First of all let me say thank you for the kind welcome from Trinity with Palm Grove Methodist Church who for so many years have allowed our yoga class in their delightful prayer room. This does not go unappreciated by me as I am aware that certain Christian groups are not always comfortable with the concept of yoga. That is probably only because they do not realise what yoga truly is, techniques to be used for a variety of reasons for example well being, managing stress, sleeping better, flexibility exercise or as spiritual practice which underpins all faiths and religions.
Yoga means to join together body and mind and has practices going back for thousands of years. The form of yoga I practice is a very gentle form called Integral yoga, which has been adapted for the West. I also bring in aspects of Tai Chi and we can at least once a year be seen practising Zen walking under the pink cherry blossoms at the side of the church…whether they like it or not! (that is walking mindfully in slow motion and entertains the passers by right royally.)
Ours is a long standing group with most drawn from the parish and with a joint age older than Methuselah. (969 years I believe!).
As for myself, I have been practising yoga for over 40 years now and took my yoga teacher training when I was pregnant with my second son who is now 32.I know it has helped me through the varied adventures life has sent my way, opportunities for learning both positive and negative. As a classroom teacher I have been privileged to share them in many schools and with families under stress.
So let me introduce you to our wonderful class, the core of whom has been with me for many years now.
J. has been with me initially as a friend of a neighbour for 34 years when I invited them into my house when as a young Mum I had no money spare to go to a class. We are both now in our 60’s and young at heart. How can life slip by so quickly?
A. our sprightly early octogenarian has always opened the door to let us in, cleared the chairs and made sure we were warm and welcomed (with occasionally dressing up as Father Christmas…he thinks we don’t know the truth!).R. astonishing elder that she is has been with me over 30 years. This is not her by the way!
G. who saves my disorganised life and collects the money, P. and B. who keep us all entertained between holidays and have been around for nearly 25 years. Pa. has been with us for 18 years, with a gap for ballroom dancing of 10 (but she is forgiven) and S. for 12 years plus. Then there is D. who has been here for 10 years interspersed by Spanish learning experiences. L. our new girl and baby is in her 40’s and treks very bravely from Liverpool to darkest Birkenhead.
Over these many years we have only lost Hilda early on and Joy a few years ago, but otherwise we rather creakingly continue minus the headstands nowadays, adapting and fitting into the present mindful moment, accepting gracefully the passage of years. (and sometimes not so graciously).
I wanted to celebrate them all and thank them for their loyalty over the years. They have turned up week after week, sunshine or snow and we have stretched, breathed and tied ourselves into knots (not quite true) but we have meditated, relaxed.
We have prayed for healing for ourselves, our loved ones both present and past as well as the world (it still hasn’t worked in the case of the world anyway) but we keep relentlessly on!). I have allowed a miserable 30 minutes at the end of the year for the Christmas party, a very yoga party with non alcoholic sparkling fruit juice and vegetarian sausage rolls…(we know how to live and I have full accepted that there will be no second career in party planning.) Still it is our party; R. always gives a wonderful thank you speech and a variety of glorious knitted adornments for the Christmas tree, with a little something for me to buy socks so I won’t shame them with my holy ones. My feeble attempts however to make subtle links between souls, soles and holy seems to escape them however, or are they just being polite?
A few years ago I noticed that nobody has shrunk noticeably or become bent as we have become more sophisticated and mature. I wondered whether they had noticed also and thought it might be nice to ask them how practising yoga all these years had impacted on their lives even though the truth is their favourite posture is savasana the corpse pose , wrapped in a blanket whilst I tell them a story…well a guided journey at least.
Yoga is for everyone of any age, ability, colour, gender or creed; your individual soul can take whatever it needs at the time to help it grow. Yoga keeps you healthy and there is much research to show how the practices can slow down the process of ageing, keeping us as healthy as we can be as well as young…ish.
Here are a few of their comments:
‘Thirty-five years of yoga with a lovely group that has slowly mutated over the years. Now with an interesting age range from a forty year old to a young at heart ninety-seven years old. We are still stretching and moving and keeping our backs straight. We spend a lot of time breathing and expanding our lungs and at times alternate nostril breathing whilst circulating air and temperature. We adapt to circumstances but always as a group staying together and joining with new ideas and thoughts. Everyone’s opinion is valid and past experiences reflected upon and related to current matters. It is a diverse group maintaining suppleness of mind and body; exercise and meditation. Not many groups have such commitment and knowledge with our teacher taking us down both the less and well trodden paths over the last thirty-five years. It is a rich mixture of old and new, the sublime and the ridiculous, together we appreciate the achievements of physical and mental agility.’
‘Generally I feel better, more relaxed, wouldn’t miss it for the world I tell others about the breathing when I see them stressed. It feels like a family where everyone fits in’.
‘Breathing is so beneficial, I do the Heartbreath when I go to bed and tell others about it too.’
‘I just love it, the breathing and gentle exercises, tense and relax…I do them in bed every day and when I am watching T.V or waiting for a bus…’
‘I enjoy the lovely group and atmosphere in the room itself. There are such a variety of things that we do, ideas and theories, philosophy and talking to others to get another perspective. I am aware of my breathing and posture as I go about my daily business.’
‘I enjoy the company; I relax more and use the breathing exercises if I can’t sleep. Gentle exercises keep me flexible and I really notice a difference if I miss the class with aches and pains quickly catching up with me.’
‘It helps keep me balanced and I haven’t had to take pain killers for my back and post heart surgery. It certainly reduced my anxiety levels and settles me down to stop worrying in case the problem comes back. I still do keep fit and like to keep myself healthy. I hope it always continues’
‘When I started many years ago, I felt my heart was breaking and yoga gave me my ’self’ back again. I have learned so much about my body and mind, managing everything in my life better, loving the stories and the group where I feel cared for, differently to anywhere else. It is the long time of practicing that has helped me understand myself and life so much better.’
‘Yoga has helped me be more patient and understand how agitation and anxiety can influence your life; it has had a calming effect on me especially in stressful times. The length of time, over 10 years has enabled me to build up relationships and connections outside the group’
This last comment is from the only member of the group still working (except myself of course!). She came into a long standing group and quickly became part of it bringing her own articulate gifts to share with the rest of us!’
“As the baby of the group I felt safe, accepted and a sense of belonging and coming home to myself which began right from the first session. The group radiated a beautiful energy of warmth, genuineness, wisdom and maturity, and a great sense of nurturing fun. All these qualities help to create and cultivate a unique environment for self healing. My yoga practice makes space in my body physically, releases tension, and calms my mind, The practice of concentrating on the breath and concentrating on the body has helped to calm my mind as well as switching the focus away from the constant chatter and worries, remaining mindful in the present moment as opposed to thinking of the past or the future. Yoga has also helped to increase my body awareness and thereby help me to learn to recognise when I am feeling stressed or holding myself in a state of tension. Using some of the breathing techniques taught in yoga has helped me to reduce this tension and relax while incorporating stretching and deep breathing has definitely enhanced my psychological wellbeing. Gaining insight and clarity in to these patterns has given me the freedom of choice to develop or change these patterns. Through regular practice I enjoy a clearer mind and I feel encouraged and inspired to be constantly expanding and improving my own life. The proof is in the practice of experiencing my life outside yoga. I feel empowered for the first time to make learning and development possible. Most of all I am learning to become and express the person I most want to be, myself.
I hope you have enjoyed hearing about our yoga class and that I have been able to share and celebrate this wonderful unique set of human beings who have helped me grow and learn and provided a safe place for me to share my stories.