Voices of Unity Woods
Thursday, August 4th, 2016
Students and teachers share with us why they love yoga! Would you like to share your story? Email to us: email@example.com
Journey into Teaching
In the November 2016 issue, Lori discussed her path to practicing Iyengar yoga. This month she shares her journey to becoming a teacher.
When I last wrote, I revealed that from my first Iyengar class in 1999, Yoga would change my life. By 2001, parallel to my deepening practice, I decided I wanted to do something different for my life’s work. I began to explore the possibilities. One idea was – teaching, but what kind? Middle school? High school? (Maybe…Yoga?) I boldly asserted myself, asking John directly for a meeting to inquire about what it takes to become a Yoga Teacher.
I didn’t ask John if I could apprentice with him, and he didn’t offer. We just talked, like an informational interview. He told me that he looks for three things in a teacher:
- Tapas (heat), burning of impurities in the body, mind and spirit through austere, disciplined practice.
- A significant advancement in one’s practice.
- Grace and integrity in how a person conducts his/herself in the world.
And then he sent me on my way. With the goal of changing my life, I decided to leave my job in a small production company, which I had been at for eight years. I had budgeted for three months. I traveled a bit and immersed myself in hours of practice a day. I had taken John’s words about tapas seriously. I focused on my struggle in Sirsasana, trying to gain stability, strength and endurance. In his first class back after his own summer sabbatical – while in Sirsasana, John bent down and whispered, “I see you have been working hard.” Praise is not really an Iyengar Yoga thing. We are supposed to let go of our ego in our practice anyway…. but, was that a sign?
Despite the turmoil in DC after September 11th, serendipitously, I found a position producing the on-air pledge drives at WAMU Radio. I loved working there and still had the flexibility for yoga. Around Thanksgiving, John asked me to stay after class. Without any inkling, I went in the Teacher’s Lounge, and he invited me to apprentice! Not only did I squeal, but I jumped up and down, right in front of him (the first of many open hearted, vulnerable exchanges).
From that night forward, my yoga journey began a new path. Fifteen years later, I still practice and apprentice with John. It has been one of the great privileges of my life. He approaches apprenticing ‘old school’. He shares his knowledge, gives his time, guidance, and friendship. I have also gone to Pune to study with the Iyengars. I am taking on my second apprentice and currently working towards Senior 1 Certification, in part to further the next generation of Iyengar Yoga Teachers.
Lori teaches in Arlington.
From Car to Karma and Into Community
Karma yoga. Work exchange. Master floor-sweeper. A role with many names. And a role I consistently seek as part of my practice wherever I end up in the world.
I grew up in a yoga-inclined household, where Sunday morning meditation replaced the typical New Englander’s church. Naturally, as a rebellious child I ran far from the practice as soon as I could, and only made my way back after a car accident injured both my neck and back. This rediscovery of yoga and what it has to offer helped not only heal me physically, but changed my mental approach and attitude to life.
Invited to participate in a work-exchange program by my first teacher, I discovered what a yoga community could feel like. Starting first as a late-night floor sweeper, I found a meditative rhythm in the simple task of cleaning the space of practice, grateful to serve the community that was already offering me so much. I later moved up the ranks, and became a receptionist, where I had the honor of greeting and interacting with the diverse, multi-lingual student body that made up our studio’s vibrant community in Montreal. It had the added perk of sharing giggles behind the desk with my dear teacher and friend. I had found community.
I moved to Stockholm, and continued to seek yoga community in my new home, teaching occasionally at a small Ayurveda center and at my research institute, and connecting with other English-speaking expats in various studios and trainings around town. Karma yoga later led me to a retreat center on the Greek island of Crete, where I first encountered the Iyengar practice. My daily rhythm that summer involved sweeping, cleaning the beautiful, airy rooms overlooking the Libyan Sea, and a daily investigation of Iyengar yoga with knowledgeable teachers from across Europe.
Discovering the Iyengar method at that point in life was another turning point, as I learned to practice in a new way, revisiting to my old injuries with new precision and awareness. And again, there was community: A small band of teachers and staff that created and maintained a magical space where travelers had the opportunity to meet, practice, and experience the beautiful culture that makes up Europe’s most southern tip.
My mobile career in environmental science landed me back in the U.S., and as with any new place, I began seeking my new yoga home. After Crete, and a course in India with Rajiv Chanchani, I was driven to deepen my Iyengar yoga practice. A quick inquiry to Unity Woods helped me realize work exchange was again an option. I jumped – eager to find that community, and a place where I could truly learn again.
