A YogaHotDish Travelogue by Guest Blogger Diana Grace

One of my earliest memories of what yoga was all about was the “Maggie” show on PBS in the 1970s.  Maggie Lettvin hosted a yoga program called Maggie and The Beautiful Machine.

As a very young girl, I would watch Mom do poses along with this TV program. Maggie seemed a very calm and kind person, which I appreciated as a quiet child.

Growing up as an unathletic kid, I was somewhat awkward, quite shy, and not physically flexible. Memories include stressful kickball games in elementary school and junior high soccer (I was the only kid during sitting leg stretches who was not able to reach to their feet. I hardly made it to my knees.) Why do people assume if you are tall and slender that you are automatically flexible and bendy? Wrong!

Gym class was never fun for a reserved, artistic kid like me. Swimming lessons took all the fun out of summer mornings. If memory serves, I took beginners’ swimming at least twice and was the tallest and oldest kid in the class. Fun times! However, my short-lived ballet classes were not too terrible – I got to take private lessons with just me and my best friend. Luckily our ballet instructor put up with two gangly, clumsy teens very sweetly. 

As an adult, walking (and very occasional aerobic exercises like Jane Fonda workouts) was my main physical activity. After a divorce, I did sign up for regular weight training sessions and found I enjoyed it (what?) and had great results. It did help my flexibility somewhat but most importantly was a huge help psychologically as well as physically.  I discovered that exercising the body could simultaneously exorcise some of my mental demons. I eventually looked forward to time at the gym as a welcome destressing session. 

Shaila’s class was my first and only yoga class. After my success with weight training, I went online to search for yoga classes nearby, and boy did I hit the jackpot with finding Yoga Hotdish. NO mirrors, music, or overdosing on “woo-woo” spiritualism (although I do like a bit of that). Also, no fast-paced “vinyasa flow,” which appeared to be all the rage but didn’t seem the best choice for the over-40 crowd, or anyone else for that matter. When it comes to yoga, one size (or type of yoga) does not fit all. Shaila’s class was just yoga, meditation, and self-acceptance – or at least the beginnings of it. Plus, plenty of pose modification for those who needed help due to poor flexibility, lousy posture, balance issues, injury, illness, or just having the wrong kind of arm socket/hip socket/foot shape, etc. That means it covers just about everybody!

Did I also mention breathing? I learned I was a very shallow breather. Who knew? Bringing focus to my breath was an eye-opener and brought me welcome calmness and peace. Breathing better also seemed to help improve my skin and general circulation. Breath is one thing we take for granted. I like that Shaila reminds her students many times throughout class to “breathe.” Focusing on one’s breath can help with balance, meditation, and holding a pose. 

I also love that we try and do outdoor yoga as much as possible, which is not always easy in Minnesota! I used to be more “indoorsy,” but now I realize that I get so much peace and healing from being in nature. It greatly helps to get away from the busy world and reconnect with the earth.

Over the past ten years attending Shaila’s class, I have had my ups and downs. Some years I participated at least twice a week and saw great results with increased strength, better balance, toning, and flexibility. In recent years I struggled to get myself to yoga class, but I did manage to make a ten-minute stretching session before bed a somewhat regular occurrence. Some nights it is just child’s pose, cat/cow pose, balancing table pose, and sphinx pose with hopefully a little spinal twist at the end. 

The most surprising and somewhat unsettling event that happened to me during a yoga class at least a couple of times was what Shaila describes as “stuff coming up from the basement.”

What this means is that you experience deep emotions that seem to come out of nowhere. They can be happy, sad, confusing, but all they are trying to do is tell you something. Maybe it is just your body thanking you for paying attention to its needs. The mind-body connection is real. Those subtle (or not so subtle) body aches and pains are messengers. Sometimes emotions come because you are feeling (and finally paying attention to) the need for self-love and acceptance. Not for the person you want to be in the future when you fix this and that, but for the soul you are right at this moment.

I must admit that this past year was a particular challenge due to family obligations, career upheaval, political and social unrest, as well as a “little” virus that took over the world. It’s been one heck of a wake-up call for many and has been a good excuse to re-examine health and lifestyle choices.

I am so thankful to have found yoga and Shaila’s class for so many reasons, but I think my favorite is that I’ve learned to accept imperfection. Occasionally I have come to class with a migraine or bad back. At those times, I only do a sitting meditation and maybe a few easy poses with more emphasis on breathing, healing, and being kind and loving to myself

No matter what, I come to the mat with whatever version of me is available that day. It may not always look great or feel great, but that is of very little importance. I just show up and let my body and breath guide me to listen to the messages they try to provide.

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Shaila Cunningham

Shaila Cunningham

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