We’re a yoga farm.
By that, I don’t mean that our place is an oasis of tranquility and relaxation where people come to probe the depths of their mystical souls. There might be moments where those kinds of things happen, but that’s not what I mean.
Yoga practice here lately happens when it’s been gray and the kids are tired of being muddy and cold. We’re all climbing the walls. The animals are knee deep in mud and the solar batteries are so low we’re barely using lights. When the van won’t crank, and the laundry is piled high (with no sun to dry it even if it were clean), and there are fifteen half finished art projects scattered on the floor with two wooden tractors and a dozen matchbox race cars piled into the mix (forget room to lay out a mat). This is when I really do yoga now. With a deep breath, my feet firmly grounded, I bring my attention squarely where it belongs. It is truly a yoga practice to stay right here, and do what needs to be done, every day. I mean, that if I didn’t do yoga, I wouldn’t be able to work on this farm, or probably any farm.
My experience of yoga hasn’t always been this way. Though I have a strong will toward this kind of living, simple and full with the practical labors of living, my body has not always complied with my intentions. About twenty years ago, early in my college days, I was playing around on Fall Break, and took a jump that turned into a bad fall, landing on my tailbone and preventing me from touching my toes for the remainder of the weekend. I learned that I could “throw” my back pretty easily after that. I also recognized that a bad back is a poor precursor to the simple life. So, after a few feeble attempts with chiropractors, I began to practice yoga. It was the only thing that kept me out of trouble. Sort of. Mostly.
A few years later, after a long international airplane ride and a night out dancing, I found myself flat on my back again. I had waded in the shallows of yoga practice, using it when I was well and when it was convenient. In an amazing string of good fortune and coincidence I met Gary and Mirka Kraftsow. I went from the river of yoga into the broad and deep ocean. As far as I can tell, the primary limits of yoga’s potential are those in the depth and breadth of our own minds. With these teachers I learned to really live with my body’s structure. I developed new and deeper strength, and learned how to adapt in the times when I am not so strong. More importantly I began to discern when I was in danger of injury. My eyes were opened to the reality of how yoga can really be a practice for anybody, not just the people we see in the magazines doing extreme back-bends and pretzel poses.
I practice yoga because in its science and art it engages all of me. I move (asana), I breathe (pranayama), and my mind, my whole life, are transformed, smoothed, illuminated. Yoga isn’t a religion; there is no theology present in the core of the teaching, but there are great maps, so to speak, of the human being, and the tools and invitation to hone ourselves, mentally, physically, and spiritually, into the best person we can be. What a terrific challenge!
I continued to work with Gary and Mirka’s organization, The American Viniyoga Institute (AVI), eventually paying my way through their extensive teacher training program by working in their office. My now-radical-farmer-husband was assisting at my teacher training. I spent these childless years creating and internalizing this amazing practice. What began with the fall, began to fall into place. Yoga brought me to where I am.
I teach yoga too (three times a week – everyone welcome), to maintain the challenge for myself, and share it with others. It helps keep me fresh. Structuring the sequence of a class is like planning a farm crop rotation, on your feet. Viniyoga, the name of this method that I work from, emphasizes function over form. In these open classes, we’re not trying to make these shapes with our bodies. We’re creating the benefit of the shape in the way that suites each body best, breathing, and laughing a lot. It’s amazing, how beautiful every body becomes, when moved with greater freedom and ease. It’s wonderful, the restfulness that falls on people’s faces, when they breathe deeply and more deeply relax.
Here on the yoga farm, personal exercise routines are as variable as the day. Should I roll out a mat, there is often a child on my back, and another one asking me to watch her latest gymnastic feat or see her fairy drawing. It will be years before I will practice quietly alone again. And so the yoga work is internal; to be present, attentive and flexible to the needs of my family, and the land we tend. I hope that our children will learn from watching us take the moments that we do. Though yoga-asana has been the best working tool to strengthen my back and heal it when it hurts, the real yoga now is practiced deep inside with the hope that it will reflect in a greater state of equilibrium and beauty in the world around us.