By Corey Plante
Mindfulness has gone vogue, a sentiment reflected upon by Boston-based yogi Rebecca Pacheco in her new book, “Do Your Om Thing: Bending Yoga Tradition to Fit Your Modern Life.”
“It’s hard to say how yoga’s image evolved from unshaven armpits and Birkenstocks to bendy sexpots doing near-naked (or totally naked) yoga on the Internet, but it happened,” Pacheco said. Yoga’s meteoric rise in popularity in recent years coincides not only with increased interest in fitness, but also with a broader interest in mindfulness.
Yoga, after all, translates to something like “unity” or “union.” Pacheco herself said “yoga means to yoke or join together,” all of which implies a unity of mind and body. Some might call that the very essence of mindfulness, Pacheco included. She refers to meditation as the “foundation” of living a mindful life, and considers “doing yoga” to extend far beyond the reaches of your 72-by-24-inch rubber mat.
In the book, she writes: “Internal quiet and connection to our deepest self form the essence of yoga. It’s not fancy. It doesn’t balance on one arm. But it’s the plain truth of yoga’s purpose, and it will change your life.”
When Pacheco joined students and faculty at Northeastern University’s Snell Library in March 2015, the room was packed. Nobody was shy about sitting up front to hear more about “Do Your Om Thing” and Pacheco’s experiences with yoga tradition.
“Yoga is about attaining a clearer sense of who you are, how you feel, what you want, and how you interact with the world around you,” she said, adding, “It does enlighten and brighten your whole life, but only if it comes from you, from the inside out.“ At this, someone in the audience let out a jubilant “Hallelujah!”
Pacheco has been doing yoga since the age of 16, since “before it was cool,” and she had to do it a community center in her hometown of Falmouth on a beach towel. “Now,” she explained, “I can walk to more yoga studios in my neighborhood than Starbucks locations!” And that’s saying something.
She’s appeared in ads for Reebok, New Balance, Ibex, and more, and has been a practicing yoga teacher for almost 15 years.
At 35, Pacheco teaches yoga regularly, has published a series of yoga videos online, and speaks annually at the Boston Business Journal’s Healthiest Employers event, working with employers on different ways to engage employees in mindful living. Now, “Do Your Om Thing,” released on March 3, 2015, has a five-star rating on Amazon’s marketplace.
In person, Pacheco is charming, confident, genuinely funny, and a graceful public speaker — no doubt a product of years coaching people through poses while engaging in them herself.
At the Snell Library, she read selections from her book and engaged the audience in a few breathing and meditation exercises, one of which actually brought some attendees to tears. After asking the audience to take a few deep breaths and close their eyes, she proceeded to guide them through the positive visualization:
Pacheco explained that engaging in yoga practice in a mindful way — pursuing the philosophy of yoga in addition to the poses — can improve your life in so many ways beyond the physical. She cites yoga teacher David Swenson who once said, “The paradox of yoga is that we use the body to figure out that we’re not the body.”
Pacheco structures a portion of her book by walking the reader through the “eight limbs” of yoga. The actual practicing of yoga postures, asanas, is only one small part, yet the one many associate with “yoga.”
Some of yoga’s other limbs focus on things like meditation, compassion, or focus, with the overall aim of living mindfully, devoid of distraction and frustration, something that grows increasingly hard in the digital age.
“Withdrawing our senses away from noise and stimulation and retreating inward has always been a key part of yoga practice,” Pacheco writes. “But it’s even more crucial for modern yogis, who are subjected to exponentially more stimulus and lightning-speed connectivity at all times.”
Julie Fraser, another local mindful practitioner, similarly draws the line between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ practice and stresses the importance of both: “To be mindful it is important to clear both your physical and your mental space, which gets increasingly hard in the digital age.”
Pacheco said, “So much of modern life compels us to multitask and move fast. Yoga’s power is in doing the opposite. The irony, of course, is that when you improve your ability to focus on one thing at a time, you increase your productivity for all things.”
Pacheco’s ultimate message with “Do Your Om Thing” isn’t new or revolutionary; it’s a yogi-fied way of saying “be yourself.” Mindfulness is important, but even more important is recognizing the relative nature of our experiences: “Just as there are countless styles of yoga, there are many ways to meditate, and, beyond meditation, an infinite number of other activities that can help to cultivate mindfulness.”
A prominent figure in Boston’s mindful history, Jon Kabat-Zinn, said of “Do Your Om Thing”: “Rebecca Pacheco is a refreshing new voice on the yoga scene, reminding us of what balance, flexibility, strength, humor, and yes, integrity and wisdom, are all about.”