What happens when Yosemite National Park and the El Portal community can’t go home due to landslides and snowstorms? Read on and find out! Written by Balanced Rock Foundation’s program director Arin Trook.
Yoga is a practice of refuge. Slow the breath, turn the gaze inward, find a place of stillness. These are both aspects of the path, as well as the destination, for yoga practice. Yoga, in its literal translation, is union. Union of breath and body, union of spirit and mind, and union of self and other, the coming together of community in yoga, in union.
All wonderful and inspiring (if a bit uber-groovy) words. And yet the afternoon of the Storm, the first day of Spring, we were reminded of these truths in a very real way.
The First Day of Spring Storm hit Mariposa and Yosemite hard. Heavy rain and thick snow had toppled hundreds of trees, washed literally tons of stone and mud across highways, covered the high roads with thick drifts of snow. Much of the area lost power, and every road in and around Yosemite National Park was closed. Returning from a trip, my family and I had missed the last window to return home, arriving at the Highway 140 closure just minutes after the last car was allowed through. We waited out the night, and the next day, with the road still closed, began to bide our time in Mariposa. We anxiously wondered if we would be able to get home any time this week, wondering about work, about pets, about friends and family and homes. There were rumors of tree branches fallen through rooftops, power lines laying across most of El Portal’s roads.
Unable to really rest, we poked our head into the Downtown Yoga studio. And we were not alone. One by one, the El Portal refugees began to arrive, everyone trapped away from home, simply waiting. Jen Meno, as always the most gracious of hosts, had hot tea ready for us all, and soon began nudging us out onto yoga mats. Gentle music was soon on the new sound system, and one by one, individual yoga practices began.
For me, the time we spent in the Downtown Yoga studio as refugees was one of the most beautiful expressions of yoga I have experienced. The stress each of us felt being away from home and family melted away in a collective yoga practice. Our world was chaotic, the future uncertain. We were in a real crisis and yet we were in this together. And this made all the difference. We stretched our way into peace, into a gentle acceptance of the moment as is was, in all its chaos and uncertainty. This was yoga, as it was meant to be.
And then sometime in the early afternoon, Josh arrived with the news. There was a convoy from Highway 120 heading into the Yosemite and El Portal at 3 pm. If we hurried, we just might make it through the hairpin turns of Highway 49 over the Merced River in time to join the convoy and head home. The moment was broken, and we jumped into our cars to head across the county and back home.
Of course several hours later, huddling in an unlit-unheated apartment under three sleeping bags, we all had to wonder why we ever left the warmth of the Downtown Yoga refuge. What was so compelling about getting home again?
No one looks forward to crisis. Yet I was reminded again at our recent emergency town meeting in El Portal that crisis and disaster can actually be an opportunity to build stronger community. It is at times like this, when things seems incredibly dark, that we are closest to each other. And this is yoga, the practice of union, the refuge.