To be on Monhegan is to be surrounded by sea. Twelve miles off the coast, there is only ocean. Blue touching blue, water and sky seamlessly seeping into and becoming an endless one. On the backside, the headlands plunge downwards into icy, turbulent pools from which no one has ever been rescued. And yet from these elements so brutal, there emerges solace and community ~ the possibility of meeting life on life’s terms, trust in the fullness of what could be, and patience in the process, to come to believe. It is on this island, that life becomes illuminated, stripped only to what is essential, merging into the alimental, nurturing and healing. On Monhegan I learned to embrace all of who I am, to no longer merely tread water and believe that was a life. On Monhegan I found the courage to speak, and ultimately the strength to swim, finding my way inshore.
Sixteen years ago, I “found” yoga at the recommendation of my primary care physician. Diagnosed with scoliosis in early adolescence, I believed my current chronic low back pain was directly correlated to being the mother of two small children: first the physical carrying of them in utero, and then the subsequent nestling of them upon my hip. However instead of being handed a referral, my doctor offered a suggestion. ”You know, I’ve been reading that yoga can help alleviate pain. Why don’t you give it a try first, before seeing an orthopedist?”
In 2001, there were not yet yoga studios on every street corner; in fact, there were only two in all of Rochester, NY. I based my criteria solely upon choosing a studio that was close to my home, and that offered classes that fit my schedule. While my beginning postures were wobbly, they became more fluid, and I became stronger through the process of practice, learning through repeatable actions that began to carry over into my life off of my mat. I don’t think my physician knew that his simple suggestion would transpire into a new path of my own making, as a student, as a teacher, as a trainer of teachers, traveling to the temples of South India, working with children in the brothels of Delhi. I certainly could never have imagined this life. And yet, all of these experiences have become the yoga that I practice and that is interwoven into the life I live.
What inspires one person to begin a yoga practice can be completely unique from someone else’s journey. I think the good news is that it truly is all there, but with so much to chose from, the question becomes, where and how to begin?
Finding a yoga class that meets your needs is comparable to standing in front of a bountiful buffet; the choices are seemingly endless. Are you searching for comfort food? Try a restorative yoga class. Something spicy? Perhaps a hot and sweaty Bikram class will do the trick. The beauty of the buffet is that everything is there for you to choose from, but it can be difficult to know from which end to begin, or to discern what choices will leave you feeling vibrantly full, rather than nauseous or overindulged.
When potential new students approach me, I encourage them to ask themselves what it is they are interested in experiencing from a yoga class? Are they primarily looking for an exercise class, or to improve their flexibility or balance? Are they looking for meditation to be incorporated into the practice?
Whatever the answer I encourage them to do some research, before attending a class, and ARRIVE EARLY to introduce themselves to the teacher. If you are recovering from an injury, or if you have any limitations, your instructor will want to know so they can assist you accordingly. A good teacher will be able to help a student modify their movements accordingly, allowing them to work safely to their appropriate ability.
Don’t be afraid to try different teachers, different studios, and different styles. Discover how each makes you feel. Returning to the buffet metaphor, would you like to go back for seconds of what you just sampled, or would something else be more palatable?
The gift of yoga is that it is intended as a practice, and a practice takes time, especially as you learn to feel your body in a completely new and experiential way. While this can be frustrating to new students, yoga is about you working in relationship to yourself, with your body, on a particular day. Frankly, some days are just better than others. Regardless, every time I practice I am reminded that our bodies as living, breathing entities are simply spectacular. So I show up, and the yoga becomes my map to make meaning, a space where I can both dive deeper, and see what unfolds.
this entry was first featured on mat chat for JUJA Active
The shape of the stone nestles into the palm of my
hand; its smooth contours a reminder of its island origins, twelve miles off
the coast of Maine. Plucked from the many along the shores of Pebble Beach,
this stone has become my garlic rock. You might confuse the stone for a quail's
egg, until with a casual flick of my wrist, it smashes down upon a garlic claw,
crushing the clove, shedding its paper white skin. This stone does not yield
under my weight. Instead, it is the clove that splinters often
leaving greasy traces upon its porous surface. Speckled egg. Unbreakable. The
garlic takes on a new form as it mixes with coarse salt on the scarred wooden
board; I rub the two textures together, becoming something entirely unto itself.
First destruction, then creation, my stone marks the boundaries of what begins,
and what too shall end.
Voice is complicated, although it seems so utterly natural. Sound expressing desire as uniquely one's own. And yet the act of speaking, of finding words, or rather finding the right words, doesn't always flow from my mouth. I think of a work by the artist Ann Hamilton (although I cannot recall its name) of a mouth. Just a mouth. Lips, teeth, tongue. A mouth filled with marbles that roll and rock and clatter utterances all their own. Sound blocking guttural sound.
How many years have I too felt the coldness of those marbles within my mouth, constricting thoughts, emotions from deeply within? How long have I lived with the fear that if I dare engage my authentic voice that I risk choking, or swallowing myself whole.
It has always been easier for me to speak my voice with written letters, creating words with form rather than understood as resonant sound. Words flowing onto lined note paper, building layer upon inky layer. But words uttered ~ the act of speaking up for myself? Well, that is another story.
Isabel Allende had to publish three novels before she felt comfortable putting writer rather than housewife in the space for Occupation when filling out a form. Writer is "such a big word," explained Allende.
An Everlasting Meal