Maureen Maguire dimmed the lights on the sixth floor of Payne Whitney Gymnasium, as her students quietly found their spots on a big blue mat, sat down, crossed their legs and closed their eyes.
Then Maguire, still sporting a sweaty glow from her previous class, paced around the outside of the mat before gently interrupting the silence.
“Locate your breath,” she said. “If you’re thinking, you’re out of the loop. We come here to let go of the day. This is about being present, comfortable in our own skin– embracing the essence of who we are.”
And the yoga class began.
For the past five years, Maguire has been teaching yoga at Yale, and many students now feel their lives would not be the same without her classes.
Just this past summer, Orly Lobel, a visiting lecturer at the Yale Law School, organized a petition asking the administration at Payne Whitney to improve the yoga opportunities available there. The letter included requests for more mats and more classes, and it used Maguire as an example of a particularly good instructor.
Orbel has been practicing yoga for 10 years and said Maguire’s style is so unique that she would “take any class she teaches.”
“She really does a great yoga flow,” Orbel said. “Physically, you feel she knows everything about the human body — knows how to adjust you and how to walk you through the movements in a way that is appropriate to your body and to your own level of practice– But she also combines the mindfulness of yoga. She has an emphasis on the ideas behind the body movements — of being aware of your breath, of what your body is telling you, and combining that with a way of life.”
Maguire began teaching yoga in 1997, but has been practicing for more than 35 years.
“I was a hippie in the 1970s,” said Maguire, who now has a tattoo of a large flower on her right shoulder. “It just was a natural progression with meditation and being a vegetarian to do yoga.”
As it turned out, yoga and Maguire were a perfect match from the beginning.
“It really touched my soul like nothing else,” Maguire said. “It had a profound effect on my life.”
And from early on, others told Maguire that she was a natural teacher. She was able to recognize what made a good instructor.
“Every once in a while, you find a teacher who just naturally, instinctively, organically makes you feel comfortable and can really teach you and impart knowledge and help your experience of your yoga process to grow,” Maguire said. “There are a lot of great teachers, but if they’re not warm and engaging, you don’t want to go back.”
Maguire’s students are not slow to say that they find her engaging.
“I like how you can just relinquish all control,” said Susanne Kenagy ’06, who began taking Maguire’s classes her freshman year. “You can trust Maureen to make decisions for you.”
Daryn David GRD ’08, in her third year, agreed.
“It’s easy to connect with her,” David said. “One time doing yoga I got hurt, and since then she has been consistently encouraging me to go back and try the same move again and again and again — really talking to me privately about it or saying things in the class that I know are directed to me.”
Maguire said the best part of teaching yoga is watching the expressions of her students when they go “Oh, I got it.”
“It’s a joy looking at their faces when you can tell they finally grasped what it’s all about, and they feel good in their own body.”
According to Maguire, even the reception woman at the gym said, ‘Maureen, you know we can always tell who the yoga students are because they’ve got this other glow that no one else has.’
Not only does Maguire teach classes at Yale, she also teaches at Quinnipiac and at her own studio on Whitney Avenue. In addition, she teaches Yoga for Donation, a free class in East Haven open to the public with a donation of food, clothing, etc.
With three grown children — all yoga practitioners — Maguire has made yoga an integral part of her life.
“It has profound possibilities of changing people mentally, physically, spiritually. It’s a potent agent of transformation,” she said. “People come and think they’re going to get flexible, and they leave with an awareness of their soul.”
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