My husband was diagnosed with ALS in 2007. In the face of this terrible tragedy, my step-daughter Tamara was always serene while I felt frazzled and fragmented, uncertain of how to deal with my emotions. Watching her practice daily yoga on the porch or in the yard was calming as well and inspirational to me, and obviously was keeping her calm and balanced. She spent as much time as she could with us, helping me to take care of him for seven years.
Many people have a special teacher or mentor who has had a positive effect on their lives. I have been blessed with two special people who have guided me on my yoga path. The first was Tamara who started practicing yoga 20 years ago, and loved it so much she became an instructor. She has trained all over the country and now holds her RYT-500 certification. But more important than all of the hours she has studied and practiced yoga, she lives her ‘yoga’ walking the walk.
Over the years, she has helped me more than she will ever know simply by leading her yoga-inspired life. Although I’ve always been a dancer and enjoyed working out, somehow yoga never became a part of my life until I was in my fifties when my stress levels were through the roof, plus I was always exhausted and sad from taking care of my terminally ill husband.
Tamara gave me mantras to focus on: “Where am I?” Answer- “Here.” And “What time is it?” Answer- “Now”. We also did some simple yoga postures together. But since she lived for most of the year on the other side of the country, we were unable to really work together for any length of time.
As a Pilates and Dance instructor I was pretty flexible and strong, but yoga was a challenge for me. People often say to me “Oh, you teach Pilates, so you must be good at yoga” as if yoga were a sport. Although there are similarities on the surface of the two, they are essentially very different. And yoga was a stumbling block for me. I would try a few local yoga classes from time to time, but most of them were designed as “exercise classes” and that was not what I was looking for.
After my husband died, I was devastated and adrift. But one day I remembered that Tamara had gone to a place called Kripalu for some of her yoga studies, and had loved it there. I decided to be very brave and give it a try. I am by nature a shy person and an introvert and I’ve learned how to pretend that I am an extrovert – so this wasn’t easy for me. But somehow, I knew instinctively that Kripalu was a place that I would be able to be myself. I signed up for a four day retreat and that is where I met my second special teacher/mentor: Jennifer Reis.
I arrived at Kripalu full of trepidation that I would not be ‘good enough’ to participate in the classes. But I felt at home immediately, and I could feel my shoulders relaxing, even as I walked around the building and grounds, exploring. Being outdoors is a big part of my life and I loved walking the woods and nature there.
I met Jennifer on Thanksgiving Day, 2016 when she taught Water Element yoga workshop that morning and I continue to give thanks for having met her. Finally, I had found someone who taught yoga with a spiritual component, similar to Tamara. I still have my notes that I jotted down after Jennifer’s class and they say, “Excellent! Love her! I feel so nurtured.”
Being at Kripalu helped me deal with my grief from the loss of my husband through yoga, workshops, and simply being in a place where I could begin to think about moving forward. Meeting Jennifer inspired me to go deeper into yoga studies, and that’s when I began a small home practice of yoga and meditation. My confidence grew and I even began to think about perhaps one day dating again.
I joined a trivia group that met weekly at a local restaurant where I met a wonderful man named Marc who was even shyer than I was. In fact, he was so shy that I never thought we would develop much of a relationship. But, when I heard there was a free yoga class for faculty and staff at the University where I taught, I began attending, and to my surprise, Marc was in that class! Now we have been together for three years and we are keeping each other sane during this crazy pandemic. Yoga has brought me to happiness in a new relationship as well as all the other benefits it has given me.
A year ago, I created my own home studio so I could practice yoga in a setting more conducive to what I was trying to attain. I read lots of books, tried a few more local classes, and even tried an online subscription yoga class but still struggled to capture what I had found in Jennifer’s classes. I continued to practice yoga on my own. I even keep a yoga mat and props at my son’s house in North Carolina so I can practice during my visits. On my last visit, my six-year old grandson decided he wanted to practice with me, so we had a lively, laughter-filled outdoor yoga session together.
Kripalu is such a special place that I made a promise to myself to return at least once a year. I have twice brought friends with me so they could experience it too. On one of my visits, I took a five-day Five Element Yoga© retreat with Jennifer and I was hooked!
Each of the elements and their corresponding yogic postures and mudras made so much sense to me. Five Element Yoga made me feel as if I had discovered something magical. When Jennifer began offering online classes and workshops during the pandemic, I signed up for a few of them and they were wonderful. It was so much fun to ‘see’ Jennifer right in my home studio!
As my confidence and my practice grew, I decided to take her live online Five Element Yoga© Teacher Training in November. It was the perfect antidote to my pandemic-induced sense of lethargy and what people are calling ‘Groundhog Day Syndrome’.
Thanks to Jennifer, I had a purpose and a goal that was challenging to both my body and my brain. The two weekends flew by. Each weekend was so filled activities and camaraderie that made me feel so alive and happy. The women in our group were amazing and so encouraging and supportive that I felt confident enough to lead simple classes with my partners.
Jennifer inspired our sessions with her grace, gentleness and humor. During the week, I worked hard on my homework and class designs, determined to understand and experience Jennifer’s lessons to the fullest. I am pleased I did because the result is that in my own yoga practice, I now have a clear focus. The Five Elements resonate deeply with me, especially Earth, Air and Water. Not surprising, considering the amount of time I spend outdoors each day at the creek behind my house, at the Lake Erie beach, and hiking or snowshoeing in the woods with Marc and friends every weekend.
This training has given me the confidence to continue my studies and go deeper. I have a connection to Jennifer and to my physical environment through the five elements that I know I can tap into whenever I might need it.
I give thanks daily for my dear step-daughter Tamara, who led me to Jennifer and who continues to inspire my life with her serenity and amazing yoga practice. And I have deep gratitude for Jennifer who has changed my life in such a positive way and has given me the confidence to go farther than I ever thought I would.