A Yoga Hero in Hurricane Sandy’s Devastation

“One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: that word is love.”  Sophocles

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, life in NYC goes on. But the surrounding areas are devastated. And people are struggling.

This is a story of a yoga studio owner living in the heart of the devastation.

Her name is Karen Torrone. She is the founder of 5 Boro Power Yoga on Staten Island.

What happened on Staten Island borders on Biblical, unfathomable.

As reported in The New York Times, “Staten Island was in the wrong place at the wrong time for a storm that scored a perpendicular hit on the New Jersey coast. That put Staten Island in the bull’s eye. The water didn’t have anywhere else to go. ”

I visited Staten Island on Tuesday and people showed me how high the water came. A quarter mile from the coast, the water was ten feet high.

When you live a quater mile from the coast, just a few inches of water would be a surprise. Ten feet is apocalyptic, like someone tilted the ocean sideways.

The grim discoveries were reminiscent of Pompeii in AD 79, let alone Staten Island in 2012.

-John K Filipowicz 51, a Marine who loved his home, did not want to leave despite the mandatory evacuation order. He was found next to his son John C. Filipowicz, 20. Their bodies were locked in embrace, in the basement of their home on Foxbeach Avenue.

-Glenda Moore, 39, packed her 2 little boys ages 4 and 2 into her SUV. The car wouldn’t start so Glenda frantically clawed her way out of car with the 2 year old in her arms and held as tight as she could to the 4 year old’s hand. But a wave slammed into them, driving her sons into the surrounding marsh. Moments later, another wave carried her sons away.

In tragedy, the lessons of yoga become most relevant. Resilience, grace, and most important, flexibility. As author Robert Jordan write, “The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.”

THE STATEN STORY

This past September I taught a yoga workshop at Karen Torrone’s 5 Boro Power Yoga. I had never been to Staten Island.

What an accent they have!

One lady might say in her Staten Island dialect, “I’m coming to your workshop tonight at 6pm.”  But something about the way a Staten Islander talks makes it sound as if she’s saying, “And don’t you evah evah mess with me! Do you know who I am?! Do you?!”

Staten Island is its own world, with strains of Mafia culture to this day. In fact, the reality TV show Mob Wives recently filmed a scene at Karen’s yoga studio with real-life mob wives doing down dog.

Some Staten Islanders will tell you they are the “forgotten burrough,” but that only makes them closer.

When Sandy slapped the region last week with the infamous surge and 80 mph winds, it was as if Karen Torrone had been preparing for this moment her whole life.

A FORCE OF NATURE

Each month Karen calls together her community of yogis to raise money for different causes including Soles4Soles, Project Hospitality, Tunnel for Towers, The World of Women, The Give Back Yoga Foundation, The Africa Yoga Project, the list goes on.

Let me tell you, there are lots of good-hearted yogis but Karen Torrone is a force to be reckoned with. She is an altruistic powerhouse, with a Staten Island accent to boot. And she’s just getting started.

One of the hardest hit areas in Staten Island was Guyon Street, where Karen’s father grew up. So last Friday, Karen snapped into action and set up a relief center, collecting food, medicine, blankets, bleach…

I came in from Manhattan and “tried” to help, but there must have been 200 people packed into this tiny space with a similar intention to lend a hand.  It’s that kind of community.

Some of Karen’s old high school friends were there, people she has known for 30 years. They are still tight (see pic of Karen and her friends at 3am Tuesday night at the relief site).

Whatever was needed, Karen simply posted on her Facebook page, and within the hour, Staten Islanders delivered..mops, brooms, beer, wine.

Anyone of us who loves our yoga studio knows what community is about.

But there’s lesson in the story of Karen Torrone and Hurricane Sandy…

They call it yoga “practice” for a reason.

These are the kind of moments we are “practicing” for when we are dripping sweat in warrior 2 at the 6pm flow in the comfy confines of our local studio…

…the moments we never think will happen…

…the moments that cause some people to run…and others, like Karen Torrone…to RISE.

 

******

*Connect with Karen on Facebook to stay abreast of the ongoing relief effort.

*Karen’s preferred site to donate to Hurricane Sandy relief

Stay tuned for an upcoming MEGA yoga class on Staten Island in early December to raise funds to rebuild the community.

 

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About Dave Romanelli

Author, speaker, and yogi David Romanelli (aka Yeah Dave) shares how to live in the moment through sensory experiences and yoga retreats which fuse Yoga and Chocolate, Yoga and Wine and Yoga for Foodies. His mantra: a beautiful, funny, delicious moment each day keeps the stress away! Check out his website here.