Yoga: One Essay Only

“Yoga relaxes me,” says George Rodrigue.  “The minute Wendy starts her practice, I fall asleep.”

Recently a friend asked me why I never blog about yoga.  For fifteen years the practice infiltrates every part of my life, assisting me with decisions, anxiety, injuries, and relationships.
I promise, George, that if I attend this silent retreat, I’ll return a better wife, I explain annually prior to a week-long journey into mindfulness, without speech, eye contact or computers.
Trepidation keeps me from writing about yoga, the same concerns I feel in writing about modeling for George.  To me, most yoga books and essays reek of self-importance, the ironic result behind a compassionate intent.
-click photo to enlarge-
(pictured, our nephew William practices yoga last week in Tallahassee, Florida as part of his BMX training; notice George Rodrigue’s silkscreen on the right, My Future’s So Bright I’ve Gotta Wear Shades, 1993; on the left is my mother’s painting, Spring Bouquet, the basis for George Rodrigue’s Mignon’s Flowers, pictured below and detailed here-)

“Yoga,” explains George Rodrigue, who abides my practice without practicing himself, “is obviously a very disciplined activity, something between a sport and a meditation, depending on how you approach it.  It’s similar to painting where one keeps a serious concentration, dedication, and relationship to the art.  Both are exercises in discipline.”

I began a yoga practice during our first year of marriage.  It was my saving grace in dealing with a strong-willed mother-in-law who lived with us in Lafayette, Louisiana.  As I morphed quickly into someone I disliked, I embraced yoga, hoping to approach the people in my home and community with a kinder attitude.  For one hour each day I closed myself into the spare bedroom and repeated the same beginner’s tape:

“Relax your forehead…” 

…instructed yogi Alan Finger as I melted into Shavasana, or ‘Corpse Pose,’ following the active postures.  After ten months of this same instruction, I realized with surprise that my forehead, joining the rest of me, was relaxed already.

“Feel yourself undefended, wide open like the sky…” 

…suggests Erich Schiffmann in tape number two.  It was during this time that I experienced my first retreat, a week in the woods near Helena, Montana, attending daily classes and lectures by Schiffmann, embracing his mantra and “moving into stillness.”
(pictured, from the series Swamp Dogs by George Rodrigue-)
From the beginning, I practiced without my glasses.  Unable to focus on details in the room, my mind turns inward.  For me, the challenges of yoga lie not within a full straddle splits or headstand (neither of which are part of my practice), but rather in facing my internal world without distractions.
This summer, after fifteen years of daily practice, I spent three months without yoga.  

For years I’ve practiced on the road, even during marathon national book tours with George, sometimes traveling to twenty cities in a month.   I spread my travel mat on well-trodden hotel-room carpets, quieting my mind before the happy chaos of crowds —Rodrigue fans with dedications, collectors with questions, children with their own Blue Dog paintings.  Yoga keeps me grounded on these travels.  Strengthened by my practice, I greet strangers as friends.

“At least you have yoga!” 

…said my friends this summer as George and I lived between a Houston hotel room and hospital fighting his illness. 

Yet, during the time I most needed it, I couldn’t practice.  In the silence, the reality of our situation smothered me.  Each time I practiced, I fought against my emotions, and, for better or worse, I won.
(above:  the ‘fuzz’ also won, despite the dangers…)
Since returning to New Orleans in August, I embrace again a daily yoga practice, just as George again embraces painting.  It was difficult and frustrating battling my closed mind and body, and the first two months included only the gentle pull of Yin (long slow stretches) until I felt the call to move.  Through DVD, I turn to my current instructors, Sarah and Ty Powers of Marin County, California, and covet their wisdom as I intensify my home practice.
(pictured, with Sarah and Ty Powers in the Jean Lafitte Historic National Park and Preserve, January 2012)
I cultivate this re-entry into yoga with a ‘beginner’s mind.’ Past the frustration, I’m thankful for this opportunity to approach my practice anew, adding Yang asana (stronger, flowing postures) to the Yin and, cautiously, meditation to both.  Once again, I cling to a mantra, this one shared with Sarah by her teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, and with her students by Sarah, and now with you:

“Let be in equanimity.”

-in New Orleans, I also recommend Amanda Rubenstein-Stern at Wild Lotus Yoga

-for more art and discussion, join me on facebook

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