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oga is peace of mind, body and spirit. Its universal appeal offers many benefits. You may ask, “Why would I want to explore yoga?” Initially it may be to become more flexible—to be healthier, to take your mind away from worries. Yoga can be those things, but also something more—or maybe something less. Practicing yoga is a truly effective way to unwind, relax and yet be super-conscious of everything and nothing at once. In those sweet moments, obstacles to peace vanish. Often considered merely an exercise option, yoga itself is more a state of calm—though the term yoga can refer to the actual routine, concept of union or both. Originating in India thousands of years ago, Yoga systems may appear foreign, yet parallels exist between its practices and our daily lives. Just as some people are more physical, mental, devotional, do good deeds or combinations thereof, the classical systems of yoga reflect and focus on one, some or all of our best temperaments and tendencies.

Yoga instructor Valerie Midgett lends her skilled hands to Lesley Hudson, gracefully performing the “Inclined Plane” yoga pose at Neighborhood Yoga in Boone. 120

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“Now more than ever there is a need for inner peace.”

An Interview

with Valerie Midgett of Neighborhood Yoga of Boone

Why did you build Neighborhood Yoga in Boone? My hope was that if I built it that they would come. They have come and that has been great. I feel that if people want to find us they will find us. It was less about building a studio and more about building community.

How did you get into yoga?

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ost styles of yoga taught in the West are derived from Hatha Yoga, which helps practicioners develop control over physical and physiological states through specific poses called asanas, or breathing and relaxation techniques. This is the yoga we usually hear about. Hatha is a Sanskrit word, translated “sun-moon,” that means balance. Sanskrit is the ancient Indian language of yoga and its teachings, but learning or using the Sanskrit terms is not required or, in many yoga classes, not even used. Yoga’s compatibility with modern day-to-day life recently dawned close to home. I asked my father Nick how he was doing and what he’d been up to. He told me of his yard work, of his and Mom’s exercise class at the YMCA and of his new yoga class. He wants to stay healthy, be relaxed, pain-free and maintain flexibility. He found a yoga-for-seniors class near his home and attends when he can. Now that’s inspirational, considering he began yoga just prior to turning 80. Throughout human existence, one could nearly always say, “Now more than ever there is need for inner peace.” And for 122

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some, tough times become a personal wake-up call to find calm within turmoil. We go on diets, exercise kicks, stir our religious fervor, explore hobbies, hug trees—all good things, yet often transitory. By working at happiness—as if it is somehow outside ourselves or distant—we may be placing it on a shelf just out of reach. Perhaps things are easier than we think. Along comes yoga and it says, “Hey, we all already are a very beautiful complete living being, capable of much, and all we have to do is remain calm.” Yoga reveals this quite naturally by simple practice. Finding out about yoga is easier than ever these days. You may hear about it from friends or family. You can take a class from a qualified teacher, find out about it in books, the Internet, from libraries, local or international yoga centers, television or videos. The High Country features several local options for exploring yoga. In downtown Boone, Valerie Midgett has dedicated her life to sharing yoga with the community in a grand way. She and her husband Ed have, by design, built the Neighborhood Yoga center on Water Street from the ground up exclusively for yoga. Yoga in our contemporary Western culture of a new millenni-

What brought me into yoga— what brings a lot of people into yoga—was the physical part. It was a great balance for some of the other physical things I was doing like dance. It wasn’t until years into the practice I realized there was so much more to yoga than the physical benefits. And that’s when it opened up a whole new world to me. That is the road that keeps me coming back to yoga again and again and will keep me in yoga as a lifelong practice. Of course I still love the physical. I’m a very physical person and that part appeals to me—all the postures. It was not until later that I found out there was this whole other world of emotional, spiritual, ethical aspects that are all yoga. What I’ve found over the years is that what I learn on my mat during my asana (postures) practice, whether it be compassion, whether it be non-judgment, acceptance, all of the things that I explore and learn from my yoga practice I can apply to the rest of my life. So that it is not just this self-serving practice for me but one that affects everybody around me as well. What it allows me to do is take my yoga off the mat. Through my asana practice I can hone in on those things. I can practice mindfulness, and then from there I can take that into the world. Rather than react to the world emotionally, instead I can act with mindfulness and integrity. And that is what my yoga practice has brought me. That is what is most dear to me. To me, everything is yoga. Everything is yoga! It is that idea of union. So I think that in every aspect of our life we can learn through yoga. Whether that union is with your own body, your mind, your breath or with your inner self, the divine self. Whatever it is, it is all yoga. I think it just teaches us a lot of these lessons.

