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Staff Spotlight—Remember When by Cathy Getz

cathyMy first yoga class was in 2002. I remember one pose in that class, Viparita Karani, known in English as Legs Up the Wall. It struck me as being very relaxing and not at all what I expected. In 2003 I retired and found myself with time to devote to a more fit lifestyle. The convenience of the twice-weekly yoga class that followed the aerobics class I attended at the fitness center helped me meet my goal to integrate a stretching routine into my workout. It soon became apparent that there was more to this yoga discipline, and that Legs Up the Wall was really a meditative, quiet, inward posture for me and not just a nice hamstring stretch.

Two days a week became not enough, so I found Bonnie at the Punta Gorda Club, along with two additional teachers, and drove to town every day for class. At first I was looking for strength and balance training as well as the benefits of stretching. Then I became interested in the philosophy and did some reading. My husband Jim and I travelled to southeast Asia and China, and I became aware of the legends and stories associated with the ancient Hindu traditions. (Listen carefully to those CDs playing while you are in a TYS class.)

Bonnie opened the studio in 2007. I was there on the first day. The program was much different than “health club” yoga. There was Sanskrit, chanting music, and a quiet, inward focus. There were eye pillows during Savasana, bolsters, blocks, and straps—and no clanging weights! I really enjoyed practicing a more structured routine devoid of the chatter, and I realized that I was changing so much that I could give up the aerobics and running. I wanted to do it all, and so I took lots of classes—two each day was not uncommon. My practice at this time was also based on my desire for proficiency in the poses. It took a while to realize that in my late 50s I was never going master Pincha Mayurasana!

Today I come to the studio for the inward time. I struggle with the wandering mind, especially in Savasana. I’ve had a couple of injuries and learned to let my ego go a bit regarding the “perfect” posture. I’m back to some exercising outside of my yoga practice. My teacher training was a turning point for me. Hopefully now I have found more compassion in all of my life, not just on the mat. My greatest lesson is to embrace that we are all doing the best that we can do and to step back and focus on that when I am critical of others. Unfortunately I fall down on that one too, but my goal is to keep coming back to it as a lifestyle mantra.

My Retail Manager duties began in 2010 in preparation for the opening of the current studio location. I have been blessed to be a part of our TYS family and all of our wonderful teachers and students. I sincerely hope that we can provide our clients with a selection of excellent products for each individual’s yoga practice. I welcome the comments and special requests for yoga props, books, and clothing items.

So, as we head into 2015 and my 65th year on the planet I am thankful for being a part of this welcoming, growing, diverse Yoga Sanctuary family. Many blessings to all of you and wishes for good health and happiness ahead.

Yogi of the Month—Kelly Sweet-Hamilton

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I was born in Michigan and moved around the mid-west as a child, living in Michigan, Missouri, and Indiana. When I was 15, I was a passenger in a car accident. During the accident my sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae were dislocated, partially severing and stretching my spinal cord. My diagnosis is quadriplegia, but I was able to regain much of the use of my arms and hands. I am confined to a wheelchair with no use of my legs. When I was 19 I moved to the east coast of Florida on New Year’s Eve. There I was lucky enough to meet my husband, David, and in 2006 we moved to Punta Gorda to be closer to my dad. We live here with our dog, Baci, and our cat, Crackers.

I began practicing yoga with Bonnie at The Yoga Sanctuary in 2009, and now I work with Jennifer. I thought about practicing yoga for about a year before I got up the nerve to send an email to the studio to inquire as to whether practicing yoga was even possible for me. I thought yoga might be good for the aches and pains that come with a spinal cord injury. Although I knew in my heart that yoga would be good for me, I was scared. I don’t really like people I don’t know touching me. I knew I would have to talk about my disability, what “works” and what doesn’t, why I get goose bumps or clammy when I’m physically uncomfortable, and other things that were only discussed with my family and closest friends. I emailed TYS. Despite the fact that I kind of hoped that no one would reply, Bonnie did. Not only did she reply, but she also got me excited. She told me about quadriplegic yogi Matthew Sanford. If you haven’t read his book “Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence,” get it today. He is an inspiration.

I do private yoga sessions every other week. I am not particularly disciplined, so my at-home practice consists of stretches and breathing, usually in response to an acute ache, pain, or stressful situation. I also attend workshops on occasion.

 

I have many gripes that come with being a wheelchair user. My shoulders, neck, and arms ache. Fortunately, yoga keeps my bursitis at bay. My aches and pains are now manageable. I could barely turn my head before I began to practice yoga. Now neck stretches are something I love, not fear! During my sessions Bonnie, and now Jennifer, provides the movement that my legs don’t get on their own. We put them up, we stretch them, we breathe, and my legs relax. It’s funny how independent you feel when you allow someone else to help you for a few minutes. I also enjoy the energetic aspects of yoga. I love breathing out and letting that negative energy go.