I’ve been doing work exchange for just over a year now, and as a newcomer to D.C., there is something so reassuring about knowing that every Saturday when I show up to Joe’s class, not only will I continue to learn and deepen my practice, I’ll share smiles and greetings with familiar faces. Finding community again, slowly but surely. You’ll still find me sweeping the floors, and maybe now will understand why I do it with such a smile on my face.
Shauna is a work exchange student in DC.
Blogger Mom Becomes a Yoga Mom
Within weeks of graduating from college, my daughter shipped herself off to San Francisco-to paint, to write, to “find” herself. One of the tools she found was yoga. She started studying with Rodney Yee, then a West Coast Iyengar yogi. Her interest only deepened as time went on.
Moms being moms, and this mom being a blogger on parenting grown children, I had to know more about what was so important to her. She suggested I had an excellent opportunity to do so. “You live right near one of the best yoga studios in the country,” she told me.
So it was that I signed up for Yoga I at Unity Woods. I spent a few years learning triangle pose and Warrior II with Mary, then promoted myself to Rocky’s I-II for a few years of attempts at inversions and then moved over to Carol’s I-II at the ever-convenient studio on Connecticut Ave.
Whenever my daughter came home or joined us for a family vacation in Vermont, we would roll out our mats and practice together. She could bend over backwards; I needed blocks and straps to keep pace with the simplest sun salutations. Even when she took up Ashtanga yoga, she managed to find ways to include me and my Iyengar yoga in a yoga routine.
Then came my hip pain and the replacement of one and, a year later, the other hip. This is where our yoga bond was tied into an even stronger knot. Four days post-surgery, she was figuring out ways I could practice yoga-seated for the first few weeks and then very cautiously using the wall for some easy-does-it uttanasanas.
Three years after the gift of my new hips, I am back in yoga class and, when my daughter and I get together (she still lives far away), we salute the sun, breathe deeply and Namaste over the pure pleasure of our special bond.
Penny studies in Bethesda.
The Voice: Norris Keeler
Yoga is a Family Thing.
As the oldest student at Unity Woods, I would like to express my appreciation for the help of my instructors in providing me assistance so I could remain active. Earlier, I was enrolled in Joe Adlesic’s Level I/II class for years. That ended in December 20?? when I had a seizure and had to go into rehab for three months. After completing this, I returned to Carol’s level I class, where I remain today.
During this time, my wife Miriam has been a student as well. She started out in Vienna as a student of Susanna Schmida, and after a year, Frau Schmida asked her to take over the studio.
Later, some 30 years ago, Miriam became a student of John Shoemacher at his level IV class. With age, she eventually switched to Anne Wuchiett’s level III or II/III class.
With us, yoga is very much a family thing. We discuss each of our lessons, and try to compare our progress or lack of same. I am determined to stay with it as long as I can- and so is Miriam. Joe and Carol have provided most of the inspiration for me, and Miriam is well known by most of the instructors.
We both thank Unity Woods for providing a major support for our personal lives.
Progression Into This Moment.
I took some yoga in my youth, but it wasn’t until I was 49 that I began taking it seriously. My children were grown and out of the house, I was at a crossroads in my job, and I wanted to explore and grow, both physically and spiritually. When I found Iyengar yoga, I knew it was the right tradition for me.
Over the past 11 years, with the example, guidance, and encouragement of Unity Wood’s amazing teachers, I gradually mastered the basics, committed to several classes a week, and began a home practice. I was excited to recognize that, even in late middle age, practicing meant constant progress, even in small increments. There have been many joyful milestones in my yoga life, from recognizing the way my chest should open in Trikonasana, to the day I kicked up into full arm balance for the first time, to those moments when I find the serenity of awareness and well-being in Shavasana.
I assumed that I would naturally keep progressing, because all around me in class people of all ages demonstrate beautiful strength and agility. But everything changes, and in the past year I have faced health issues that have gradually reduced what I can accomplish in my yoga practice. Although my symptoms are not severe, they are very evident to me. Some poses are much more difficult, and others are simply not possible. (Unfortunately, handstands are no longer in my repertoire, at least for now.) At times, I have cried in sorrow at what is lost. I have even been tempted to abandon yoga, since practicing no longer fosters pride but instead brings me face to face with new limitations.