What about options for seniors? We had a 95-year-old woman in class recently and she was my inspiration as a teacher. Her daughter brought her here. As far as someone coming here who is 80 years old, I would send them not to the basic class be-

cause basic does not necessarily mean gentle; I would suggest that they go to the gentle class. The gentle class can be for anybody. It can be for an octogenarian, it can be for somebody that is recovering from an injury, somebody who has just experienced childbirth or maybe just someone with a very limited range of motion. It is not just for the elderly. But there is a difference between basic and gentle. In basic we really take time to break down very specific alignment for individuals within the postures. Not that we are not doing that in gentle but we’re taking a different approach and emphasis. I would also like to address our teacher-training program. Some individuals go through the nine-month training specifically to teach, while others are more interested in deepening their own practice and experiencing some of the other aspects of yoga including the philosophical and spiritual aspects. Those teachers are now going out into the community and taking yoga way beyond the setting of the studio. They are teaching at places like Watauga Youth Network, Crossnore School, OASIS, the pubic schools, Hospitality House, with breast cancer patients, pulmonary patients and in the Latino and Hispanic community and beyond. They are teaching in all different aspects of the community. That of course really reflects the studio in such a positive light and demonstrates where yoga can take people. There is a yoga class and teacher out there for anyone who keeps an open mind about it. You’re never too old or too young. Our youngest students here are newborns or actually not even born yet. We do pre-natal and mama-baby yoga. We are also part of a nonprofit chapter called Karma Krew. We go out into the community every month. We take yoga into the community and do a service project with a particular organization. So we have been to the community gardens, we have been up to Beech Mountain to Genesis Wildlife, up to Elk Knob doing trail maintenance, we’ve been to OASIS—the list goes on and on. That is part of our community service project. In addition to about 15 classes a week in various levels and styles of yoga, we also do an annual yoga retreat, this year in Maya Tulum, Mexico from November 21 to 28.

Is there anything you would like to share about yoga in general? I would like to leave you with a quote from one of my teacher’s teachers, Swami Satchidananda: “Yoga is not about how flexible or how strong you are, but instead it’s about having an easeful body, peaceful mind and useful life.” Namaste.

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Many yoga poses are not difficult. Octogenarians Nick and Dorothy Bush practice “Mountain Pose” which improves, posture, balance and self-awareness.

um is evolving and taking on many forms, some more authentic than others. Yoga techniques emerged as procedures to restore wholeness. Yoga is not a religion and is practiced by followers of all traditions as well as by those of no affiliations. Anyone can practice yoga. One of the clearest explanations describes Yoga as a unification of attention and awareness with our essence of being.

Yoga is classically taught from teacher to student of any age, interest and background, from many levels of motivation and abilities. Originally it was passed down through oral tradition, and then sometime around 2,500 years ago a scholar from India is credited with writing a revealing, concise but comprehensive manual on yoga known as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. This guidebook in its first threads

of wisdom basically explains: Yoga is a calm mind, which reveals peace. Otherwise, stuff happens. The book goes on to elaborate on yoga’s components: leading a responsible wholesome life, exercising your mind and body, relaxing and ultimately being clear or realizing we already are clear once calm. The eight components of yoga are: ethical living, moral soundness, healthy posture, breathing with vitality, worthy focus, openness, meditative calm and oneness. Meditation is also yoga. Meditation and yoga techniques encourage healthiness of mind and body. Roy Eugene Davis, a Western authority on yoga stated, “Meditation and yoga are natural processes of withdrawing attention from external conditions and directing it inward to a chosen focus of concentration. Side-benefits of regular meditation and yoga have been widely reported. These can include stress reduction, strengthening of the body’s immune system, improving powers of concentration, memory and slowing of biologic aging processes. For these reasons, regular meditation and yoga are now increasingly recommended by many physicians and other health practitioners.”

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A Simple

Meditation Technique

Meditation is also yoga. Meditation and yoga techniques encourage healthiness of mind and body. Here is a simple meditation exercise.

1. In a quiet place, find a comfortable upright-seated position. 2. Close your eyes, breathe and relax. 3. As you breath in, mentally recite, hear or feel “calm.” As you breathe out, mentally recite, hear or feel “peace.” Any word or phrase you relate to can be used in the technique above. Synchronize the word or phrase with your natural breathing rhythm for 10 minutes or more. Try it every day for a week, then longer if you like. Should you at any point in meditation find yourself residing in thought-free silence, just abide there in the stillness and leave off the technique.

