I met Mary Flinn a few weeks ago when my friend Peggy Tileston taught a Laughter Yoga class for World Laughter Day at Mary’s cozy yoga studio in Mt. Airy which is a culturally rich and diverse neighborhood in Philadelphia, where people greet each other warmly as they walk by or hang out at Weavers Way Food Co-op. When I passed through the doorway, took off my shoes, as is customary in yoga studios and placed my feet on the hardwood floor, I was welcomed initially by Mary’s four legged yoga master named Lola and then by Mary herself. After the class, I joined her on the back patio, sipping chai and being regaled by her life stories.
How do you live your bliss?
I love teaching Yoga and I love to be in Yoga. As a life style I feel very fortunate in being able to make a livelihood doing something I really enjoy. When I am not teaching I spend my time with Lola taking walks or with my partner and his children. I think I live my bliss by staying in my practices and balancing myself, once this is established everything else flows. Even if it doesn’t flow I still feel grounded and believe in my practices.
I love that you say that you are employed with God. What does that mean to you?
When I stopped teaching for other yoga studios and opened my own studio I really had to surrender to ‘Grace’, or God or the Flow, how ever you want to say it. I felt as though I had to offer up everything I was teaching and doing, and ‘trust’ in what was meant to happen. When I changed that on my facebok page, I decided to ‘trust’. This reminds me of one class I had when I was practicing in Mysore with my teacher Pattabhi Jois. When I went up to say thank you and touch his feet at the end of class he looked at me and said “Why you not trusting me?” He said “Karandavasana, you not trusting…. I am there, I am supporting you, I am holding you up, you trust me.” He was so soft and loving when he spoke to me. I knew he was referring to Karandavasana ( A yoga posture that is a difficult arm balance and cross legged position all at once), but for me it was much bigger than that. I think of it now as I run my studio and as I teach my classes and I feel supported by him and his teachings.
How do you describe yourself, since you do so many things?
A seeker of ‘Truth’. Although I may use various paths to the ‘truth’, I am always in search of it. I have always felt that somewhere hidden in my psyche were answers that I needed to tap into. As a painter this was really the driving force behind my art work. When I began the journey of Yoga and meditation I found other ways to tap into it. But they all have their own beauty in the way that they describe. Lately I am focusing more on the Yoga and meditations, but being an artist and using those skills are always there for me when I am ready.
What called you to the mat?
After I took my first yoga class I felt so good, physically and emotionally. The teacher talked ideas that concerned our soul and ‘true nature’ according to Yoga philosophy and I felt a resonance to it. I loved the philosophy of it and the way I felt in my body and mind and I knew that this was something I would do for a long time if not the rest of my life. I had this feeling only once before when I was in art school about being an artist.
You had an extraordinary adventure awhile back that I was mesmerized hearing about. Can you please share that here?
When I went to my first class I was still suffering from being in a boat accident 2 years earlier. I was on my first boat delivery from Newport, RI to Bermuda and we were in storms for the first few days, eventually the boat sunk and we were forced onto a life raft in the middle of the ocean. We were 300 miles from any land and no one knew we had abandoned ship. We floated in the Bermuda Triangle for 3 days before we were rescued by a merchant marine ship bringing weapons back from the gulf war. By the time we got rescued the raft was beginning to sink and we had used our last flairs. This happened in 1991. I had made a few promises to myself and with my higher power (Self and self). One of them had to do with keeping my vibration and zest for life strong, and also to keep my conversations and connection to the Divine and stay in Gratitude for this life and living it. This is how I came to practicing yoga. It had so much of what I had decided to cultivate in my life. It was a spiritual practice that helped me to feel good and be strong and loving to myself and spread this to others and in the world.
What lessons came wrapped up in it?
Because of the boat accident I was directed in a major way into the study of yoga and yoga practice. I had always thought it was something I would like or get involved with but I didn’t really start searching until after that. I wanted to find a – the deeper meaning for life, for why I was saved. Why we didn’t just float off. My Grandmother and Uncle both died in a boat on the Chesapeake and I knew that I could have joined them. But I didn’t. I felt that someone was looking after me, that whether there was God or an Angel or an Alien, who knows, but I felt like there was an ‘intention’ for me, a reason to live. The years after that experience were very challenging for me, but I found yoga and it helped to support me and continues to do so!
Please explain the practice of Mysore Yoga.
The method works if one is committed to practicing 3 times a week at the studio. You start off learning postures one by one. The first couple of classes you learn a few postures each day so your practice is only about 30-40 minutes long. Every one does postures differently and has varying strengths and weaknesses. As you continue to practice regularly you will see changes in your body and changes in the way you relate to others. The practice gets stronger from working with a teacher and being in the room with other inspired students. It is great to have a whole room of people practicing the same practice together. Although it is a very physically challenging practice it looks on the outside as if it is just a physical exercise, but eventually with the help of your teacher you begin to feel a shift in your life and a connection to source, by our own searching and by the practice and teachings of the teachers before us.
You have a delightful four legged co-teacher. What role does Lola play in your life?
Lola came to me in a dream I had one night as a loving, warm nurturing puppy companion, and the next day I saw a picture of a puppy on the window of a pet store. I knew this was the puppy I dreamt of and I adopted Lola the next week. She has learned to be in the yoga class and greet people as they come in and then leave them until the end of class. When we ‘Om’ in the beginning of class she lays down and when we ‘Om’ at the end she gets up and greets everyone again. I always had her lay next to me when I practice so I guess when it came to others practicing she just got it. I think some of the students come to class because they love Lola. She has a healing energy and I love having her in the room. She is part of the bliss that is in my life now. Along with the students and the Yoga space and my loving partner and his children.
If you could live your ideal life, what would you be doing?
It would be pretty much the same as what I am doing now. I love what I do and I feel so blessed to be able to help people and make a space for them to grow and find other like-minded people in the community. I keep growing and seeking ways to serve my community and share my gifts to help others.
I feel so fortunate to be doing what I love and sharing with others. It really is about ‘Trusting’. Once there is trust in the flow and you feel in–line with what you are doing the world around you also supports you. It doesn’t always come easy, but when you know that you are doing the right thing in your life then the obstacles part of the ‘leela’ or the ‘play’ of life. There has to be a trust in the flow and the universe to follow your dreams. I have always believed that in doing what I love the rest will follow.