One afternoon in late spring, on a busy Saratoga Springs sidewalk, Mana Behan stopped, and time stopped with her.
“In some way, she was able to hold time in her hands and every moment was precious to her. She was present,” said nutritionist Lori Mershon, Behan’s co-worker and her companion that day.
“I was chattering away about my frustration about my own humanness and right in the middle of the sidewalk, in the middle of the afternoon, she stopped and she turned me around to face her and she said, ‘Let’s stop for a moment.’ She put her hands on my face and she put her forehead against my forehead and she said, ‘Close your eyes. I want you to take five breaths and release all your self judgment into self-love,’ ” Mershon recounted.
“She stopped right then, without any concern of people walking by or being seen or being judged, and she just held that moment, and in five breaths she gave me everything that I look for every day.”
Known to many as the matriarch of the Saratoga Springs healing community, Behan died July 6 and is being mourned by local residents whose lives she touched.
Her life will be celebrated today at a 5:30 p.m. memorial service at Still Point Interfaith Retreat Center, 20 Still Point Road, Mechanicville.
Born in Syracuse on July 31, 1931, as Arletta Behan, she was given her spiritual name, Mana, by Yogi Amrit Desai in the early 1970s, when she lived at the Kripalu Center in Massachusetts.
She founded Mana’s Yoga Studio in Saratoga Springs in the early 1990s and in 2003 was recognized as “Woman of Wisdom” for her contributions to spiritual and cultural growth in Saratoga County.
“She kind of personified that whole spirit of life, of being grounded, being focused, opening the heart,” said Amejo Amyot of Saratoga Springs, who first met Behan in the late 1980s or early 1990s. “Mana is the perfect name. For her, every aspect of everyday life had something that was connected to the divine, or anchoring us in the divine or reminding us that we are God.”
While raising a large family, Behan served as director of religious studies at St. Patrick’s Catholic School in Watertown, was a reading specialist for Lyme Central Schools in Chaumont and taught reading and writing to inmates at Watertown Correctional Facility. She concluded her teaching career in 1988 but never stopped teaching. As a licensed massage therapist, she developed a deep interest and expertise in cranial-sacral therapy. As a yogi, she taught hundreds over the years.
“She was just this incredible role model of somebody who aged gracefully and wisely and figured out how to transform her life at different stages to really be living fully in each decade,” said Leslie Neustadt of Niskayuna, who took yoga instruction from Behan. “She was a very wise and loving and gentle soul.”
Lin Murphy of Saratoga Springs was close friends with Behan for nearly three decades. She said everyone who met Behan walked away from the encounter a changed person.
“If you met her, she touched your life in such a way that you felt seen and known, which is kind of rare, to be with someone that really is present with you,” she said.
Murphy said Behan taught her to be in touch with her true self. She explained, with a smile evident in her voice: “She wanted to draw me out and say, ‘Just be who you are. You’re beautiful. You’re smart. You’re wonderful. Be it. Don’t hold back.’ ”
Sister Nicole St. John, co-director of Still Point, said Behan was a friend who would sometimes do yoga at the retreat center.
“She was ‘with it’ in many ways, for a woman who was not a young chick. She was always kind to us and very welcoming, encouraging to us personally,” she said.
Thinking back on her experiences with Behan, Mershon described the lessons she learned from her as timeless.
“It wasn’t just that moment,” she explained. “It was something in the moment that will carry me forward. She will always teach me. I will always know what she would say to me and I will be a better person.”
Flowers are welcome at tonight’s service at Still Point. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Le Moyne College, Office of Advancement, 1419 Salt Springs Road, Syracuse, NY 13214, or to Still Point.
Online condolences may be made at www.cummingsfuneral.com.