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My 50-Year Journey with Yoga

(Me with Nathan, 3, and daughter Maribeth not yet one)

It’s hard to believe that my baby boy turned 50 this week! I wonder how he can be that old when I’m the one who feels 50 — not even close to my birthday number of 74 next month. We had a joyful family celebration to welcome his new decade, right down to his nephews finding a way to “fall” into the pool and get a first-of-the-season swim before the night was over.

(Birthday boy front right with my brother Kenny in blue. Ron and I on the left)

For me, his birth marked not only the change in my role—for from then on, I’d always be a mother — but it marked my introduction to yoga. My dear mother-in-law, Jean Colker, was a survivor of the first magnitude: a young girl overcoming the death of both her parents, the Great Depression, and the sudden death of her first husband before their first child was born. Jean was tough but could also be sensitive and always observant. I believe she wanted my new motherhood to be so different from hers that when she saw the local YMCA was hosting a Mother’s Day Out morning program, she volunteered to watch over her new grandson.

It was at this program I was first introduced to yoga, so I established March 1972 as the beginning of my personal yoga practice.

In celebrating my 50 years of doing yoga, I don’t want anybody to think that for all these years I’ve been on the mat every day or even every week. Lots of distractions over 50 years! Another child to celebrate—a girl this time—a life-changing move to Austin in 1977 to start a new business, and then its collapse, along with the collapse of my first marriage.

Many joyful new beginnings during these years, though, as I went to college for the first time at the University of Texas at Austin. I was classified as a SOTA, a Student Older Than Average. Being a Presidential Scholar for my last two years, graduating with Highest Honors, for sure a time when I lost track of my mat yoga practice, squeezing in study time instead. Working downtown Austin at a bank—boy, were they surprised to see their “wunderkind” candidate was actually almost 40. Not lasting a year in the corporate crush, I landed a job in a small magazine publishing company. Not knowing what a “Fulfillment Coordinator” was, I applied simply because the phone number in their want ad was the same exchange as mine, making them close to home.

Starting out in circulation, the heart of any publication, made it easy to absorb everything I could from a job that began with just typing address labels. By the time I left my publishing career, I had become a Circulation Director, Sales Manager and Publisher of a technical cluster of magazines, before creating my own company and technical journal with writer-husband Ron. That last one is a job I still hold as publisher/muse and wife.

(Celebrating 10 years of our paper-baby, the 3000 NewsWire in 2005)

Having been married at 19, I got to fall in and out of love as an adult to find my perfect pairing with Ron, a marriage going on 32 years now. Embracing the role of stair-mom (sounds better than stepmother) to his then-7-year-old son putting aside my dreams of moving to LA to land a job in a publishing conglomerate. That same boy, who is now a 39-year-old man, who with his wife has gifted us with those two very-wet grandsons to go with our two grandgirls, who live in Houston with my daughter.

(A warmer weather swim with all the Grands)

So, what does this all have to do with my yoga practice?

It’s easier than it seems, for it’s not just about my time on the mat or studying with yoga luminaries, Lilias Folan, Judith Lasaster and Eric Schiffmann. Or being introduced to Kripalu, the yoga of compassion, by gifted Austin yoga teacher Nina Beucler. Or going on to grow under the guidance of Rebecca Kronlage at Kripalu, putting me on the path to teach and understand yoga poses and their purpose.

(Dancing with Lilias Folan at her Women’s Retreat at Feathered Pipe Ranch)

When you practice yoga, it’s not really about how much you do or when. It’s not really about creating an unbreakable chain of some self-determined kind. Once you have your yoga practice, it will be with you always. It may start on the mat, or in the chair, but it doesn’t end there. Standing on my head in my thirties while Johnny Carson did his monologue seemed a great way to integrate yoga into my busy day. But now my yoga practice is about my learning how to grieve the loss of that prowess, finding a way to be just as fulfilled with being able to do Legs-Up-the-Wall instead.

The things you may think of as the part to rush through, or maybe even skip altogether — beginning breathing and final relaxation— turn out to be the most lasting and the most beneficial, especially in your most stressful times. It’s why I can celebrate 50 years of yoga without having regularly ticked off a box on a to-do list.

Once you practice yoga it will wrap you up like a warm blanket when times are cold. It will become your invisible net to catch you when you fall — and we all fall and most of us usually more than once. Yoga will always be with you, helping you move when stuck in the mire, but more importantly, helping you to find and to be your best Self even when you really don’t want to be. When all seems dark, yoga will be there to help light your way.

This is just a glimpse of my journey with yoga. This journey continues to be one that I’m happy to share each week, each class, each conversation. It’s such an honor to be your guide in yoga as you join me both on and off the mat or now chair.

For each of you, I celebrate with gratitude into my yoga year 51.

Singing favorite song from Kismet "Olive Tree" at Kripalu graduation celebration June, 2004

 

Why I Practice Tadasana

 

We find ourselves standing hundreds of times a week, so what’s the big deal about working on Tadasana?

On the mat Tadasana, Mountain pose, helps us find perfect alignment of our frame so our muscles strengthen evenly, allowing us to stand with support and ease. I have pictures of my Tadasana feet from all over. At my favorite hotel, the Blue Sea in San Diego.

Inside the Paramount Theatre on their beautifully restored carpet.

In the sand on beaches—in Mexico, both oceans, plus the Gulf.

In last year’s surprise snow here in Austin.

The longest I’ve stood in Tadasana was close to two hours in San Antonio on the Riverwalk. Ron and I stood waiting for the Spurs’ barges to come by as we all celebrated their fifth NBA Championship in 2014.

I have stood in Tadasana for practical reasons: in line at the HEB, or at Petco waiting for vet services for our new puppy Ella, or ages ago at the post office. I have also stood in Tadasana for fun, like hosting our 2022 New Year’s Eve Sock Hop with the grandkids.

While these are all good reasons to be able to stand upright with ease, last Saturday night I discovered my deepest motivation to work on Tadasana.

It was simple. There are no chairs in Room 8 at the St. David’s South Hospital intensive care unit. When you come to realize this may be your last time to see a dear friend, you want to be able to stand for as long as you can. A one-sided conversation can still take up a lot of time to chat—catching up, dishing dirt, and saying all the things you want to say so you don’t wake up in the middle of the night wishing you had told her this or that.

You want to be able to stand long enough to sing made-up ditties to her. “A blessing on your head Maggie Rhode, Maggie Rhode,” based on a song from Fiddler on the Roof. You don’t want your feet, ankles, or back to start hurting—you want to sound cheerful, even though you’ve been told she cannot hear you. You don’t want to run out of time to sing Happy Trails to You, written by Dale Evans—a song, it turned out, Mags heard nightly as a little girl being tucked into bed by her dad.

You practice Tadasana—and all of yoga—so you can be your Best Self off the mat when you need it the most.

Deep thanks to all of you who have held Maggie in Light and Love over the past four months as our Happy Baby. It’s been a long, yet short journey for her, fighting off cancer. As they say in Cool Runnings, “Peace be the journey.” From here in Austin Amy’s Ice Cream tells us to “Eat dessert first.” However, I feel it was best expressed by songwriter Warren Zevon, who advised us to “Enjoy every sandwich.” Zevon’s signature song about life and death reminding us all to “keep me in your heart for a while.”

Rest in Peace, as you continue the great adventure, Margaret “Maggie” Rhode (1956-2022) with beloved sisters Sue (left)  and Amy (center).

Please know I do take requests for Happy Baby – it can be for anyone for any reason, including celebrating a new baby!

 

 

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