The solstice sun peeks above east Montréal & the St Laurent River.

I’ve been reading the blog posts and dispatches from the Yoga at the Great Lawn event in NYC. The largest gathering of yogis ever (10,000 of ’em) also turned out to be the shortest, as the event was rained out after the first few downward dogs. From what I’ve seen from various blog posts and comments, some people were grateful for the brief practice, some were frustrated with the long lines and poor communication, and others were angry that they didn’t get the promised free Gaiam mat (which was nicely branded with the JetBlue logo). Some saw it as a lesson in impermanence, others saw it as a divine retribution for an overly ambitious plan to set a World Record.

By taking yoga out of the studio and into the elements, I also learned an important lesson this week

On the morning of the Summer Solstice (June 21), I met up with a crew of yogis from the neighbourhood at 4:30am and walked in silence to the top of Mount Royal, the iconic mountain for which Montréal is named. We got to the lookout point just as the sun started to rise and we unrolled our mats. Still silent, each of us began our own individual practice: sitting in meditation, moving through surya namaskara, standing in tadasana. The atmosphere was contained and connected, reverent and focused.

Until a drunk man showed up and started ranting. His appearance caused a little ripple through our crew, and the guy next to me joked, “Is this the yoga teacher?” But we all kept our attention focused on our individual yet collective practice. The man cracked open a bottle of beer and continued ranting, seemingly trying to get our attention. He ranted about karma, God, Allah. He made a couple of comments that elicited a few chuckles ~ “I have to pee. Why don’t I pee when I have to pee? I don’t know!” and “I don’t understand how you people communicate!!” Mostly, we kept focused on our practice, avoided responding, and maintained our silence.

For the most part, he stayed on the periphery, on the edge of the lookout above the city. It was pretty easy to block out his monologue and reflect on what his presence brought up in me: annoyance, agitation, discomfort. This drunk dude was ruining my magical idyllic mountaintop yoga practice! I breathed through my emotions and worked on feeling compassion, acceptance. I focused on the rising sun reflecting off the downtown buildings, the cool morning breeze dancing across my skin.

Then he moved into our practice space. His rant became more aggressive, pointed. He singled out people, stood by their mats and tried to provoke them. He circled around a young woman a few metres from me, and I felt everyone in the vicinity bristle with attention, preparing to become defensive if he made a wrong move. Luckily for him, he decided to move on back to his little bag of beers.

By 6:20, the sun was fully above the horizon and people started to roll up their mats and get on with their day. One woman, who had been lingering around the back, waved at the man and thanked him for “his words.” To his delight, she told him he was a great counterpoint to all the “serious yogis,” and he profusely thanked her, apparently grateful for the attention. I was appalled that she could thank somebody for being disruptive, rude, aggressive and threatening. I regretted not calling the police and having him removed for being a public nuisance.

And that’s when I realized that this guy was the yoga teacher. And that the lesson I learned here wasn’t compassion for all beings, or to accept things as they are. The lesson I learned was to voice my discomfort, to not let myself be intimidated, and to take action. Even in a space of collective consciousness and shared outer experience, yoga is a process of independent lessons and internal work. Whether it’s rain on a great lawn, or pests on a small mountain.