poses in yoga,” Maalaa says, her voice soothing the silence around us "Our bodies and minds are always busy, always wanting to be moving."

After a moment or two of silence, I hear the whisper of small bodies shifting. "This is your inner journey.” She says, “Outer space looks a lot like inner space. Our vision is happening on the inside. Just like Edison thought of creating electricity, he saw it on the inside before it happened."

"I am the kind of person who is into seeing that everyone is the expression of divinity. We have each of us been created by the divine and everyone is that expression of the divine in whatever way they manifest. " Confides Maalaa.

She was first exposed to meditation at a time in her life when things around her were falling apart. Her marriage was over and she realized that she wanted to recreate her life in a more conscious way. Rather than create this life in the context that she found herself, she traveled to Fusagasuga, Columbia to start what was at the time going to be a retreat center for meditation and the study of Yoga. The last thing she ever intended to do was abandon her children. But to everyone around her, myself included, it appeared like that‘s exactly what she did.

"I wanted to communicate to my children to go for what they truly believe and I knew I could offer that to them by who I was and not by what I said. So if I told them "be everything that you really believe in, live by your inner voice" and I didn't do it for myself, I wouldn't truly be able to offer them that teaching." She explains.

We’ve come a long way from 1977 when Maalaa, my sister, Carrie and I went for two years without seeing each other. For the past four years, the three of us have shared a two-story duplex that doubles as our home and yoga studio. The main room, the biggest room in the house is our meditation and yoga room. It has nothing in it except candles and a large mandala that hangs just above the mantle.

Maalaa and I are both yoga teachers. We study with the same Hatha Yoga teacher, Gioia Irwin. In the early mornings we sometimes practice together, sitting in meditation, doing praanayama or helping each other do handstand in the middle of the room.

“Stretch your shoulder blades away from the spine…lift your thighs…Root through your big toes mounds!” I tell her, helping her balance legs above head. “I hope I can still do that when I’m 54” I say to myself.

“I’ve always had an urge to move beyond my comfort zone.” Maalaa said.

Maalaa's trip to Fusagasuga, Columbia was all about moving beyond the comfort zone. She felt that it was the first time that she was making a conscious choice to choose the life she wanted to live.

“I had a thirst to connect with something less form oriented and much more fulfilling on a soul level.” Maalaa explains.

The Fusagasuga chapter was what the Patanjali Sutras might refer to as tapas, a Sanskrit word which refers to the difficulties that one must endure on the path of enlightenment.

There she was, hundreds of miles away from us and very homesick. Her days were spent lifting stones, moving pails of earth, and tending to the gardens of the agricultural estate she and her two mentors had purchased. While her companions wanted to create a Mecca to attract their Indian Guru, Swami Shyam, Maalaa wanted to create a space for Carrie and I.

“I started to realize that my idea and their idea were different. There were times when I could just concede and treat it that it was just the humbling of the ego consciousness and then there were other times where it was just a fire of pain, a burning hell.”

We didn’t see each other for two and a half years. Maalaa sent handwritten letters with curvy tails flowing into drawings of lovable birds, flowers and hearts, always praising the glory of everything. When I received letters from Maalaa, I had no sense that she was suffering at all. I would usually get angry when I read them. They seemed so oblivious to the fact that I was angry and that made me even angrier.

When she returned from Columbia, she was back in Montreal for seven years, during which time she lived at the ashram. During that period I was into my own teenage world, but the ashram was an alternate home for me. In 1988, Maalaa moved to the Kullu Valley, India to study with her teacher. Seeing her go again was really difficult.

When I was about twenty I really let Maalaa back into my life. I was studying Journalism at Carleton University. She was back in Canada for my cousin’s bar mitzvah and came to visit me in Ottawa. My curiosity overcame my anger and we reestablished our connection. She introduced me to meditation and soon after moved back to India.

About a year later, in the fall of 1991, I traveled to India to visit her. My first night in Delhi, Maalaa and I were awoken by an earthquake that registered seven points on the richter scale. When I arrived in Kullu and met Maalaa’s teacher, Swami Shyam, it was an earthquake of a different kind. My visit to India was monumental. For the first time in my life, I was absolutely sure about something: I wanted what he had.

My stay in India was intended to be a month long but stretched into six months. Regular water stoppages, electricity outages and deafening diesel-spewing vehicles, challenged all my conditions. I got to experience Maalaa’s life firsthand. I suddenly had an international family of two hundred people that shared my desire to cultivate inner peace. I felt very much at home.

I took two more trips to and from India, the longest of which was almost four years. During that time I studied the Bhagavad Gita and inevitably, like Arjun on the battlefield, I felt an urge to test this so called knowledge in the field of action. While I appreciated the invaluable teachings that I had received, I wanted to take a break from the devotee mentality and rely on my own resources for awhile. Maalaa and Carrie, who had also been in India with me for two of those years, were back in Vancouver. In September 1997, I joined them there.

Maalaa, Carrie and I share a love of music that has brought us closer together. A gifted musician and songwriter, Maalaa has imparted her love of musical expression to Carrie and I and we collaborate regularly in hosting kirtan chanting events.

Maalaa is playing the Circle of the Whole song to end the Kids Yoga class. A couple of their Moms have joined us and are singing along. A small candle sits in the center of our circle and casts a gentle glow on our feet. I feel touched by the sound of children singing this sweet song and for a moment the world doesn’t feel like such a crazy place.

“Does anyone have anything to say?” Maalaa asks as she hands out sesame chips and ginger snaps, prasaad (blessed offerings) to celebrate their class of the holiday season.

One of the kids who came to the class for the first time is trying to kiss his older brother’s leg. His older brother pushes him away whispering, “Don’t!” as his eyes dart around the circle to see if anyone is watching.

“I do.” I say, not exactly sure how I’m going to say it but pretty sure that I have something important to say.

“Some of you may run into other kids who laugh at you or don’t include you in their games. You may start to compare yourself to them, or try to impress them. If that ever happens, please remember to just be yourself. You are unique and that’s a really good thing!”

The choices that we make in our lives culminate into each person’s unique life experience. No matter how much we may want to undue some of those choices, the present moment is all we have. Maalaa’s journey has centered her in wisdom and love and opened the door for me to do the same.


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