DRAPER — Trying to shake off the fog of postpartum, Amanda Jones took her young son to the Living Planet Aquarium in Draper a year ago.
For some reason, walking among the tanks of sea creatures soothed her soul; and rather than ruminate on why, she simply let the solace envelop her and her toddler.
“I went through the shark tunnel, and I was amazed,” Jones said. “I was in awe. Some insane calm washed over me, and I thought, ‘This would be a perfect spot to take people who haven’t meditated or done a lot of yoga.” She went home where she was entertaining out-of-town guests, sat down at a computer and began drafting a proposal to teach a yoga and meditation class in the shark tunnel.
“It was a crazy time, but I had to sit down and write this proposal,” she said. “I sent it over (to aquarium officials), and I kept bugging them. Then a year and a few months later, their marketing team said, ‘I think you’ve convinced us.’”
When I received a press release about Jones’ "Yoga with the sharks," I was immediately drawn to the idea, in part, because I’d just been discussing with my husband that I needed to find time for yoga again.
I am about as far from a Yogi as one gets.
I am not calm, flexible or dedicated. Whenever I’ve tried to meditate, I’ve fallen asleep or given up because the attempt to quiet my mind reveals all the things I’ve forgotten to do.
I own four mats and haven’t been to a class since June. Still, I know because I once found time for basic yoga class each week that it does my mind, body and soul immeasurable good. Not only do I have fewer aches and pains, but the breathing exercises (which I once thought an aggravating waste of time) have helped me with endurance running in ways I never expected.
I walked into the dimly lit large ballroom with a nearly wall-sized view of sea life, including sharks, and immediately worried this was going to feel contrived. There were about 75 people in the massive room, and suddenly I felt like maybe I’d given up a night with my family for something that felt like a silly gimmick.
Instead, it was a profoundly beautiful hour.
Not only did my body crave the attention an hour of yoga offered, but it was an oddly edifying experience to watch the sea life swimming past the window as Jones talked us through the yoga poses and meditative moments.
I called Jones afterward to ask her how she came to see a commercial aquarium as a spiritual sanctuary. I mean, does she just see yoga opportunities everywhere?
Well, sort of, she said. “I like to get people to try new things using yoga as the bait,” she said. “If you add yoga to a place or an event, people kind of perk up their ears. And in this case, you get the connection from the animals that need your attention.” Sharks have been in the news lately as demand for shark fin soup increases. Overfishing and accidentally getting caught in commercial fishing gear is also responsible for the decline in many species.
As Jones led us through poses, she talked about sharks and their tenacity. It was a sea turtle, however, that caught my attention. The turtle was curious, lingering in front of the window, almost playfully moving in and out of sight.
In October, my family spent 10 days in Hawaii and we stayed in a house right on a very rocky beach in Kona. On the first day, my husband discovered about a half dozen young sea turtles swimming in the water just behind the house. So every afternoon, we’d put on snorkel masks and spend an hour or two with what I began to call “my turtles.”
It was the closest I’ve come to real meditation.
I listened to my breathing, watched the sunlight change and tried to memorize the physical attributes of the fish and sea turtles I saw each day.
When we left, it wasn’t the warm weather, boogie boarding or fresh mango I missed most. It was my turtles.
Watching the turtle in the aquarium tank, along with the sting ray and sharks, was mesmerizing.
Jones was stunned that so many people showed up for the class.
“I’ve never had an event with that kind of turnout,” she said of the class that was followed by a social hour with food and drinks for sale. It was so successful, the aquarium will host another “Yoga with the sharks” on March 7.
But it wasn’t the turnout that moved her most. While I had the advantage of becoming lost in what I saw and felt, Jones had to lead the class.
“It was powerful,” she said of her own experience. “I kept turning my attention to the aquarium. I made sure to talk slow, to gaze into the aquarium, and almost meditate while I taught. I kind of got lost at times.”
Which is what I was thinking as I wandered through that same shark tunnel in my stocking feet after class that had inspired Amanda more than a year ago. I felt overwhelmed and harried when I arrived.
And while I was technically even farther behind after I left that class, I felt more calm, more confident and more joyful in the wake of that night than I have since I left those beautiful turtles in Hawaii.
It brought to mind one of my favorite sentiments, which comes from a poem in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.”
“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost.”