When I started yoga, I was looking for things to make me get out of the house. I work from home, which makes it easy to get stuck in a rut where I’m tired at the end of the day and don’t get out for even a breath of fresh air. Yoga is like physical therapy that is relaxing and enjoyable. Yoga is my way of continuing physical therapy on my terms. For me, the greatest benefit of practicing yoga is the ability to move beyond my wheelchair. When I practice I move in ways that I never do in my day-to-day life, which feels so good. My favorite poses are any twist, or arms straight up.

There aren’t many things in my life that I can say I have done consistently for five years, but yoga is one of them. I am inspired by my family, because they make me want to feel my best. I still face all of the same challenges I faced before beginning yoga, but now I have some new tools to deal with them. If my neck aches, I know what to do to address it in that moment. If my shoulder hurts, I know what to do. My challenges remain the same, but my response is different since I began my yoga practice.

Outside of yoga, my husband and I love to travel and cook. Work takes up a lot of our time, but we try to balance that out by having fun with friends and family, and we love taking Baci out for happy hour at the many dog friendly restaurants around town.

As for quotes, I will leave you with an all-time favorite and a yoga favorite. I think Dr. Seuss is one of our great philosophers, and he once said, “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you!” This is so true. It’s what I had to accept when I welcomed Bonnie and Jennifer into my life. And my favorite yoga quote comes from Bonnie Yonker herself. I was checking out after practice, and TYS had a teacher training going on. I asked Bonnie whether the teacher training addressed adaptive yoga; I was thinking about adapting yoga for people with disabilities like mine. She said, “All yoga is adaptive, everyone’s practice is unique.” That was the moment I felt at ease with my practice. When I’m at TYS, it’s not about my physical challenges, it’s not about accessibility or adaptability, it’s just my hour as a yogi.

 

Different Styles of Yoga

The most familiar form of yoga practiced in the West is Hatha Yoga, which is a combination of physical postures (asana), breath work (pranayama), meditation (dhyana), and relaxation. There are many different styles, or expressions, of Hatha Yoga. In fact, there are so many different styles of yoga that one can quickly confuse one style with another. To help lessen the confusion, over the next five months we will discuss five main styles of yoga: Iyengar, Ashtanga, Viniyoga, Sivananda, and ISHTA yoga. These styles all share similarities—they link postures with breath as a tool to help ready the body and mind for meditation. Some common yoga postures are found in all of these styles.

Iyengar yoga, developed by the late B.K.S. Iyengar, is a precise yoga practice that emphasizes alignment using props and modifications along with pranayama practices to help the practitioner gain physical and spiritual well-being.

Ashtanga yoga, developed by the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, is a system of yoga that comprises a set sequence of postures, each building on the last toward the next, coupled with breath, a fixed gaze (drsthi), and energetic locks (bandhas) as a way to ready the body and mind for meditation, and thus, realization of our true nature.

Viniyoga, developed by Gary Kraftsow, a student of T.K.V. Desikachar, adapts various methods of practice to the unique condition, needs, and interests of the student, using tools to individualize and actualize the process of self-discovery and personal transformation.

Sivananda yoga, developed from the teachings of Swami Sivananda, is based on five principles: proper exercise, breathing, relaxation, diet, and thinking. A gentle practice, Sivananda begins with Savasana (Corpse pose), followed by pranayama, sun salutations, and a sequence of 12 basic postures. A meditation practice accompanies the practice.

ISHTA yoga, developed by Yogiraj Alan Finger, blends the ancient and contemporary sciences of hatha (physical postures), tantra (the belief that our essential nature is divine), and Ayurveda (the awareness of the impact our circumstances have on our physical, emotional, and energetic states).

Yoga Is a Journey, Not a Destination

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Although most people come to the practice of yoga with some sort of goal, it usually becomes clear that there is so much more to the practice than any one particular goal can encompass. But it can still be easy to fall into a pattern of striving to achieve a certain (fill in the blank here) with our practice, especially when it comes to the yoga postures, or asanas.

You may have seen someone doing a pose that looked, to you, perfect. Or maybe you admired a photo or video of a yoga practitioner demonstrating a “perfect” pose. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the desire to achieve that which others have achieved before you. Unfortunately, when your mind is preoccupied with such a goal, your yoga practice will suffer.

Instead of striving to attain a perfect pose, let your practice be one of observation and acceptance of your current state. By moving your perspective from a hypothetical future situation—you striking the perfect pose—to your current, real situation, you will begin to notice the perfection of your imperfection. Notice your attachments and aversions, and try to let those dissolve as you fully embrace where you are right here, right now.

You will begin to see that this practice is not about getting anywhere or checking anything off your list. It’s about coming back to yourself in a raw, real, and nonjudgmental way. Let go of your preconceived notions about where this practice is taking you. They will only distract you from where you are really going. Yoga is a journey, with every step along the way meant to be the destination.