Tag Archives: yoga

The Last Down Dog

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Be grateful that all the work of getting here today is behind you . . .

So speaks my friend and beloved yoga teacher, Lisa, on this final day of our classes together. Word has gotten out that Lisa will be leaving. Her regular Wednesday students are here, joined by others who have come to say good-bye. We fill the sunny studio while Lisa jokes that we could fit in twice as many folks. Smiling and stretching on our mats, we prepare for practice one last time.

I am heartbroken that Lisa is leaving, even though I know we plan to stay in touch and teach yoga and writing again. For the last three years and five months, our gentle and restorative yoga class each Wednesday morning has balanced my week. I anchor the routine of my life to that day. From Thursday to Saturday, I enjoy my relaxed and limber body. From Sunday to Tuesday, I anticipate the mental and physical benefits yoga will bring. Without these years of Wednesday practice, I know my health would have suffered.

As class begins, my awareness is heightened. I want to remember each pose, each posture, and each word that Lisa offers as she guides us one more time through our asanas together. Make this practice your own, she advises again. We know this already, yet we listen all the same. We are not passive recipients of Lisa’s wise teaching; instead, we follow her guidance while staying attuned to our own needs.

Lisa’s sessions regularly incorporate a gratitude practice to acknowledge and appreciate the people and opportunities in our lives. This morning, I consider the words of gratitude with which class began. My feelings are mixed, my thanks bittersweet. I am grateful for the years I’ve spent in class, but I’m sad about the changes that are coming. I’m grateful that “all the work of getting here”—not just today, but every day–has brought me to a place of health and friendship, but I don’t like thinking that this class will now be behind me. Letting go, especially of people, has always been difficult for me–and hasn’t gotten easier with age. At 55, I’m tired of loss and disheartened at the horizon of further loss before me. All the more reason to be grateful, I suppose, for what I’ve already had.

Today, we move, we breathe, we stretch, we hold, each movement paired with breath as we integrate body and mind. Even though I’m not watching the clock—I never watch the clock—I’m aware that time is going much too quickly. When we shift to warrior postures Vera I, II, and III, our concentration deepens as we work to attain balance. Tree pose—never natural for me, especially on the left—seems a little easier this time. I’m determined to hold it longer, if only to sustain our last class a few seconds more.

Too soon, it’s time for a relaxation pose. I lie on my back with my legs extended up the wall. I try not to think, but I am already imagining the days ahead. I know I will continue Wednesday yoga with a new teacher. I’m sure she, too, will offer wisdom and experience, and I look forward to meeting new yoga friends. But it won’t be the same and, right now, “the same” is what I want. If I’ve learned anything in this class, it’s that change can best be met when least resisted. Still, I’m not yet ready to let go.

In our final posture, we sit in hero pose with legs folded beneath us and arms extended with hands on our knees. My palms face up to receive my practice, rather than palms down for grounding. I want to stay open to this moment, to receive each second that remains.

The ticking of the clock behind me turns my desire to prevent change into my own selfish mantra. Tick tock. Tick tock. Don’t go. Don’t go.

I know this is wrong, not to mention futile, so I shift my desire toward the future. Tick tock. Come back. Come back. Come back.

While these words buoy my spirit, I have to concede it’s time to go. I struggle to change the words in my head in the hope of changing my heart. What can I say to release this moment, this desire to hold onto something that must certainly, irrevocably change?

Suddenly, the words seem to come without conscious effort and I know they are right.

Be well. Be well. Be well. Be well. As I send these words to Lisa, I trust they’ll also be true for me.

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Filed under ecobiography, memoir, women's writing

A Winter Respite

Three years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution to begin a consistent yoga practice. I’d dabbled with yoga when I was younger, starting in high school in the 70s when I took a few classes at our local college. But through my years of schooling, single-parenting, and teaching, I never made the time or had the discipline for steady practice.

A little over three years ago, I met up with yoga again when I taught an ecobiography class at the incredible Sitka Center for Art and Ecology on the Oregon coast. (I’ll be teaching there again this September; more on my class later.) I found that at 50, I could still benefit from the yoga asanas (postures) and the meditative state they inspired.

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I resolved to begin again, this time in a weekly gentle and restorative class with the talented teacher, Lisa Limoge, at Mayama Movement Studio in Lyons. The effects were immediate and transformative. As I felt more relaxed and in touch with my physical self, the neck and shoulder problems I’d suffered for years improved, as did my sleep. There’s nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to be. Lisa’s teaching reminded us to stay in the moment as we pushed ourselves a little closer to our edge.

Yoga also introduced new ways to think about bringing balance to my life. That spring, I was considering a shift away from teaching at the university. I wanted to create time for other interests and opportunities, ones that centered more closely to my farming life. I wrote an essay (that later became the chapter “What Goes Down” in A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography) about how yoga was helping me find balance: “In yoga, we witness the constancy of change and must accept that nothing in existence can remain the same. . . . I hope that practicing rootedness will teach me to accept the inevitability of impermanence, helping me achieve balance in my postures and my life.”

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That semester was one of my best. I had wonderful students whose engaged discussions spurred creative learning that fulfilled my teaching goals. My quest for balance helped me remember that my students had lives outside the classroom, too. One afternoon before class, my students were sharing how stressed they felt. “Try this,” I said, and got down on the floor to show them the “child’s pose” asana for relaxation. As they joined me in the posture, I heard one student whisper to another, “That’s why I love this class.” I think she meant that we stayed open to learning experiences in which new knowledge connected with “real life.” At the end of the semester, my yoga practice helped me realize that I had accomplished what I’d set out to do at the university and inspired me to make a substantial change.

Last January, Lisa and I held a one-day women’s winter respite at Stonebridge that alternated yoga and writing to inspire creative movement in the New Year. A respite is a time-out from normal activities and a chance to ponder next steps. Lisa led posture flow for mind/body integration and I used yoga concepts of rooting, gazing, stretching, and breathing to stimulate and develop life stories. The day included a delicious, nutritious lunch of Stonebridge winter vegetables in the sunny greenhouse. We were joined by a lively group of women who brought their adventurous spirits to the day.

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Last January’s respite was so much fun, we’re holding another this January 25th. Our writing practice this year will focus on transformation as narrative structure through the yoga concept “second side might tell a different story.” How can we learn something new through our writing by changing an aspect of how we tell the story? Combined with integrated posture flow and a healthy lunch, the day will offer a respite from our busy lives and a jumpstart to a new year of creativity.

If you’re in the Boulder, Ft Collins, or Denver area, we’d love for you to join us. Click here for more details and registration information. Here’s to more creative movement in 2014!

Photographs are from my trip to the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon, a beautiful spot to contemplate art and nature

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Filed under ecobiography, women's writing