At the start of the new year it is such a pleasure to celebrate Raquel who is taking the big step from being a graduate student to leaping into a new career as an occupational therapist. Raquel’s devotion to her practice along with her honesty and openness serves her well on and off the mat. It has been an honor to watch her dedicate herself to her studies and her practice. We all can’t wait to see where she goes next. Her future clients will certainly benefit from her extensive yoga practice and bright spirit! You can catch Raquel on Tuesday evenings and Saturdays as well as some of the other morning classes.
Tell us a bit about yourself – I was born in Boston and grew up both in Eastern MA and Madrid, Spain. My father is from Madrid and I have strong connections to my family there. I discovered Western MA in 2003 after transferring to UMass Amherst and stayed until 2008. I returned to the Valley in 2015 because I truly love it here. I can confidently say I’m staying put!
I just completed my masters of occupational therapy degree in October 2020 and am currently studying for the licensure exam. I moved to Florence in July 2020 after living in Easthampton for five years. I live with Clare, a devout feline yogi, and can see the studio building from my apartment!
What is a little known or surprising fact about you or your work? I look forward to incorporating my yoga teaching experience into my job as an occupational therapist.
 
What led you to Iyengar yoga? How did you find IYCWM? I took my first Iyengar class in 2006 and have been devoted to the Iyengar method ever since. I’ve been so fortunate to have had brilliant teachers while living in Cambridge, Northampton, and Madrid (in Spanish!). I’ve known Susan Elena through yoga for a long time and began studying at IYCWM after learning she was opening it at the Arts and Industry Building. I feel incredibly fortunate to have the studio here in my beloved home of choice.
 
How long have you been practicing yoga? Since 2006
What keeps you on the mat? A desire to decrease duhka (suffering) and increase sukha (happiness). To become more sattvic (light, balanced).
 
What keeps you off the mat? Perfectionism. Harsh inner critic. Tamas (lethargy).
What poses do you love? Those which soothe my nervous system. Supported backbends like supta baddha konasana and supta virasana. Inversions such as sirsasana, sarvangasana, setu bhandasana, and viparita karani. And of course, good ol’ adho mukha savasana, a true multi-vitamin!
 
What poses do you find challenging? All of them! In particular, forward bends, tadasana, and savasana
What do you like to do when you are not doing yoga? I like to exercise. I grew up as a competitive swimmer and being active is in my DNA. I love hiking, cycling, and using the rowing machine. I also consider myself a life-long learner and love to take continuing ed classes, workshops on all sorts of subjects, read, and watch documentaries.
 
How has practicing yoga impacted your life? Before practicing yoga, I inhabited my body from the neck on up. Since beginning my yoga studies, I’ve learned how to bring the elevator downstairs into the rest of my being. I feel more satvic and integrated when I practice the various limbs of yoga. Studying yoga philosophy, in particular the yamas and niyamas, has been invaluable for me. Dhyana, meditation, has also been so crucial to my well-being and alleviating suffering. Mariah’s mindfulness classes are amazing, and I’m so happy ICYWM offers them.
 
How does yoga show up in your everyday life? Every moment is a teacher and an opportunity to practice for me. When I’m in line and feeling impatient about how slow it’s moving along, I practice ahimsa, non-violence, towards everyone in it. I don’t know what challenges those around me are experiencing. When I’m doing the dishes and worrying about all of the work I need to do, I practice dharana, concentration, on mindfully being present in the moment with the sensory input I’m receiving from the warm water and smell of the dish soap. When I go to sleep, I practice a few minutes of pranayama. When I’m taking my licensure exam, I’ll practice pratyahara to help me focus on the test content and shift my focus away from others getting up and sitting down to leave or use the restroom. I practice asana, both in class and during home practice. And as for samadhi….I hope to get there during one of these lifetimes!
 
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? My graduate studies were put on hold for three months, however, I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to finish my clinical fieldwork in October. I miss places and people. I now realize how I take for granted the conversations I have during the week…running into people in town, chatting with fellow yogis after class, walking around and feeling open to the world.
I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude to have ICYWM classes online during the pandemic. What a lifeline! My yoga community is so important to me, and it’s been such a gift to be able to connect with others in online classes.
 
What has it been like to become part of a virtual yoga community where you do not know some of the other students? I love it! I always drop-in to Iyengar classes whenever I am travelling. It is a worldwide community and meeting fellow Iyengar yogis is always wonderful.
How does this yoga community contribute to your practice? I stay connected to the teachings and to those who are on a similar path.
How has the switch to online classes during the pandemic affected your sense of community? How does it help stay connected? How does it fall short? 
I feel more connected to my yoga community in many ways. I of course miss seeing people in person, but I’ve also got to meet people in different parts of the world. I love ICYWM’s Yoga Without Borders program. I’ve gotten to study with teachers and students from various continents. I think there’s a silver lining to studying virtually during the pandemic.
 
Any advice for those seeking to connect to a virtual yoga community? 
It may feel strange at first, but keep showing up! I was ambivalent about taking virtual classes but was surprised by how soon I got used to the new format. Trust the process. We humans are adaptable and all in this together!