Namaste: Yoga in the Garden

Sunshine, birdsong, the smell of blooming flowers, and yoga is the secret recipe to a happy day.

The Garden has its own spirit and if you listen, you’ll hear it calling you to your yoga mat. Back pressed into the sun-warmed concrete or the soft grass, you can find your center, confident that you are on solid ground. You can be free to rock your hips from side to side feeling as the tension disappears, making more room in your body and mind for the birdsong, sunshine and smell of blooming flowers to fill you.

For anyone who has ever stepped into the Cochrane Rose Garden and held their face up to embrace the sun, or felt the urge to stretch their arms up and plant their feet into the ground like roots — this is for you. On Tuesday mornings, Thursday mornings, and Thursday evenings you can stretch out your mat and join in our yoga practice. Classes are led by instructor Jacqueline Gooding, who’s been practicing since she was 12 and has taught for 13 years. Classes are affordable — especially for Garden members — and accommodate beginners as well as those who are more advanced in their practice. Sessions for the rest of the summer are pro-rated, so you can decide how many classes you want to attend in a session, which includes six, or just drop in for one session and see what you think.

Everyone who practices yoga has a story. What’s yours?

When I found out that the Garden offered yoga classes, I knew I had to attend one. My yoga story stretches back two years ago. I tried yoga shortly after getting diagnosed with a chronic pain disease. I was scared to strain my sick body but needed to move, to prove to myself that I still could move. Feeling my muscles wake up for the first time in months, stretching and reaching, I felt myself expanding. Progress was slow over the weeks, and I let my body take its time rebuilding lost confidence in my own strength. With each yoga practice, I grew, pushing myself a little further, reaching a little higher. It transformed my vision of myself as a young woman with a chronic pain disease. I stopped saying, “I can’t do that,” and began trusting in the fact that I could.

A year and a half after first beginning my yoga practice, I had built up enough strength and confidence in my body to do something I never thought I would when I first got sick: I packed my bags and went to study in Ireland for four months. Not a day went by while I was abroad that I didn’t push myself physically in new ways, whether it was walking all the way across Rome under a hot sun, dancing through the tulip fields in Amsterdam, or running through Dublin in the pouring rain. None of it would have been possible without the encouragement and patience my yoga practice taught me.

Classroom One has a lovely view of the gardens and lots of windows to let the light in.

On the Thursday morning I attended yoga class at the Garden, we were experiencing a hot spell with 90 degree temperatures outside, so class was held in Classroom One at the Kelly Education Center. This is standard practice for really hot or rainy days. But no matter where at in the Garden you’re practicing, you can tap into the same spirit that enchants the place. It transports you, like catching a whiff of wood smoke and suddenly remembering a late night years ago with s’mores around a campfire.

Gooding began the same way she starts every class by asking us, “What pains do you have?” Instead of scripting her classes, she waits to see what needs her students have, which of their muscles are tense and sore and caters the class to fit those needs. “This is our yoga,” she told me, explaining that she integrates unique forms of physical movement and combines a variety of different yoga disciplines into each practice. It’s new each time, and it’s personal. “People get warmed up and then surprise themselves with what they can do,” she explained. “There’s only one rule: don’t hurt yourself.”

It’s not everyday that you find yourself working somewhere that offers yoga, let alone encourages you participate as part of your day’s work. During my practice, I thought to myself, “I love this internship.”

I was pleasantly surprised with how gentle the class was, since I hadn’t practiced in a few months. Gooding always offers modifications to each pose, allowing you to make it more challenging, but I opted to ease myself back in. For an hour and fifteen minutes, I pulled my knees into my chest, rolled my neck slowly, reached with my arms to open my shoulders all while breathing deeply and focusing on what my body was telling me. I engaged my core muscles in poses meant to strike balance, and felt the tension ease from my lower back as I rocked against my mat and the solid earth. I stood tall in Tadasana — mountain pose — facing out the window, bursts of pink and red flowers catching my eye. I smiled for most of the class, until Gooding asked us to relax our jaw muscles, and even then I found it difficult not to smile.

Gooding was a fantastic instructor, frequently using the word “beautiful” to describe our bodies and our movement, shining a bright and encouraging light over the practice. She used rich language to describe our motions, from “the bowls of your hips” to “shoulders hugging your spine like a shawl draped over a hanger.” I felt no pressure to perform, to impress, to push myself harder than my body was ready for. At the end of the class, I felt lighter, my head clear, my spirit soaring. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so good, my body so free of pain.

Gooding has been known to call this pose — normally Downward Facing Dog — Dogward Facing Down. Yoga in the Garden is happiness.

Deb Hollandsworth, who has been taking yoga classes in the Garden for more than six years called Gooding’s class “restorative, peaceful, and spiritual.” Before class began, she told me, “It restores the mind and the body and the soul.” As I rolled my yoga mat slowly back up, I decided that Hollandsworth was absolutely right. I felt restored, at peace with my body and my chronic disease. I could hear the Garden’s spirit in the birdsong outside the window, and could feel the warmth of it moving through my body, riding in the shadows of my now-steady breaths. Yoga in the Garden lifts you up: it’s as powerful as that.

Whether you want to start your yoga story at the Garden, or simply continue it, your body and mind will thank you. I woke up the morning after the yoga class feeling sore, but the good sore. The sore that whispers, “You did something good for yourself” in your ear. The sore that makes you say, “Let’s do this again soon.”

How does next week sound?

Hands at heart’s center, we hope to see you in our yoga class soon. Namaste.


Originally published at www.lewisginter.org on August 5, 2016.

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