This past Sunday I participated in my first ever “Yoga Mala”, a fundraising event for the New England-based nonprofit organization “Yoga in Action” in which I completed most of the 108 sun salutations! This practice is an empowering and transformative experience with ancient roots and many benefits. Even though I was doing this virtually in front of a video monitor, I felt connected to the other participants on the screen at the event's location, River Mill Landing in Dover, New Hampshire. Together, we mindfully paraded through (or suffered through) a seemingly endless succession of sun salutations “mountain pose, forward fold, chatarunga, upward dog, downward dog, repeat”! Upon the completion of each round of 10, a queue card was placed on an easel reflecting our count and a new instructor would begin the next round, each instructor infusing the event with their own unique energy.
After the first 2 rounds we paused for a heartwarming video testimonial of one gentleman’s experience with Yoga in Action. He spoke of reaching a point in life where he was accepting that aches and pains and limited mobility were simply inevitable, of how he had once previously experienced yoga “in a room full of perfect bodies”, feeling intimidated and unable to do most of the poses. His life changed for the better when he began attending 2 different Yoga in Action sponsored classes. Here the teacher taught him to find a new way in his body, to connect his mind to his body, and over time he experienced a decrease in aches and pains and an improved sense of well-being.
The break ended and back to the torture, I mean salutations. Seriously though, I have been practicing yoga for about eight years, and even though I am fairly advanced in my practice, this was one of the most physically and mentally challenging yoga moments I have yet experienced, the phrase “yoga marathon” coming to mind. By the time I had completed 50 sun salutations I was starting to feel a subtle drop in energy, periodically doing the occasional modification from this point forward to survive the second half (not to mention those dreaded salutation B's that a few teachers snuck in). After a few more rounds another heartfelt testimonial was read by one of the event's instructors, Marie, this one speaking of another Yoga in Action sponsored class “Yoga for Diverse Abilities” in Seabrook, NH. In what would be one of the most touching moments of the event, she shared a letter from the caretaker of a non-verbal young man who was finding a parallel between his weekly yoga experience and his love of music, his yoga class apparently having an immeasurable effect on his life.
Somewhere around 70 or 80 salutations I was starting to feel physically and mentally fried, and like a gift from the universe the next instructor, Dave brought some much needed lightheartedness, beginning his segment with “are you ready to do some yoga with the fat guy?”. Offhand comments about cookies and donuts were followed by Dave joking about his ability to talk about himself in the third person while teaching yoga. Before we knew it, we were at 100 sun salutations and on to the final eight, finishing strong with a big applause at the end! The final instructor took us through some cool down stretching, followed by a guided meditation, complete with body scan and visualizations, and then a well-deserved shavasana.
Three hours after I began this epic yoga moment the event came to its graceful end. I was pleased I was able to complete all but a few of the 108 salutations, and with some sun salutation B’s thrown in, somewhere around 140 chatarunga's (AKA half push-ups). Although I wasn't there in person, the spirit of the event shined through my video monitor and speakers, allowing me to feel connected to this amazing yoga community. My muscles were sore and tired, but my soul felt replenished and I felt a renewed sense of well-being.
The greater purpose of this event is to raise money and awareness for Yoga in Action so they can support communities that otherwise would not be supported through yoga, and I have a personal connection to this through the memory of my Dad, as the “Yoga and Cancer” program was of great help to him near the end of his life. To Michelle Couture and my friends at Prasada Yoga in Hampton, NH, my friends who made contributions and all who support Yoga in Action, thank you for helping to spread the healing gift that is yoga!
The video shows me doing the first and last eight salutations, sped up times eight. The photo shows me wearing a wonderful gift from my lovely Kelly, yoga mala 108 beads with a tree of life!
A little over three years ago my Dad passed away from a long battle with prostate cancer. He lived most of his life in relatively good health, but struggled in his last years as his cancer progressed. Gradually, he found himself surrendering many of his activities and abilities to the care of others. At the suggestion of my good friend, Robert Skaff I brought him and my Mom to a “yoga and cancer” class at Prasada Yoga in Hampton, New Hampshire. As an experienced yogi of many years I immediately recognized the high level of teaching and care brought by the instructor, Michelle Couture. As cancer patients and recovering cancer patients have various physical limitations, the style of yoga for them must be specifically contoured, and modifications to traditional poses are necessary. Some, including my dad were instructed to do most of the class seated in a chair, downward dogs and other poses modified to be done using blocks, or standing against the wall. My Dad took well to the class, and by the end of it, he was fast asleep in what would become his favorite pose, Shavasana.
