We are pleased to spotlight another talented yogi we are very fortunate to have as part of our Community – Eileen Donelan. Eileen brings to the mat a strong work ethic, dedication and wonderful sense of curiosity. Her love of exploring also shows through in her beautiful photographs. It is such a pleasure to introduce you to Eileen and her artwork.
Tell us a bit about yourself: I have lived all my life in this area. I was born and raised in Holyoke, went to college at UMASS, worked in Springfield and have lived in Easthampton for 45 years. I met my future husband, Tim, the first weekend of freshman year at UMASS We married in 1975 and we will be celebrating our 47thanniversary in December. We have one son, Ryan, who also met his future wife in their freshman year in college. They have been married for 15 years and live in NY. Our grandson Bryce will turn 8 in late June and granddaughter, Avril, will be 10 in August.
My career took place at Baystate Medical Center. As a Clinical Laboratory Scientist, I managed Transfusion Medicine Services for the Health System. The field of Blood Banking required a focused mind to avoid errors, attention to detail and being able to live in a highly regulated environment. I believe that these traits made Iyengar yoga very attractive to me.
What is a little known or surprising fact about you or your work? In 2004 I went to India with my teacher to study at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Puna. While there I did some traveling in Kerala and had my feet in the Indian Ocean on Christmas Day. The next day I was in Tamil Nadu when I heard about a devastating tsunami that hit Indonesia and swept around the coast of India where I had just been.
What led you to Iyengar yoga? How long have you been practicing yoga? My introduction to yoga was in 1970 in a Kundalini course at UMASS taught by yogis at the nearby ashram. After graduation I took hatha yoga classes at the YMCA. I found Iyengar yoga when I learned about a local teacher, Jyoti Hansa, from a fellow student. I was blown away by the discipline and concentration on alignment with the Iyengar method of Hatha yoga and surprised that I did not get injured with my previous teacher. I always hesitate to answer the question of how long I have been practicing. The more I learn about yoga the more I feel that I am just beginning.
How did you find IYCWM? I have been very fortunate to study with some exceptional Iyengar teachers over the years. I found Susan Elena about 5 years ago when my long-time teacher of 35+ years retired from teaching public classes. I happily followed her when she moved to her own studio and was thrilled when it later became IYCWM.
What keeps you on the mat? I’m amazed at what happens when I practice daily, the physical, mental and emotional effects. Correction of physical imbalances and relief of pain will always be a motivator for me. A lower back and SI problem surfaced in me in the mid 80s. The Iyengar teacher I had just started with, Jim Gleason, referred me to a chiropractor he knew who also practiced Iyengar yoga, Tom Alden. I went for adjustments sometimes 3 times a week for quite a few years and was usually in discomfort or pain. Tom was interested in using Iyengar yoga to compliment chiropractic adjustments and when it became clear that adjustments would only go so far, he started teaching me one on one how to use yoga to manage my physical problems. He then sent me back to Jim who took me under his wing and together over many years he
helped me to realign my body so that I haven’t needed a chiropractor in at least 15 years. I am so grateful to these two people for what they have done for me. I feel that I honor them by continuing my practice and getting on that mat.
What keeps you off the mat? Life’s distractions especially when they interfere with my morning routine when I normally practice. I also find it just about impossible to practice when I travel. I always regret missing a practice.
What poses do you love? Currently they are Supta Padangusthasana, supported Viparita Dandasana, and Upavista Konasana, Sirsasana and Sarvangasana. I have a love/hate relationship with Adhomukha Svanasana.
What poses do you find challenging? All the standing asanas and this may be a surprise, I find Savasana difficult.
What do you like to do when you are not doing yoga? Spending time with lifelong friends and of course, my family. I am a serious photographer and spend a lot of time enjoying this activity and using it to explore the artistic side of me. I am lucky that I have been able to travel, and my camera is always with me.
How has practicing yoga impacted your life? Yoga has had a profound effect on my well-being. It is an integral part of who I am.
How does yoga show up in your everyday life? I correct my posture or my alignment with yoga all the time sometimes without even thinking about it. I am much more aware of my body, mind and emotions because of my yoga practice. I’ll get up during the night and do an asana when I have trouble sleeping or my body is restless. I go to yoga for relief when I feel moody or depressed.
How has the pandemic changed your daily life? Does your yoga practice help you in any way? I have been very fortunate to have a quiet lifestyle since I retired and am somewhat of a homebody. The pandemic did not have that much effect on me compared to what others have experienced. I had more time for yoga, so my practice improved.
What has it been like to become part of a virtual yoga community where you do not know some of the other students? How does this yoga community contribute to your practice? 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?
It takes me a long time to get to know new people and feel comfortable with them. I miss that personal interaction with people that comes when practicing together in a live class and being able to chat with people before and after class. I can’t talk to my family and friends about my yoga experiences. They don’t understand that it is so much more than physical exercise.
What do you think about the future of hybrid yoga classes – some people in person some online? Online yoga instruction seems here to stay and will give people who cannot do classes in person for whatever reason a chance to study yoga; that is a good thing. Hybrid classes I am not sure about until I give it a try. It really will depend on the ability of the teacher to successfully teach in two different formats at the same time.
Any advice for those seeking to connect to a virtual yoga community? If you are just starting out, then choose a teacher with care. A certified teacher who has experience with virtual teaching and a reputation for doing it well is what I recommend. Susan Elena is definitely good at it!