IYCWM November 2020 Student Spotlight – Greg Haggard

By Published On: October 31st, 2020

Tell us a bit about yourself – I was born in Annapolis, MD, and moved to Santa Fe, NM when I was 8.  My father was a college professor at a small liberal arts college that opened a branch in Santa Fe. New Mexico was where I lived (and where much of my family still resides) until I came to Boston to continue my music studies in 1980. I have considered this home ever since. 

Studying music at both UNM and Berklee, I spent a handful of years playing professionally and struggling to make a living. The financial challenges eventually took enough of a toll that I moved on to construction; more stable and lucrative, if less stimulating for the soul. 25 years later, I felt the need for that spiritual stimulation, and took up a career in massage therapy, which has been the best 14 years of my life so far.


What is a little known or surprising fact about you or your work? I played rock and roll in a roughneck bar in Jasper, Wyoming in the middle of an all out brawl. Picture that scene from “The Blues Brothers” somewhere in Texas…


What led you to Iyengar yoga? How did you find IYCWM? I have been practicing yoga since 2004, independently for quite a while. A discussion with my partner about attending classes together initiated the conversation about Iyengar. She has some pretty challenging back issues, and flow classes were difficult for her. She knew about Iynegar through Nadje Refaie, a great instructor in Boston, and thought it would be good for her back. Ever willing to try something new, we ventured into Newton for a Sunday morning class with Susan Elena at Down Under Yoga. We both really enjoyed it, and have incorporated it into our weekend routine for several years. I was aware of IYCWM right when it first opened. Because of the distance, I have not been there in person. Still, I feel I am part of it, especially now with online classes. 


How long have you been practicing yoga? My yoga practice began when I was in massage school. The aches of hard physical labor for the previous 25 years, along with the challenges of this new activity (and probably much more personal awareness), left me feeling more physical pain than I remember experiencing at any other time in my life. Yoga helped mediate the discomfort, and helped me be more relaxed. 


What keeps you on the mat? I have gone through phases where I practiced more or less, depending on what else was going on in my life. The physical and mental benefits, along with the social aspect of being in a group  setting, have been strong motivators for me. In recent months, with more available time and energy, I have dedicated a significant amount of my attention to it. Since March, the changes in both body and mind have been quite noticeable for me. 


What keeps you off the mat? Prior to Covid, the most difficult thing was “finding the time”. With all the other things going on in life, having yoga be a priority was really challenging. I can’t say how it will play out if/ when I need to return to commuting into Cambridge regularly. I hope that I will be able to maintain a daily practice. 


What poses do you love? I find balancing poses to be exhilarating; particularly poses like Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana B, Ardha Chandrasana  and Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana, that involve expanding out in all directions. 


What poses do you find challenging? Arm balancing inversions like Sirsasana and Adho Mukha Vrksasana will probably also be top of the list of favorites, eventually. They are a challenge for me, but then I expect once I have some control of them, the lifting up through the legs will feel pretty amazing. Virabhadrasana 1 is another one that I have difficulty with. Back heel down, straight leg and vertical torso feel like they were Not made for each other in this current body! I know, time and practice….


What do you like to do when you are not doing yoga? Even though I moved away from music as a profession, the energy and physicality of drumming still charges me. During the pandemic, this is another avenue of my life that has opened up. I am currently playing outdoors with others, 2-3 times a week, and loving it.


How has practicing yoga impacted your life? There are so many ways! Especially recently, I can feel the physical benefits every day in my body. Yoga has helped me understand movement (and lack of it) in a very personal way, which carries over into my work. It was a motivator in my pursuit of Thai Massage as a bodywork technique. More recently, I completed a 200 hour yoga teacher training, adding to my understanding and ability to apply the concepts. On a more mental/ spiritual level, reading and beginning to understand the Sutras has informed my perspective of the world, and my journey on it. 


