When my daughter Meredith and I were writing The Seven Women Project, we made sure we carved out time each week to communicate and write. The book has been out for a few years now, and we both agree that we do not spend enough time together. That said, Meredith asked me if I would like to spend a weekend with her on a yoga retreat in the Berkshires. I thought, at the time, that that sounded like a lovely idea—a yoga retreat, how relaxing! Although I did not do much yoga, Meredith assured me that I had nothing to fear; it would be low key and rather basic.
So Meredith took the lead and made reservations for “Desiree Rumbaugh’s Yoga to the Rescue” weekend in Kripalu. Kripalu is a center for yoga, spiritual development, and healing, and it is located in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The brochure says it’s the perfect place to relax, regenerate, and redefine your life. No TV, no wine, and no talking at breakfast!
We arrived just in time for Friday night dinner (which was very healthy, organic, and surprisingly delicious), and then right after dinner, we were off to the first two hour yoga session. When we arrived the room was full of both men and women sitting on their mats ready to go. I soon discovered that I was the least experienced yogi in the room! Desiree told us that we were going to learn the basics principles of alignment, and how anyone can learn to apply them in yoga poses and in everyday life. Sounded simple enough—and then we started.
I soon discovered that just standing (the mountain pose) required concentration, and as we bent over, we were told, “Hug feet and shins together; think about tearing the mat apart with your feet and take your thighs back; pull your rib cage in and widen your back, and scoop your tailbone down and squeeze your heels together. Now feel the pose!” I was starting to sweat!
Two hours on Friday night, five hours on Saturday, and two on Sunday—and I have to admit I loved it. I was challenged to the core and almost didn’t attend the Sunday session. I had work through the fear, dig way down, focus, and let go of my inner critic—and I did it!
Here are some of the things I took away with me from the weekend:
1. Pushing your Edge: How far do you push? How much do you stretch? How deep do you go into a pose? In yoga, each person has to identify their personal limits. If you don’t go far enough, there is no challenge and your body does not have the opportunity to open and get the full benefit. But going in too deep hurts! And you can injure yourself. The idea is to find the balance between the two— pushing right to the point before the pain—going deep enough to get to your body’s edge.
2. Yoga should not hurt: But my knees hurt! And I was saying, “Yikes, I can’t do that pose.” Here is what I discovered: when you have pain, there is always an adjustment or modification to the pose. To alleviate my knees screaming out at me, I had to elevate my pelvis by adding folded blankets between my thighs and calves (you could use a block or a pillow), and then sit back onto the blankets for several minutes. There is always a modification—but yoga should not hurt!
3. Effort and surrender: The first day I found myself struggling to hold a pose. My legs were trembling; my balance was shaky, and it felt a bit awkward. And then if that wasn’t challenging enough, we were asked to let go of our tension in body and breath. Combining effort and surrender sounds like a total contradiction, but they explain that while struggling to hold a pose, you are to let go and breathe; you are to be both alert and relaxed at the same time.
Desiree’s Wisdom Warrior Session in Del Mar
4. Practicing yoga does not have an expiration date: We are living longer—and I learned that you can do yoga up until the end of the line. The secret is in doing it correctly. Most of the injuries that we hear about happen because the instructor is not showing the correct alignment. Once you master the Universal Principles of Alignment and apply them to each pose, you not only get better, you feel better!
It’s been three weeks now since the retreat. I have been to several yoga classes here in Houston, but I find that just spending 15 minutes each morning doing a few sun salutations and other stretches (with proper alignment) that I am feeling more energized and happier!
So what’s my big take-away from the weekend. I discovered that I have been very hard on myself—judgmental and self-critical. At times I am my own worst enemy. In class (and in life), I found myself comparing myself to others who were more skilled , more flexible, in better shape, and who had been practicing yoga for years—and I was continually apologizing for my shortcomings. (Poor me!)
As the retreat days moved towards the end and I saw my progress, I stopped beating myself up. I respected what I had accomplished, and I was feeling a kindness towards myself. I actually had self-compassion and I liked it. I am going to use yoga as my reminder that a little self-love makes me feel more secure, more accepted, and more alive!
Namisde! and thanks Desiree and Meredith