Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Transformation and Yoga

My sweet parents sent this to me in celebration of Katie's 19th birthday - a symbol of transformation (and resurrection)
One of the greatest gifts I received during the week at Ranch La Puerta was beginning a yoga practice. I was nervous to try it, since I have always had difficulty learning new dance steps and following physical prompts. For example, I took a ballet class in college, and (though I enjoyed the movement) the unsympathetic, rapid-fire teaching style of the instructor left me feeling slow and foolish. I am not uncoordinated, but I learn dictated movement only with great effort and plenty of repetition.

I have heard so many good things about yoga that I pushed through my fear of embarrassment and took a class early in the week. It was challenging without being intimidating; it was difficult, yet gentle. Yoga combines the physical, mental and spiritual in a way that I have never encountered before. I liked it immediately, and went back for more.

Here is a brief sample of a yoga session with Maya, one of the excellent teachers at Rancho La Puerta:
At the Ranch, yoga classes are not progressive. The teachers lead with positions for beginners, and then suggest intermediate and advanced adjustments. If we felt comfortable and stable in a beginning pose, we were invited to deepen it and try the next level - but there was no pressure to do so. One of the instructors liked to suggest such variations with great good humor by saying things like, "And eventually - maybe, someday - you will raise your leg up here...and maybe, someday, out to the side..." I loved the invitations, the lack of judgment, the absence of competition and stress.

One of my decisions in "taking the Ranch home" was a commitment to finding a yoga studio nearby and trying it here. Bainbridge Yoga House is just a few miles from our home, and I've been going to classes there.

Some of the great gifts of yoga come through its teachings - intention, awareness, breathing, acceptance, gentleness, stillness-with-energy, concentration, strength, ease, flexibility, forgiveness and peace. Yesterday, we were invited to "be a fountain, not a drain" - clear imagery imparted with gentle humor.
It is much easier for me to quiet the mind and bring awareness to the present moment while practicing yoga than it is just sitting in meditation. It is easy to smile at myself when - just as I am trying my best to hold a difficult pose - the instructor reminds us to soften the jaw, or to be aware of what our body needs, trust our intuition, adjust a bit, or "engage the bandhas."

Practicing yoga, I notice tenseness, tightness or inflexibility in my body; there are always opportunities to check alignment and make tiny adjustments. Each correction makes a difference, and can bring the feeling of "Ah! That's better." Instead of berating myself for what I can't do, I can recall beginner's mind: we are all beginners, every day, starting fresh, again and again. That's a privilege - a kind of daily forgiveness. The practice of accepting and being gentle with myself, just as I am, helps me to feel gentler toward life and the rest of the world.

Yoga is also transforming me in ways which I did not anticipate. Feeling at home in my body, awareness (and acceptance) of it are things which I did not learn while growing up. Christian Science expends a lot of energy denying the physical senses, so to one coming from that background, body-work is basically a foreign concept. Practicing yoga helps me to connect with myself physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally - all at the same time. I feel stronger, and enjoy what my body can do, while becoming aware of what it cannot (yet) do - and what is possible, with practice. After class, I feel invigorated and accomplished. It is a wonderful way to begin the day, with gratitude, integration and joy.

I'm so thankful that I tried yoga at the Ranch, and can continue here at home.
Sculpture depicting Child's Pose at Rancho La Puerta
Our bodies are indeed temples for the Divine.


Elizabeth said...

I'm a bit shocked that yoga was new to you. You have always exuded those qualities that I think of when I think of yoga practitioners: calm, humor, serenity without seriousness. I am so glad that you are doing it, though, Karen. You are an inspiration to me -- I had such a wonderful practice and have just let it all go this past year. I am struggling to get back to it, but your enthusiasm is a light!

Karen Gerstenberger said...

That's very kind of you, Elizabeth. I have taken meditation classes (centering prayer, too), but this is like a perfect balance of the physical, mental and spiritual. I hope you will give yourself the gift of renewing your practice. I can see how people would want to do it daily!

Anonymous said...

What an amazing and thoughtful gift!!
Onward...or should I say "downward"? :)
Lv, CT

Ann said...

Yoga is on my list of things to do this year now that I have the time. I'm not good at meditation - my mind wanders. It sounds like with the gentle reminders a yoga instructor gives, along with doing a physical activity with my body - I might be able to get to "that place" I can't get to when I attempt meditation. Thank you for sharing, you remind me that I need to find a yoga studio close to my home and just go.

Kim Andersen said...

When I met you last summer I noticed how graceful and fit you are - I would have guessed that you were already in yoga - it was meant to be!

Busy Bee Suz said...

To me you seemed like a yoga type of person too.
I'm so glad you found this and enjoy it too. I've thought about it over the years….and I even purchased a dvd. It was too slow for me….and the whole breathing thing kinda made me crazy.
Oh, wait…perhaps YOGA is what I need??? LOL.
You've inspired me to investigate this further.