How does yoga show up in your everyday life? The regular practice I have been able to maintain lately has allowed me to work on balancing my body, strengthening or softening where it is needed. A better awareness of some of my holding patterns, instabilities and compensations allows me to modify how I move through the day. Spiritually, concepts like ahimsa and vairagya are more easily accessible to me than ever before. Breathing techniques and meditation are more an ongoing part of my life than in the past as well.  


How has the pandemic changed your daily life? How are you dealing with the COVID-19 crisis? Does your yoga practice help you in any way? Prior to the pandemic, I had been commuting into an office in Cambridge, working directly and physically with people all day most days, and squeezing in everything else around it. I was busy, busy, busy, not really allowing myself time to consider what life might be like if I had a few minutes to actually think. 

Then it all stopped. No physical contact with people other than my spouse, no going into the office, no face to face communication, and all the time in the world. There was a Huge amount of angst about job security, along with all the fear and confusion about the pandemic itself. And in the background, our political situation has hardly been serene. I was unable to get motivated to do much beyond bare essentials for a few weeks. 

At the beginning, yoga with Susan Elena was one of few aspects of my life that had continuity, felt supportive, and even offered a bit of hope. I was able to come to the mat and be in the moment, not thinking about all the distractions and potential doom outside. 

Even though there are still plenty of challenging things going on in the world, enough time and experience has passed for me to get used to this new “normal”.  An element of acceptance that I don’t really have any control over how things will unfold has been a necessary learning aspect of this. Online interactions, while lacking the full interpersonal aspects of face to face, have been sufficient to communicate, and even experience a sort of distant closeness. 

And I find that having time to think about what is important in my life, while initially a little scary, has presented the opportunity to potentially make some conscious choices that I don’t think I would have ever considered prior to Covid. 


What has it been like to become part of a virtual yoga community when you have never been to the physical space and do not know any of the other students? Attending yoga classes at various studios over the years, I have made deeper connections with only a few people. The feeling of community that comes from being in a class setting with people all working toward a similar goal has felt like enough for me. While the online aspect adds another barrier to getting to know people individually, I still experience that group feeling. Friendships beyond the “classroom” may take more time and effort, but if they are meant to be, they will happen. 

As for the physical space, although I feel I have set up a pretty decent space to practice, with most of the props I need, it is quite different than going to a studio. I liken it to some hybrid version of a class and a personal practice. I do look forward to the change of scenery when this is all over. 


How does this yoga community contribute to your practice? The dedication and regularity of the students is inspiring to me. Seeing the same faces, even through the filter of a video screen, creates an environment of familiarity and togetherness. Also, watching someone struggle with a pose, find their way into it and eventually become comfortable in it is inspiring. 


How has the switch to online classes during the pandemic affected your sense of community? Initially, I felt very isolated. In my line of work, in my yoga practice, and in my social life, physical closeness and one on one interaction were a regular part of daily life. It has taken some time to get used to physical distance, talking through masks and interacting online. While it is feeling more normal now, the lack of personal intimacy is still very challenging. 


How does it help stay connected? How does it fall short? One aspect of online that is quite nice is that I can interact easily with people in Florence, MA, Mountain View, CA, Chicago, IL, even overseas. While this ability has been there in the background for some time, having it be facilitated by necessity has made it more comfortable. As I said before, the lack of true personal contact is the largest challenge. There is nothing nicer than a hug when meeting someone, or seeing clearly their facial expressions and body language to help better understand them. 


Any advice for those seeking to connect to a virtual yoga community? Like everything, there are advantages and challenges to this new environment. On the upside, being able to access classes anywhere in the world and with a wide range of people, without the commute, is Huge! 

Those who want to establish closer relationships may have more work in front of them, and may also need to temper their expectations, at least short term. Bringing it into the real world in a time where we are told to avoid close interaction, requires creative thinking. But it certainly can be done. 

In a sense, it might be easier for those of us who tend toward being introverted to join an online  community. We can participate to our level of comfort, and use the relative anonymity and distance to our advantage. 

Either way, becoming part of a yoga community, like most others, is a matter of showing up consistently. Some communities are more open and accepting than others; my personal experience is that this one has been very supportive and comfortable.



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