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Maureen McGuire and her yoga students have made a positive impact on a number of local charities through the yoga for donation program started 19 years ago. (Photo courtesy of Maureen McGuire )
East Haven’s freewill donation yoga on the beach program has been running for close to 20 years. (Photo courtesy of Maureen McGuire )
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Maureen McGuire spent some time out west when she was younger, but she always remained close with her connections in East Haven. When she moved back to the area in the late 1990s, she had only planned on staying a short time.
“When I came back, a friend had said the Town of East Haven was looking for a fitness instructor,” says Maureen. “I got in touch with [Recreation Director] Lou Pane, who has been nothing but supportive the whole time.”
That was nearly two decades ago and Maureen has taught a variety of classes during that time. In the early days, her focus was on aerobics and dance classes, but she always ended her classes with a short yoga session. Soon she says “people started asking for full classes.”
Maureen has always enjoyed fitness, was a dancer early in her life, and was an early adopter of yoga and has now practiced for 49 years, but she had never considered teaching as her original career goal was to become a lawyer. After encouragement from one of her fitness instructors, she found a new path and has been leading fitness and yoga classes for many years.
She had led classes for many years and was eventually asked to teach at Yale University, prompting her to get her certification. She teaches yoga at the Payne Whitney Gym and her classes have drawn more than 150 students.
“Teaching is my passion,” says Maureen, who also teaches at East Shore Senior Center. “That’s the power of yoga—to bring people back.”
For the past 15 years, Maureen has also a part-time adjunct faculty member for Quinnipiac University’s physical education department where she teaches six classes a week in yoga and cardio conditioning for both students and staff.
While the popularity of her college classes grew, so did her yoga classes in East Haven. She had hosted a yoga class at a friend’s house near the beach, but the class size soon outgrew the space.
Maureen requested permission to use the Town Beach, which Pane allowed. For the past 19 years, Maureen has led Saturday morning for-donation classes. Up to 130 people have been present for the sessions and the core of the founding group still attend on Saturdays throughout the summer.
“It’s nature’s classroom and it’s magic to listen to the waves go in and the waves go out as you’re breathing,” says Maureen. “East Haven is the maverick program in Connecticut for yoga for donation.”
Over the past nearly 20 years, Maureen and her students have collected food for the East Haven Food Pantry, coats and clothes for those in need, and funds for various causes.
“We’ve done a lot for the community and have been feeding the food pantry for 19 summers,” says Maureen. “There have been times we’ve had to get cars and trucks to bring all of the donations and after one session, we had collected 200 coats. Nineteen years have gone by and no one has sung the praises of what those people on the beach have been doing silently and humbly.”
Maureen has done other volunteer work over the years. At one point she had a yoga studio in New Haven that she opened to the homeless. As she continued her yoga for donation on the beach, the demand for more classes grew and the Rec Department began to offer other classes throughout the year.
There are now classes offered including yoga on the ball, yoga for fitness, yoga with weights, and more. More instructors have also been added. Through the winter, drop-in classes are offered at the Beach House and yoga on the beach runs from the first week of May to the first week of November.
“Yoga is a potent agent of transformation,” says Maureen. “People come for the relaxation and leave with a heightened awareness of their soul. It is profound in its ability to heal and to change.”
Maureen has not only seen her students reap the benefits of practicing yoga, but her children and grandchildren as well. She has three daughters and six grandchildren and she says “they all love yoga.”
“The six-year-old is probably one of the best yoga practitioners I’ve ever seen in my life and watches advanced yoga videos,” says Maureen. “The greatest gift I could’ve ever been given is watching these grandbabies get into yoga. You can’t make anyone like yoga, so when they ask, ‘Can you teach another class?’ that’s the gift right there.”
As her oldest daughter lives in East Haven, she is able to spend a lot of time with her and her children. Her daughter owns Loved Boutique in Branford and Maureen teaches a drop-in yoga class at the shop on Tuesdays and also runs workshops there once a month.
Maureen is also working to bring fitness to her cousin’s business—Joint Effort—which has locations in Westport and Branford. While Maureen is excited about all of her classes and endeavors, she holds her yoga for donation class on the East Haven beach dear.
“I’m excited that the program will touch more people and that the people who have been doing it get the praises for what they’ve been doing for 19 years,” says Maureen. “I only do what I do, but those people made it happen and have touched so many lives through their donations.”
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