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
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
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
“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
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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