Andersen: The reluctant yogi
September 13, 2013
I'm 62 years old. I have ordered my life according to trial and error. My health and fitness come through familiar routines and exercises that work for me. Wilderness is my church. Nature is my religion. Such is the life gospel according to Paul.
For years I have made it a point to avoid fitness regimens, gyms, specialty diets, spiritual guides and anything that doesn't originate from my own native instincts. Until last week, I thought there was nothing new or profound for me in the corporeal realm.
A shift began months ago as my wife and I, empty nesters now that our son is away at college, have vowed to keep things fresh in our lives. "All things new" is the Andersen mantra, a pledge to rejuvenate our aging selves by embracing the unknown. The most recent example for me is yoga.
Yoga, the Hindu way toward peace and the door to Tibetan Buddhism, has been familiar for years. My wife does it. Friends do it. Some like it hot. Some like it cool. Some like it indoors. Some like it in nature.
I never thought yoga was for me because, as a parochial Westerner, I have found most of my gratification in Western pursuits, settings, ideas and philosophies. My eyes were finally opened Tuesday when I submitted, body, mind and spirit, to the Hatha yoga teachings of Gina Murdock. Gina, who founded the Aspen Yoga Society, invited me to attend one of her "Yoga in Nature" programs at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. Reluctantly, I agreed. All things new!
This program, which runs two more Tuesdays this fall (this week and Sept. 17) at 5:15 p.m., is by donation only. Gina gives her time to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, on whose board she serves, and what she provides is way beyond any dollar figure, anyway.
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I didn't know that then, however, so I equivocated, explaining to Gina that I wanted only to observe her program for future reference regarding a collaborative three-day "Wilderness and Yoga Seminar" she and I hope to run next summer. My reluctance to actually do yoga reflected my 60-plus years of close-minded stubbornness, an admittedly unenlightened character flaw.
"Yoga in Nature" changed all that in just one amazing hour, during which I became more flexible through physical stretches powerful enough to reach into the deep folds of my calcifying brain. By the end of the session, my reluctance had melted into humble appreciation for what Gina has to teach and for what yoga has to offer.
"Yoga in Nature" classes are held on elevated platforms at the edge of Hallam Lake. Aside from the distant drone of a leaf blower, the only sounds last week were the murmur of the Roaring Fork River and an occasional chorus of bird song. From the first position Gina directed me and a dozen other participants to perform, relaxation came easily. I was the only man in a class of women experienced in yoga, but my conspicuousness disappeared quickly as I melted into the quiet setting.
Yoga requires a series of challenging movements and positions, and I tried my best to follow Gina's examples to twist, bend, stretch, elevate and otherwise manipulate my body beneath the somber vault of a stormy summer sky. The blend of body and nature awakened something in me that was both stimulating and deeply soothing.
Some of the positions were iffy contortions, so I eased off on the more difficult ones and held on as long as I could to the others. The cumulative sensation was that of a penetrating warmth, the slowing of my breathing and the feeling that new channels were opening to the natural world.
What I previously would have judged as touchy-feely shifted to a heightened awareness of myself and the world around me. I still can't quite describe what I felt, but it stayed with me the rest of the evening with a buzz of energy wrapped in a calming mood. My connection with nature has perhaps never been more powerful.