Our final spotlight of 2021 features Madeleine Hexter. Madeleine touches everyone in her presence with her thoughtfulness and has the uncanny ability to make everyone feel heard and cared for. I have had the pleasure of working with Madeleine as we both assisted the unstoppable Elise Browning Miller together for many years. It has been a blessing and a joy to have her friendship support me through life’s up and downs. To have her as my student is an honor and speaks to the wonderful lineage we are a part of. Enjoy meeting another one of IYCWM’s bright lights!
Tell us a bit about yourself, what lead you to Iyengar yoga? I grew up in Silicon Valley. After college, when Apple, Google, Cisco Systems and the like were bubbling up around me, I was blissfully unaware. I was busy pursuing a career in Art Conservation/Restoration. A career where I could combine my love for art, material culture, and science. Every week, I continued to take yoga classes because I felt a sense of ease and peace after class that would last most of the week until the next class. Though I tried other types of yoga I found that the instruction in Iyengar classes always lead me into a deeper practice. I felt so much better after each class, so I was hooked. One of my first teachers was Elise Browning Miller. B.K.S. Iyengar had been to California in the 1970’s and she and other yoga teachers in the Bay Area had already studied with him.
How long have you been practicing yoga? I’ve been practicing yoga since that semester in college in 1979, so that was 42 years-ago, and it has helped me come to a place of balance through all of my life’s trials and tribulations.
Why Iyengar yoga? Though I have taken classes from non-Iyengar teachers, I find that I practice at a much deeper level with Iyengar Yoga instructors and methods.
What is a little known or surprising fact about you or your work? My first career was as an Art Conservator at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. Running was one of my pass times; it’s how I got to know my husband.
How did you find IYCWM? I met Susan Elena at Kripalu when we were both assisting Elise Miller in Elise’s Iyengar Yoga for Back Care and Scoliosis. I have come to respect Susan Elena’s practice and her teaching. I consider Susan Elena a friend, colleague and one of the best yoga teachers I have ever taken a class from.
What keeps you on the mat? I have always wanted to share the insights and benefits I
experience through my yoga practice with others. So, since I finished my Iyengar Yoga teacher training in 2006, it’s been my students that keep me on the mat.
What keeps you off the mat? Distractions, lack of time. I have a lot of other interests and commitments. However, I usually get some yoga in every day.
What poses do you love? What poses do you find challenging? I’d like to say that the pose I’m doing NOW is the one I love and the one that I find challenging – for the most part this is true. My favorite pose is fluid, it has changed over the years because of different circumstances. At the moment, it’s Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, both active and supported bridge pose. I find Supta Virasana (reclined heroes pose) a challenge because of my arthritic knees; now I need more props to do this pose comfortably. It used to be one of my go-to poses as it offered me much comfort during menstruation.
What do you like to do when you are not doing yoga? I am a water baby; I love to be in a pool, lake, river or ocean. Gardening is another passion which consumes much of my time. I am Co-President of the West Hartford Garden club, and I am cultivating a mostly native garden at home and a Pollinator Pathway Garden in a local park. Planning for and executing these gardens gives me much satisfaction plus I feel that I am contributing to the ecosystem in a positive way.
How has practicing yoga impacted your life? Practicing yoga has changed the course of my life. It’s lead me to travel and meet people I wouldn’t have otherwise. For instance, I took a trip to India with our son Alex to celebrate New Year’s 2017-18 with Patricia Walden in Bellur (B.K.S. Iyengar’s home town). It was a trip of a lifetime. Teaching yoga is my second career; it’s been a way for me to give back.
How does yoga show up in your everyday life? It is a tool, a way to live in the present and a helps me cultivate equanimity.
How has the pandemic changed your daily life? Does your yoga practice help you in any way? Life in this pandemic has been challenging for all of us. I gave up teaching public yoga classes. I only teach private students online now. Because my 91-year-old mother and my recently retired husband have needed more help from and time with me I only have only kept a few private students. Yoga is my refuge. Yoga allows me to detach from the pressure and frightening aspects of life in a pandemic, to regroup and carry on.
What has it been like to become part of a virtual yoga community where you do not know some of the other students? Becoming a part of IYCWM virtual community has been a gradual process. When I first started taking online classes I felt a freedom to practice almost anonymously. Over time, as I began to get to know more students and even recognize former students and friends, I felt more connected to the community.
How does this yoga community contribute to your practice? I benefit from the rich questions and insights of the other students. When Susan Elena suggests an action or alignment to another student, I pay attention to those suggestions, and that process brings me deeper into my own pose.
What do you think about the future of hybrid yoga classes – some people in person some online? We will see. Susan Elena has a vision and I trust her to make it work.
Any advice for those seeking to connect to a virtual yoga community? Give it a try, it has been a blessing for me.
How has the switch to online classes during the pandemic affected your sense of community? How does it help you stay connected? How does it fall short? Like most of you reading this, I have found joy and inspiration in Susan Elena’s online classes during the pandemic. Her wisdom and inspired sequencing have deepened my interest in yoga. The comradery she cultivates has been a comfort. She has, you all have, helped sustain me during this challenging time.