At the same time, I recognize that this moment is an opportunity for me to take a fresh look at what yoga means to me. I believe that this new phase of my yoga life is about something different than physical achievement or my ego. It is about nurturing a tool that helps me on the one hand face reality, and on the other find the possibilities that exist in any given moment. It is not an easy lesson to absorb, but it is stretching me. I am so grateful for the teachers and the community (not to mention the props!) at Unity Woods!
Claire studies in Bethesda.
The Voice: Lori L. Ritland
Whatever the issue, the solution: more Yoga.
Back in the mid-1990s, my dear friend Karen who took class with Giulia, and Harris who studied with John and Joe, both spoke so highly of Unity Woods. They (who didn’t know each other) constantly told me I had to try Iyengar Yoga. So, one day in the Fall of 1998, something within me opened, and I was ready: I looked at the Bethesda schedule, and thought, “I should begin with ‘The Guy’”…so, I signed up for John’s Wednesday night Level I. After hearing John’s Introduction and taking my very first class, I KNEW YOGA WAS GOING TO CHANGE MY LIFE. I did not understand the depth of what that meant, but I knew.
Within a couple of months, I faced a sudden life change and a very real, broken heart. Each week, I would attend class, tears quietly rolling down my face. I thought maybe nobody noticed, but this is Iyengar Yoga, where not much goes unnoticed! John’s apprentices at the time were Suzanne Sigüenza and Stephanie Abrams. I discovered later that yes, they observed my quiet shedding of tears.
Something amazing happened! After each class, I felt stronger; physically was the expected result, but I felt stronger emotionally. I remember so vividly, each week walking in sad, and walking out of class lighter in my body, mind and spirit. A new journey. Iyengar Yoga truly saved my emotional Self. I took to heart, as many of you now hear me say, “one pose constitutes a practice.” At first, I couldn’t remember what we did in class, so, I bought John’s cassette tapes, A Basic Daily Routine and later Foundations. I practiced every day in my kitchen, the only non-carpeted room in my Mt. Pleasant apartment.
With a beginner’s mind and open heart, I began a different journey inward. Though not understanding their wisdom, from the two wings of Yoga, practice (abhyasa) and detachment (vairagya), along with tapas (purifying fire of action), I overcame that emotional suffering.
I’ll share my later journey to becoming a Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher in a future issue.
Lori teaches in Arlington.
Yoga: A Perfect Complementary Practice
I am just an old soul who is a newbie to Yoga. I started in Fall of 2015 at the suggestion of my Holistic doctor who recommended that I stay clear of drugs for Osteoporosis and “Just do Yoga!”.
I am so enjoying the journey of discovering how these two practices are similar yet different. They complement each other. Both help with balance and strength and have a quiet spiritual side that nurtures one’s breath and whole being. Tai Chi differs, as it is an internal martial art that is quite powerful in a gentle way (and can also be playful in the partner work Sensing Hands). Yoga differs in that it builds more muscle and inner core strength, and is so good for the traction of the bones. I always come out of Yoga class feeling taller! I also study Tai Chi sword and Yoga further helps with the balance needed for the sword form. Both disciplines have so enriched my life and I look forward to continuing to explore their cross-over benefits.
Citta Vrtti Nirodhah
“…acknowledging that yoga is citta vrttti nirodhah, the cessation of the fluctuation of the mind…”
Close to one year into my studies at Unity Woods, my teacher, Lori repeating that each Friday during class, I really listened, heard it and intentionally brought it with me outside of class. Adopted as my mantra, I would remind myself “citta vrtti nirodhah” when I was overwhelmed and especially when I heard myself complaining. Feeling calmer, more centered and able were benefits in everyday life.
Practicing this off the mat was working for me when I noticed my son, Miles, struggling. As a travel soccer player the pressure is real even when only eleven years old. Moving up from the Gold team to the White team was his goal for try outs that spring. He had been training hard but was clearly feeling uncertain. It was as if there was a gray cloud over his head as try outs approached – he already anticipated an outcome. Hoping to inspire and support him, I shared my mantra.
First he rolled his eyes at me. He is 11! But he came around and opened his mind. We talked it though and figured out what it meant to us. This is a tool when we need to dig a little deeper to find inner confidence. Sure the meaning of citta vrtti nirodhah had changed from Lori’s original teaching but that didn’t matter to us by now. Fluorescent sticky notes reading “citta vrtti nirodhah” were stuck throughout our house to remind him that he can try, do, and be. Proud of his efforts and the results, citta vrtti nirodhah ran its course for Miles when he made the White team. It’s pretty cool as a parent to see your child take a leap of faith, and it’s an even bigger relief when it ends well. I emailed Lori a quick version of this story and thanked her for teaching and supporting me in my Iyengar journey. That was in March and I’ve continued to acknowledge that yoga is citta vrtti nirodhah daily. Occasionally I bring it up to Miles too.