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Blowing Rock EstatE JEwElRy Below: Master sitar musician Hasu Patel and her student Todd Bush reunited for a tour of yoga ashrams of India this year are shown here in Baligai. Hasu performs concerts and workshops on yoga’s connection with music. Photo by Anil Patel

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Top: Meditation retreat attendees in “Cobra Pose”

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during morning Hatha Yoga classes. This pose or posture can be done a number of ways, including gently without much stretch. Like many yoga

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poses, the “Cobra Pose” is best practiced while observing physical limitations and under the guidance of a qualified teacher. Above: Roy Eugene Davis explains a specific type of yoga known as Kriya Yoga, which uses intentional

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rowing up as a Catholic boy questioning the norm in the transitional 1970s, I reveled in yoga and Eastern philosophy books furnished by my well-read brother Bruce. The 1970s were an early era for yoga when it gained a more publicly accessible popularity in Western society. Transcendental Meditation, Bible and Gita study, yoga classes, metaphysical explorations and nightly reads from Autobiography of a Yogi captivated my teenage attentions. In 2007, I attended a weeklong medi-

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tation retreat, which also offered daily Hatha Yoga classes by guest teacher Norma Chirolla of the Yoga Institute of Atlanta. After a week of training and Norma’s instructional video in hand, I refined a more serious home practice. Being a homebody regarding anything that resembles exercise (other than hiking, biking and swimming), home study works out best for me (though each time I get around a real teacher or am in a classroom setting, it’s obviously a more effective track for proper form). Two dear

August 2009

friends, Caron & Jack Krier, formerly of the High Country, now teach yoga to nearly 400 students a week in Florida. During our visits together they graciously suggest postures and adjustments to my practice, which have also greatly helped. My next major boost came while traveling in India this past January, where I learned the time-honored Sivananda 90-minute daily yoga routine. This particular routine includes: relaxation, breathing exercises, sun salutations (a flowing warm-up series) plus 12 postures—some

actions to restore the practitioner’s awareness to wholeness.

easy and some more challenging. India is another story in itself, where yoga is life. One example reflecting this was found along a two-mile stretch of beach on the east coast of India’s Bay of Bengal in beautiful Pondicherry. Each sunrise finds forms of folks silhouetted on the shoreline expressing yoga, meditation and breathing exercises side by side.

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B

ack in the states on the grounds of a meditation retreat my wife Lorie and I recently attended, an idyllic, pre-dawn spring morning complete with birdcalls and a gentle sky glow awakened us from peaceful slumber. Venus was piercing the eastern sky through tall pines and our window’s wispy sheers. We spent a fun, relaxing, even enlightening week learning of yoga, meditation and Ayurveda— an ancient Indian science promoting complete health. Each day’s events began with half an hour of meditation and an optional hour of Hatha Yoga, followed by a wholesome breakfast. The meals, all delicious, organic and vegetarian were all served with much love by staff and volunteers. This retreat, like many yoga

centers (or ashrams) in India, manages to run on a donation basis without even suggesting amounts. Morning talks introducing and instructing various meditation practices were given by Roy Eugene Davis, the director of the yoga center. A teacher of yoga meditation for more than 50 years, Davis was born on a farm in Ohio and began his interest in yoga by reading books from his local public library. One book in particular, Autobiography of a Yogi, attracted him at age 18 to head west to California to meet its author. There he found and later became initiated into Kriya Yoga and how to teach it by Paramahansa Yogananda, whose landmark book, originally published in 1946, introduced millions worldwide to yoga—myself included. Yogananda

exquisitely spun tales of his turn of the century childhood discoveries of the seemingly plentiful and amazing yoga masters of India he encountered. The book explains the teachings of yoga while releasing the imagination and inspiring inner exploration.

Finding your peace can be anywhere. These Pondicherry, India residents and visitors greet the day at water’s edge. May your happiness, however you know it, be with you always.

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hrough study, classes, meditation and practice, the highlight of it all for me was to share in yoga with my Dad one fine day and look over at him as we concluded. With both of our hands joined prayerfully, we sat connected to what connects us all. “Namaste” we whisper. This wonderful blessing or greeting that means I bow to that in you, which is the same as that in all of us.

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For More

Information

(on the resources mentioned in this article)

Neighborhood Yoga: www.neighborhoodyoga.net 212 Water Street, Boone, N.C. 28607 828-265-0377

Like many yoga studios, the windowsill and surroundings of Neighborhood Yoga reflect a unique mixture of east meets west. After all, yoga represents a union.

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Namaste

Monthly Classes on Foundations of Yoga by Todd Bush www.meditateom.com/csahcnc/

Hasu Patel, Sitarist and classical Indian music/yoga www.csa-davis.org P.O. Box 7, Lakemont, Ga. 30552-0001 workshop facilitator.

Roy Eugene Davis, Meditation Retreats and CSA 706-782-4560

cutline cutline cutline cutline cutline cutline cutline cutline

http://www.hasupatel.com/

cutline cutline cutline cutline cutline cutline cutline cutline cutline cutline cutline cutline cutline cutline Sivananda Yoga Centers Worldwide

www.sivananda.org

There are additional yoga instruction options in the High Country. For listings - please check local newspapers and the internet. August 2009

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Yoga - Finding (your) Peace