Dec 18, 2008

The spirit of hobs

Do you want to share?

Do you like this story?

“Charity begins at home” —the idiom that you should try to help your family and friends before you help other people — was more literal for Samuel Hobbs. In the 1930s, after the successful businessman’s death, his widow, Lina, donated their summer home at 66 Clifton Ave. in Marblehead, to the community, in memory of her husband.

There was a stipulation, however. The house could only be utilized to benefit the community for “literary, recreational, educational or hospital purposes.”

“I feel like his spirit is still alive,” says Elizabeth O’Shea Sullivan, who meets the “literary and recreational and educational” portion of Hobbs’ criteria with her business Yoga Namaste, which offers yoga classes and philosophical discussions. While Paul Crosby runs the Marblehead Counseling Center in the upstairs area of the Hobbs House, O’Shea Sullivan and Elaine Wintman hold yoga classes in the spacious first-floor, which the two rent as separate businesses. Strictly as a form of donation, on Saturdays, O’Shea Sullivan runs a one-hour Yoga Study Group at 11:30, asking for a $5 donation toward the upkeep of the Hobbs House.

“This yoga group raised over $1,000 to have the Hobbs House repainted and the windows cleaned,” says O’Shea Sullivan.

Aside from the Iyenger-certified instructor’s 30 years of experience (in the ‘80s, she studied with taskmaster, B.K.S. Iyengar in Pune, India for one month), one is instantly drawn to O’Shea Sullivan’s warm and welcoming spirit. Impassioned with helping “seekers” find their spiritual way, she offers yoga teacher training, yoga classes and study groups as a way for like-minded “spiritual explorers” to connect.

O’Shea Sullivan was drawn to yoga before it became a popular practice.

“I was the closet yoga,” she says with a tone of amusement. “I wanted to learn to be a dancer in my early 20s and thought, ‘If I could just become flexible, I could learn the steps in less time.’”

She signed up as one of Patricia Walden’s first yoga students in Cambridge. A classical Iyengar yoga teacher who has studied regularly with Iyengar for over 25 years, Walden is co-author of “The Women’s Book of Yoga and Health” with Linda Sparrowe and has created several Gaiam yoga DVDs, including the bestselling “Yoga for Beginners.”

“I had a serious déjà vu,” says O’Shea Sullivan of her first class. “I didn’t understand what I was doing, yet I felt I’d done it my whole life.”

She never did go back to dancing, and has continued with Walden for 30 years. She has also incorporated hypnotism into her practice, which she incorporates in her yoga classes through positive suggestions. O’Shea Sullivan strongly believes in the power of the subconscious mind and is intrigued by Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist and an expert in the collective unconscious.

Perhaps it was the lure of her subconscious that led her to the Hobbs House seven years ago. Or maybe it was coincidence in the convenient location within walking distance of her Clifton Avenue home.

Conscious expectations
What you can expect on a Saturday morning is to walk into the Hobbs House and walk out with a better understanding of life’s purpose.

Based on the teachings of living yoga master Iyengar, O’Shea Sullivan begins with yoga postures, keeping each individual’s physical conditions in mind. Props, such as blocks, belts and blankets, are used to correct form, so that no matter what level you are at, you can achieve proper energy flow.

Yoga, says O’Shea Sullivan, calms the deep waves, “so you don’t get so attached with either pain or pleasure.”

Through focused breathing and physical instruction, her class becomes aware of their own physicality, absorbed in the moment.

“Yoga poses one of eight levels,” explains Skip Dowds of Marblehead.
Dowds is one of about a dozen who show for the Saturday morning class (9:30-11 a.m.). He has been a student of O’Shea Sullivan’s for over five years and a yoga student for seven. His son, Jack, was the catalyst for Dowds’ yoga calling, one that has brought him to a place where he is now taking yoga teacher training 14 hours a month, in addition to the Saturday class.

“Jack would invent poses, such as ‘winter pretzel,’” recalls Dowds, who knew his son was emulating his karate moves from the class he took before the two discovered, and ultimately signed up for, yoga. “It was something we could do together, as father and son.”

They began at Prana Health and Yoga Center in Salem, when Jack was only 10 years old. For Jack, yoga wasn’t lasting; and after a summer at camp, he never returned. But his father hasn’t stopped since. A year later, when their instructor, Jessica, moved to New York City, he was referred to O’Shea Sullivan’s classes she held out of her home before relocating to the Hobbs House, a much larger space for the growing classes.

“It’s a good group of people and a nice place to come,” says Dowds.

The power of dialogue
A minute can be a long time if you’re holding a posture. With this in mind, once the yoga exercise portion of the class is over, the class takes a half-hour break before reconvening, in the casual atmosphere, for the study group at 11:30 a.m. Starbucks coffee in hand, the group discusses their latest readings on the 3,000-year-old sutras, the literary study of Sanskrit scriptures. Much of the scripture’s interpretation is debatable. Many times, individuals weave their life experiences into the thread of discussion, enlightening others, as well as bonding the group.

“People read poems that tie in to the group discussion,” says Dowds, who joins the group with at least three books in hand on the subject.

He explains to newcomers that yoga poses occupy one of eight Yamas, or levels. But all Yamas lead to the universal commandment of how you interact with others.

Dowds paraphrases: “You don’t hurt, lie, steal or sexually assault people.”

The next level is Niyama, which is establishing a routine practice of yoga, or self-discipline, followed by Asana, which is developing your physical sense of self (putting your feet behind your ears, for instance), and so on through Prânâyâma, (the tangible self through breathing), Pratyâhâra (willpower), Dhâranâ (concentration), Dhyâna (meditation) and finally, Samâdhi, or profound meditation.

Like Crosby guides others’ mindsets in the center upstairs in the Hobbs House, O’Shea Sullivan guides the mind, body and spirit through physical confidence building, as well as through philosophical conversation; her task is assuring the group doesn’t sway from the topic at hand.

After three hours and many recited “ohms,” what you leave with is a physical and mental strength, physical coordination and flexibility, and clarity. During this particular class, the group left with the notion of presence: You can wallow in the past and worry about the future, but try to focus on being in the present body, and see with a beginner’s eye.

In keeping with the philanthropic spirit of Hobbs, good will lives on through the former summer home in Marblehead.