Happy I am. Healthy I am. Holy I am. I am. I am. Happy you are. Healthy you are. Holy you are. You are. You are. Happy we are. Healthy we are. Holy we are. We are. We are. These words, this mantra, repeats over and over in my mind as I do the dishes, sweep the floor, send my end of day emails, check the weather, and pack my things. I’m preparing to visit my friends Mari Elise (or as I like to call her MeMe) and Bruce and their kids in Louisville for a couple of days and like clockwork I’m insistently cleaning the house, doing the laundry, running to the store, and making preparations to leave my family for a week plus when it will, in reality, be less than 72 hours. I guess you could say I am a nervous traveler and the need to clean my house before leaving it is a way for that anxious energy to be exhausted, something I’ve learned about myself over the years and come to accept and even appreciate. The biggest difference is that today, instead of my to-do list running through my mind, a mantra replaces it. Happy I am. Healthy I am. Holy I am. I am. I am. Happy you are. Healthy you are. Holy you are. You are. You are. Happy we are. Healthy we are. Holy we are. We are. We are.
I first learned this mantra from my teacher, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, when I studied to become a Prenatal Yoga Teacher. When practicing this in class, we were instructed to place our hands over our hearts as we repeated the mantra for ourselves, then hands move to belly as it is repeated for you, and hands split over heart and belly for we. If I’m being honest, I forgot this mantra during my own pregnancy, feeling drawn to others or different forms of meditation, but just like so many of the teachings from Gurmukh, this mantra would make its way back to me and bring me light when I needed it the most.
Between December 2016 and February 2017, I lived in darkness, going through a series of surgeries, health scares, and hospitalizations with my then 10 week old son. While I was fully present to my surroundings, I was not present to my own experience. A fellow teacher and friend, who also studied with Gurmukh, reached out to me and reminded me of this mantra. Happy I am. Healthy I am. Holy I am. I am. I am. Happy you are. Healthy you are. Holy you are. You are. You are. Happy we are. Healthy we are. Holy we are. We are. We are. The first night we returned from the hospital my husband and I sat with our baby in our arms and repeated this, holding our own hearts, our son, and each other. It became our nightly routine until we were able to peel back the layers of fear and worry that had enveloped us like layers of an onion. Time and these words made me able to see my son, husband, and self presently again.
Lessons from your teachers are not fleeting; they are always there, just some times more at the forefront than others. If you are lucky to have good teachers, the kind that make a profound impact on your life by simply being themselves, their teachings live through you and inspire others.
I met MeMe in Northern Virginia while we were at a mutual friend’s, her extended family’s, birthday party. MeMe happened to work in Old Town Alexandria, just blocks away from the yoga studio where I had recently started teaching. She very bluntly, which I would later learn is her way of showing enthusiasm, said that she would be in to take a class. From that point on MeMe would continue to show up for me both as a student in my class and also as a friend. She was the first yoga teacher I mentored after she completed her teacher training and she was one of my earliest students at Humble Haven Yoga when I opened my doors in Richmond.
When I made my transition to Richmond, MeMe was setting down roots in Louisville with her husband, beautiful step children, and a baby on the way. I was lucky to visit her while she was pregnant and only a matter of weeks before her baby girl, Stella, was born. When I left MeMe after that trip, we excitedly talked about what it would be like next time I came to visit. Just as most plans in life, those plans we made back then were altered, but in a way that no one anticipated.
Stella was born with a heart condition that caused her, not long after she was born, to go into cardiac arrest. I will never forget reading those words from one of my dearest friends. Her typical, straightforward enthusiastic words blurred and muddied with unknowns. As a friend and mother, I wanted to fix it. I wanted to make the hurt and worry end. I saw and felt my own pain in Mari Elise’s journey, but I remembered the words that had pulled me through those layers. I texted Mari Elise those words - Happy I am. Healthy I am. Holy I am. I am. I am. Happy you are. Healthy you are. Holy you are. You are. You are. Happy we are. Healthy we are. Holy we are. We are. We are. Hundreds of miles away from each other we sat and chanted those words for Stella.
I was once asked by another teacher, “what is International Yoga Day?” And the question caught me off guard. The literal answer that it’s a day declared by the UN to build awareness about yoga and spread its practice didn’t seem fully appropriate for some reason. Maybe because Yoga is so much more than a day or hour on a mat to me, it’s a way of living. Maybe it’s because I see how Yoga has been the guidance from darkness to light in my own life and the connecting element between my own life and others. As I sit here days away from International Yoga Day and hours away from meeting Stella for the first time, I am able to feel gratitude for my own experiences and how they gave me the words and movement, to get back to feeling, first for myself and then for others.
Happy I am. Healthy I am. Holy I am. I am. I am. Happy you are. Healthy you are. Holy you are. You are. You are. Happy we are. Healthy we are. Holy we are. We are. We are. These words - taught to me by my teacher, passed on to other students, absorbed by our babies. I’ve heard them spoken in English and Arabic and their meaning understood without speaking at all. I, You, and We are the same. That is the Yoga and that is what I celebrate this International Yoga Day.