Around the year 1965, a woman named Sue Luby moved to my hometown of Andover, Massachusetts and changed my life. Sue offered yoga classes – we’d never heard of yoga, but for some reason my mother decided we should give it a try. This would have been around the early days of hippies and flower children, but my mom was no hippie. She was a middle-class suburban housewife who had grown up in a strict and regimented boarding school in England. I don’t know what made her want to try this weird new thing called yoga; but she did, and she took me with her. I was 10 years old.
Sue Luby’s classes took place in a local community building that smelled musty and had dusty wood floors. I didn’t like that very much, but when we got down on the floor, Magic Happened. Sue had us doing stretches and twists and assuming all sorts of strange positions, and I LOVED it. I remember distinctly being in plow position with my legs over my head and my toes touching the floor and I glanced over at Mom (please don’t turn your head in plow position J) and saw that she was doing it too. And I thought, “This is very, very cool.”
I realize now how lucky I was to have been exposed to yoga at such a young age. I wasn’t an athletic girl; I couldn’t run fast and I had no upper body strength. But my body liked yoga and my heart liked it too. I can’t say that I practiced all the time from the age of 10 on, but throughout the years I always practiced some of it some of the time. Whenever I felt sore or stiff or tired, I’d always go back to the yoga poses.
It was around 1990 that I found my way back to a consistent, dedicated yoga practice. I can separate the rest of my yoga journey into four significant phases: The Maine Phase, The Scottsdale Phase, the Santa Fe Phase and the Punta Gorda Phase.
In Maine, I was taught by a teacher with an Iyengar background, which means that she focused strongly on proper alignment and holding the positions. It was here that I began to really understand the dynamics of the poses and their benefits.
When we moved to Arizona, I began taking vinyasa or “flow” yoga classes, and this became my practice for the next seven years. Vinyasa yoga was strong and fast and sweaty and fun. I gained strength and learned to challenge myself. When we were about to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico, my Scottsdale teacher asked me if I’d ever considered becoming a yoga teacher, and without thinking, I answered, “Yes.” I actually hadn’t really been considering this consciously, so I think it must have been my heart that answered the question.
I decided to take teacher training as soon as we moved to Santa Fe and by great good fortune, this turned out to be the home of master teacher Tias Little. Not only did he offer teacher training right in Santa Fe, but he owned a yoga studio there as well. Over the next several years I studied with Tias, completed his training program, took many of his workshops and practiced at his studio, YogaSource. (Tias is also Jennifer’s teacher.). Eventually I became a teacher there too.
Santa Fe is rich with yoga – the teachers at YogaSource came from many backgrounds, but most had a strong Iyengar influence and great depth of experience. It felt good to get back to an alignment-based focus and to learn daily from these exceptional teachers. The studio also brought master instructors from all over the world, so I felt like I was in a kind of Yoga Heaven.
It seems strange to realize that it wasn’t until Santa Fe that I began to understand that there is more to yoga than the physical practice. It was there that I first learned about the Eight Limbs, the Yoga Sutras and yoga philosophy. For the first time, I came to see yoga as a system for living that encompasses not just the physical poses, but also how we think about life and how we navigate the world and our relationships with others.
Now, here in Punta Gorda, I find myself again blessed to be part of a beautiful and caring yoga community. During my vinyasa and teacher-training years, I put a lot of attention on learning more challenging poses like handstand, headstand and forearm balances. I thought I’d never be able to do some of them, but with practice I did, and that felt great. But now my practice focuses more on doing simple things well. I like to really “work” the basic poses with a focus on understanding their dynamics and benefits in order to benefit not only my own body, but so that I can help students explore the poses safely and understand better why they are doing what we instruct them to do. I am also moving much more deeply into the spiritual side of yoga– exploring meditation and really trying to embrace the principles of yoga as a complete lifestyle that can bring happiness, peace and balance to my life.
P.S. Sue Luby eventually opened a yoga studio in Andover, MA, and 50 years later, it is still there.