My dad is the youngest of nine from Albany, NY. Each Sunday after church, we would go to my grandmother’s house – Nanny, as we called her – and spend the day with aunts, uncles, and a huge number of cousins in a house that couldn’t have been more than 2000 square feet in total, both up and down. 28 Magnolia Terrace was both the address AND the name of the house. My grandparents lived downstairs and my aunt and uncle lived upstairs.
Once we got there, Sunday dinner was usually ready to hit the table, with my uncles and adult male cousins and sometimes guests eating first, while my aunts wore aprons and put the food down from the kitchen to the dinner table. Dinner always consisted of mostaccioli and usually thinly sliced juicy roast beef. The women would wait on the men as they ate, getting what they needed until they were finished. No joke. The kids ate too, usually at tables put together in the kitchen. There was a lot of commotion and good banter and talk about the food during the meal. Once finished, the women would pick up the men’s dishes and then eat their meal together in the kitchen while they were cleaning the dishes. My uncles would go back and watch sports (at least two televisions going with different games on) and the cousins would start to play and wait a little bit before diving back into the pool in the backyard. My aunts would play pinochle once the dining room table was cleared. A few hours later, everyone would head upstairs and this ritual would begin again in the same fashion for Sunday dinner made of fresh cold cuts, Kaiser rolls, and macaroni salad.
It sounds absolutely insane to think of this scenario in our world as it is today, but for me and I believe all of my family members that were involved, it was never looked at as disrespectful or degrading, but simply as an act of love. And as I see it now as my first true experience of community. Those weekly gatherings around the table were the expected way to catch up on the lives of family members. There were so many of us that it wasn’t possible to have long conversations. Instead we shared important and meaningful chatter on countless topics: a relative’s situation, a newly engaged cousin, someone’s new car or new boyfriend, who gained weight or who lost weight, who stopped drinking, new babies, new promotions…and many times we shared jokes, really bad jokes that everyone howled at regardless. Whether you cried or laughed, it didn’t matter because everyone was there – together. To this day, no kidding, 28 Magnolia Terrace still exists, still hosting weekly gatherings, with new generations taking over.
And while all that may be family, it really is a gathering of people, just like us. Our BYSJ community is much like a family: we come together once a week or maybe even daily on this platform to eat our yoga food, expressing gestures to each other that define a really big family – a community. Maybe our subjects aren’t the same, as it’s not “Who’s engaged?” but “How are you feeling?” or “How is your yoga practice going?” And, as we see each other day after day, year after year, the conversations change to “How are your kids?” or “Where did you go? I haven’t seen you in a while?” “How did you do in your marathon?” Through our gathering we become threaded as “relatives” to each other, connecting in the most unusual and yet most special way: we don’t match in color, we speak different languages, eat different foods, wear different clothes, and yet we resemble all the qualities of a caring functional (and at times dysfunctional) family. They say that the character of a business comes from the top down. If that’s true, then I’d have to agree. For myself, I have always enjoyed being a part of an infrastructure that engenders a family feel.
I worked for Il Fornaio for almost 10 years, a wonderful authentic Italian family run restaurant company. We spent long hours together: holidays on the road, late nights in the restaurants, and often ate together like family gathering around a gorgeous Italian made table covered with just fresh risottos, rotisserie meats, house bread ciabatta, and of course, great Italian wine. Leaving this company felt like leaving a family; growing up and moving on and experiencing the pain that entails. Yet, to this day, even thirteen years later, I still get calls, emails, and visits of love and support.
My attraction to this “style” of being comes from my mom – my wonderful, beautiful mom that deserves so much mention in the ten year tribute of what is BYSJ. My mother got along with everyone. She saw beauty in everyone and everything! My sister and I used to laugh as my mom would start to slow down if she saw a green light ahead. We’d ask her why she was slowing down, and she’d kindly and seriously respond, “Well, it’s going to change to yellow soon.” Oh dear. My sister and I would slap our foreheads in utter disbelief – “really mom.” Living in Chicago, mom would talk to the toll booth operators asking how their day was going. She really believed and encouraged manners upon us as kids. No elbows on the table; say “Please” and “You’re Welcome” and “Thank You.” Listen and paying attention to others was her strength and talent. Being polite was second nature and she was proud when her kids followed suit. She was a remarkable human being.
For my high school graduation my mother asked that I invite the entire class of four hundred plus kids over for dinner – yes, dinner. She made over 200 meatballs, tons of noodles and homemade sangria for any and every one that chose to come over with gowns and caps on.