This introductory class took place during one of my trips home before he passed, and for the next 2 1/2 years Dad and Mom became regulars, often going twice a week. I talked on the phone with Dad every week during that time and he was always bringing up the yoga class and how much he looked forward to it. I was fortunate enough to attend a couple of more classes with him on trips home. During my last trip home shortly before he passed, he told me that there were two places in his mind he would go when the pain or anxiety got really bad. The first place he described was shortly after he and mom married when they hiked to the top of Mount Chocora. Shortly after reaching the summit, a formation of F-14’s came out of nowhere and flew low across Lake Chocora towards them, ascending into the heavens as they reached the base of the mountain right before them! The memory of this special moment brought him peace. Then he said “the other place I go is yoga”. I don’t think I realized just how much the yoga was helping him through this difficult phase until that very moment.
The yoga and cancer program that my Dad went to (and mom still participates in) is a part of the nonprofit organization “Yoga in Action”, which works to provide free and accessible yoga to anyone who needs it in the New England area. On Sunday, February 20th at River Mill landing in Dover New Hampshire, they held their 16th annual Yoga Mala fundraiser, in which I participated virtually, helping to raise awareness and fund many yoga programs throughout New England.
The world just lost a great human with the passing of my old friend and band mate, Mark Gagnon. The longer we stick around this place, the more loss we seem to experience, and every once in a while somebody leaves us and it rips a giant hole in our heart. This was the case for me and likely anybody else that had the gift of having Mark in their lives.
I’ll never forget the first time I was graced with Mark’s presence. Back in 1990 I was playing in the band Crossfire, and on an off night we all went out to see The Branches, another popular band on our circuit. We walked into the packed nightclub and the energy was oozing off the stage, with the audience absorbing every bit of it. My first impression was that the band was great, the singers were top-notch, but the bass player was almost stealing the show. It wasn’t just his bass playing, which was top-notch; it was beyond that, he just had this amazing, kinetic energy. With an ear to ear smile that never seemed to fade, he put every ounce of his being into every second of that performance. He seemed to have this kind of magic spirit that lit up the whole room. A few short years later I found myself playing in a band with Mark, and I learned that this is what you would get from him on a nightly basis. This was Mark at his core, a kind soul who loved playing music and loved making people happy.
I would spend the better part of the next 10 years making music with Mark, growing our band, Shockwave from the ground up. Within our ragged little band of misfits, Mark was the guy you could always count on to lighten the mood. “Hi, my name is Chance. Give Chance a piece!” he might say. While helping to hang our backdrop with thumbtacks he would shout “Aaa-tack!”. Or while sitting at a late-night breakfast joint he would pick up the saltshaker and yell “Assault!”. Always on time and with a smile, or even early (probably the only musician in the history of bands who was ever early), whatever demons he was carrying, for the most part he left at home. A band is like an extended family, and I think Mark thrived on that element. Traveling the country side together, going to new towns and venues, facing unknown audiences night after night, you develop camaraderie, a kind of “us against the world” thing, and Mark’s caring and giving nature made him the perfect comrade for this kind of life. He was a total team player. And I would say he was at his happiest when he was on stage making people happy by making music.
During these years making music together we became great friends, playing hundreds of shows, writing and recording original songs, eating, sleeping, partying, and laughing together. He was even the best man at my wedding and delivered the most amazing, heartfelt speech for the champagne toast. His sweet and thoughtful sendoff brought everyone to tears. As life pulls us all in different directions, I lost touch with Mark in recent years, but I will always cherish the time we spent together. I’m lucky to have known him and am a better person for it.
Even though he’s gone, he wouldn’t want us to be too down about it. Of course we will mourn, but let’s also remember all the goodness he brought into the world. Rather than offer condolences, I would like to encourage everyone to share your stories, Mark one-liners and other “Markisms” in the comments. Let’s celebrate his life and the impact he had on us all!
Here’s a couple more Mark quotes to get the ball rolling:
“She gives good hug”
“Excuse us for a moment, were having a caucus. And in a minute we’re going to have a boobus!”
“If I sing out of tune, it’s always sharp, I’m an overachiever!”