NOTE FROM WALLACE: WELCOME DEBORAH!
I spread my sticky mat on the faux-hardwood floor of Greenville Baptist Church’s community room, taking in the energy of the place. Aromas from last night’s potluck linger: cabbage, meatloaf, onions. There’s a low buzz of conversation among the dozen or so people around me, their voices creating a soporific drone.
I’m a stranger here, so when they offer me polite-but-curious smiles, I know they’re wondering who I am and why I’m in their class. The answer is that I have been granted special dispensation to experience a style of yoga that few outside the Southern United States have ever witnessed.
Okra Flow Yoga™ —or OFY (pronounced OH-fee)—is described by its founder, Sister Scarlettananda, as an innovative adaptation that blends traditional yoga with the soulful rhythms of the American South. The name comes from one of the region’s most iconic plants. Thriving in the clay soil and Southern heat, “okra’s edible seed pods feed the body, while the beauty of its blossoms feeds the soul,” says Scarlettananda.
Though Scarlettananda practiced yoga for most of her life, it wasn’t until she experienced the apparition of a bee emerging from an okra blossom that she recognized the need for OFY™. “I was going through my practice when I saw it–okra blossoms filling the entire room. And then slowly, almost sensuously, one of the blossoms opened and a bee flew out. Its fuzzy little body was coated with pollen that glowed like fairy dust, and as it flew over my head, some of the pollen sprinkled down. I felt…well, anointed. I believe that vision was telling me that I should emerge from my blossom and pollinate the world with the fertile possibilities of OFY™.
She modified the traditional asanas, or physical postures, to better suit bodies fed on grits and beans and hog jowl. “I experimented with poses, and created entirely new ones in order to address the needs of students in our current culture.”
Scarlettananda surely has some sort of health-giving secret. “I’ve never been sick a day in my life,” says the grandmotherly guru, “and I’m not sure I understand what ‘stress’ means.” She just celebrated her 73rd birthday, and yet her face is virtually unlined. Slim and toned, she moves with the fluidity of a young ballerina, and her graying hair is more a fashion statement than a sign of aging.
The class begins with Brahmari, a breathing technique that requires us to stick fingers in our ears and make a humming sound as we inhale and exhale. It creates a vibration in my head and tickles my nose; with the entire class buzzing, we sound like a happy hive, indeed. After a few minutes, Scarlettananda guides us through a few languid stretches and swaying movements. Then we are on our feet, and Scarlettananda leads us through a meticulously-sequenced series of poses identified by descriptive names such as Magnolia Tree, Hound Dog, and That Evening Sun Salutation, interspersed with Okra Flow Yoga’s ™ rejuvenating Rolling River Pose. In keeping with OFY’s emphasis on mindful movement, we are periodically reminded to “move like molasses,” and to “take your time getting where you want to be.”
Scarlettananda moves lithely into Mockingbird Pose. I try to emulate her form, but I fail to open into the full expression of the pose. Scarlettananda’s eagle eyes take note, and she floats over to help.
Her fingertips deliver the slightest hint of pressure on my shoulderblades, just where wings might sprout. Suddenly I feel as if I am rising up. Am I flying? I wonder, because that is how I imagine flying might feel. The feeling of gentle intoxication stays with me for the rest of the class.
We end with Front Porch Swing meditation, our hands in Okra Mudra, followed by a reclined resting pose called Possum. Too soon for my liking, we are called back to the real world, and the class ends with Scarlettananda’s wish for us: “May you always follow your North Star.”
The students in this class come from all layers of society. A typical group might include business and spiritual leaders, domestic workers, high school or college students, and even a few celebrities. But perhaps what makes OFY most unique among the dozens of yoga styles currently in vogue is its exclusivity. Scarlettananda personally interviews everyone who applies for admission to the classes, accepting only those she feels are up to the task of opening and exploring. Neither societal status nor income affects her decision.
The OFY™ Teacher Training course and certification will soon be available, but like the classes, admission to the course will be at the discretion of Scarlettananda. Meanwhile Scarlettananda continues to encourage her students to “open your hearts like the flowers of the okra plant and reveal your inner bees.”
WE’RE GLAD TO HAVE DEBORAH WITH US! PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SHARE, AND ENCOURAGE OUR NEW WRITER! YOU MIGHT ALSO BE INTERESTED TO READ THIS INTERESTING MIND-BODY-SPIRIT STORY FROM ALICE SOREF TOO.