My mom passed away in 1998, now almost fifteen years ago. She died from Alzheimer’s at the young age of 54. It was completely devastating and life changing for me. I started yoga a few months after she passed. The yoga helped me deal with the grief. I also became involved with Hospice (a terrific organization that helps provide quality and dignity to anyone in their final months of life as we know it). And, I also became inspired and started a card business named after my mother, Donnadae. They were handmade cards with original photographs, prose, and special ribbon. They were inspiring, celebratory, reflective, and very different. A portion of the proceeds went to hospice. In a short time, I had twenty five different cards and a catalog. I sold to small boutiques and hospitals. I went to a big card show (my sister flew out to help me) and displayed my cards to many distributors, to including the ones that sell those attractive, fancy one-of-a -kind cards. After the show, I did get a call from one of the more well known established lines. While they wanted me to change a lot about my cards, it was a pretty big step in pursuit of a dream. But, I don’t recall being happy. In fact, after that, I found myself more depressed and crying a lot.
For those of you that have lost someone close, maybe you can relate to this point. As I look back now, I see that I was doing these things of hospice, cards, and volunteering for good reason, but none of it was going to bring mom back. I think when we lose someone so close to us, we are in such a state of shock that maybe we unconsciously make this deal that if we pour all our efforts into doing this or doing that, that somehow they will come back. So the yoga wasn’t just helping me with the sadness I was feeling but more so with the acceptance that she wasn’t ever coming back. It took many years and I still miss her immensely. But as I’ve come to know all of you and be here in our beautiful BYSJ new home, I feel a closeness to my mom that I didn’t expect. It comes from all of you. In the last year, we’ve welcomed over 5000 new people in our new studio. Yep! Members, there is no way to “welcome” that many people without your Manners. How you move your mat for someone coming in late, how you get someone water that is new and didn’t properly hydrate, how you inquire about someone’s health, showing attention to someone you don’t really know, how you stop what you are doing to show a new student how to use the lockers – all of these “donnadaes” move me to tears as I see my mom in ALL of you!
Both Chris and I are so humbled by your acts. The Giving Wall is the best way that we thought to illustrate to you the “giving” you have done through the years. The Giving Wall has over a 100 charities and organizations listed that BYSJ has either donated cash or services to over the years (and usually one charity gets that same donation or more each year). These come from you members. Additionally, community, it was YOU that funded our new home. We never achieved getting a big bank loan but instead it was all of YOU coming together in creative and willing ways to finance our new home – our Magnolia Terrace.
Thank you for the trust you put in Chris and myself. While we all have acquired experiences that make us better people, I do believe your yoga over the years has influenced you greatly in the greatness that you are today – our community, our Magnolia Terrace, blossomed to our present state because of your practice.
When you come into the yoga room looking at your own reflection, you begin to unveil who you know yourself to be.
Bikram has a wonderful way of answering questions. Ask him why we do yoga and he might answer with his eyes open wide, “you come to self-realize.” It’s the unfolding of the biggest mystery of all – who are you?
As you practice, you start to create a relationship with yourself. You come to love yourself, then soon enough you begin to like yourself, and only then do you start to take care of yourself. And then even more wonderfully, you begin to take care of others; you take care of our own and your own is your immediate family and the family you have here at BYSJ. We’ve organically over the years become this extended family. It’s a place where we belong and there is a connection that we have with each other regardless of differences in color, work, race, or religion as we honor and respect the work each of us is doing to become the best we can be. It isn’t a bloodline that brings us together, it’s a feeling: a feeling that we are each important here.
As the owner of BYSJ, one of my biggest satisfactions comes from my good fortune of being a guardian to what we’ve created here. But in this year in particular it’s been something much richer. As I talk with each of you individually, I hear the stories of the difference you are making in your own lives, in the lives of your families, and in the work that you do. You are a difference maker, teaching the kids in your class how to do pranayama breathing. You influence those around you with your yogic ways by paying attention to co-workers, acknowledging the struggles your kids experience, or the importance you now place on “date night” with your wife.
Like our logo represents with the lotus flower in the center of the rings that ripple out, this feeling of importance generated through the yoga spreads. The beautiful mural of our family tree painted in the lobby of our studio with branches extended and leaves falling expresses the new seeds that will fertilize and grow, becoming “relatives” that will do even more than what we’ve accomplished.
Thank you for taking the time to read this tribute, toasting to 10 years of community. As the owner, thank you Chris, teachers, staff and the eighty three members that have continued a practice since the year we opened in 2003. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your efforts in transformation. I know it isn’t easy, but this way IS a way to your ultimate destination – mental peace (as Bikram would say profoundly). Members, you’ve by far transcended the dream of the dreamer. It’s worthy of celebration, but we’ve only scratched the surface to what community can do in efforts to make the world a better place. Let’s do more individually, shine even brighter collectively, and aim for higher principles that make an impact on the worlds we live in!