About a month ago, I was having a full morning. As a small business owner in the summer, I was working from home while my kids were running through our house. Racing through the kitchen, I dropped my ringing iPhone, burned a grilled cheese, and heard my voice rising when my daughter, Georgia, was talking rudely to her brother. Aware that my kids were feeling my stress as well bearing the brunt of it I said, “Sorry, I’m running late for yoga and am feeling stressed.”
Miles looks me square in the face and replied, “citta vrtti nirodhah”.
Allison studies in Arlington.
After the sudden death of my husband in 1996, I knew I was going to need some help. I began by seeing a therapist. Later I added a support group. Finally, I began my study of yoga. This was so different from my other attempts at sports and exercise. Yoga gave me the opportunity to examine myself — mind, body and spirit. It allowed me to know myself better, to grieve when necessary, and ultimately to bring me some peace. Once I began, I knew I would never stop.
Getting a regular practice started was a challenge. It’s so easy to find excuses, but when an instructor told me, “One pose a day is a yoga practice,” I took it to heart. I began with one down dog every day, but soon learned that one asana leads to another. Now, I have a regular home practice, reinforced by a weekly class. I can’t do the poses perfectly, but I’ve discovered it doesn’t matter. What matters is the focus, the attempt, the awareness.
Yoga has brought me so much. It has improved my strength, my balance, and alleviated the stiffness that comes with years. More importantly, it has taught me valuable lessons on life. How to be more aware of yourself, your body, your breath, your mind. How to keep striving for a goal, such as a perfect asana, that will never be attained. How to nourish a sense of connectivity to others, in fact, to the world. Yoga, after all, means yoking or union in Sanskrit.
I know that in my practice I have only scratched the surface of what yoga can be. I struggle to allow myself to be fully present. During my practice I try to let go of the past and stop thinking of the future. The goal is to be aware of the moment at hand. To help me along, I’ve adapted a meditation from the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Han:
I breathe in to calm my body and my mind
I breathe out to spread joy
I dwell in the present moment
This beautiful, sacred moment
It’s a never ending process for which I am grateful.
Vicky studies in Bethesda.
How I Found Yoga
I owe my discovery of Iyengar yoga to my labor movement buddy, Mike Honey. In my 30’s, I was working forty-plus-hours-a-week designing a monthly newspaper, sitting most of the day at a computer. When Mike learned I had back pain he suggested yoga. I had tried yoga at 17 and enjoyed it, but didn’t see how it would help my back, so I rolled my eyes and dismissed his suggestion.
Months later he asked if I’d gotten to a yoga class. No. I’d been to orthopedists, osteopaths, neurologists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, and anyone else I thought might know something about backs. After a year of gentle persuasion he tried another tactic. “Rocky, there is an excellent yoga center ten minutes from your house. You’ve been to 30 doctors. None have helped. What do you have to lose ….and do you know you have rotten posture?”
“OK, OK I’ll give it a try.” Logic, vanity, and Mike’s persistence pushed through my skepticism. I called Unity Woods and went to a free yoga class, thinking on my way, “If they chant, I’m outta there.” To my astonishment, my back felt better by the end of one class. I felt less pain, looser joints, and a quieter mind. I signed up for a full term and my back continued to improve. After a few years of classes I noticed other benefits: I was less crabby at work, and could focus longer at the computer. Friends couldn’t get over the change in my posture. I was becoming less reactive, more dependable, less fearful, more curious.
Ultimately, I quit computer work and became a yoga teacher. Over 30 years of practicing and 25 years of teaching, I’ve found that yoga strengthens me where I’m weak, stretches me where I’m tight, quiets my nervous system when it’s overactive, speeds my digestive system when it’s sluggish. I know what to practice when I need rest, and which poses will wake me up; which poses give me courage when I’m afraid; and which cultivate humility when ambition is running the show. The practice of asana and pranayama has guided me toward greater balance and wholeness. I will always be grateful to my friend Mike for his encouragement. And by the way, now I love to chant.
Rocky teaches in Bethesda.