Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Inner Pretzel.

Given the nature of my work, traveling all day, it is difficult to find time for group activities during the daytime. I had been waiting and hoping that Central Street Yoga would be offering a class that fit into my schedule. Finally, in early September there was an offering for beginners on Saturday morning! I'm sure there are other studios around that I could have gone to, but this one has been taunting my eye for ages.

Located right in downtown Bangor, less than a block from my house, it fills the top floor of one of our historic buildings. When in it, you can see all of the major city streets intersect in the heart of our downtown area. From the street you can see their large tropical plants fill the windows and the warm brown of the cork walls lit up with beams of sunshine. In the evenings, warm light glows from that top floor, and I just knew it must be a wonderful place to go and learn. I had never been in it before my class, but I reeeeally wanted to go spend some time in there.

The long-awaited viewing of the studio.

I was a bit of a nervous novice, afraid to look silly in front of a bunch of locals, but Terry, the owner and instructor assured me that it was a complete beginner's class. Immediately he made us feel comfortable. "There is no wrong way to hold this pose. All poses can be adjusted. Every body, every limb, has it's own strength, flexibility and limits. There are purists who will say that your feet must be here and your arms MUST reach THIS far, but that is in a perfect world. I am not perfect and I don't imagine you are, either." Throughout the 4 relaxing weeks, Terry continued to encourage us, used perfect examples and imperfect examples of poses around the room, and helped us to find modifications that ensured every person in the class was having a pleasant and relaxing experience.

Terry: owner & instructor @ Central Street Yoga

Every Saturday morning I was excited to hop out of bed, toss on my comfy clothes and trot around the corner to the studio. I learned that the same week, a meditation class was starting. I have tried meditation many times over the years because it always seemed like it would be so relaxing, but after 6 seconds of mental peace the shopping lists, the laundry pile or the dusty livingroom shelves would start to fill the pretty little space I was trying to create in my mind. Five minutes would feel like 30, as I wrestled with those euphoria spoilers and I would give up, more frustrated than relaxed. So, on Tuesday nights at 7pm I would, again, don my relaxing garments and head down to the studio for Leslie's guided meditation for beginners.

It turns out, guided meditation is just what it took for me to not only push the big piles out of my mind, but also dust the corners and cobwebs to create a very calming, very quiet head that I filled with the sounds, images, sights, smells and feelings that I wanted to have. It didn't happen that way EVERY time, but even when it didn't I still left feeling calmed. And I got better at it with practice. Our instructor, Leslie, was very encouraging and frequently reminded us that no one has stunning sessions every time they try to meditate, and that is not the goal. The goal is to make space for yourself, every day, select a focus and live completely in that moment.

The Meditation Room @ Central Street Yoga

The first evening of class, there was someone in on another floor doing construction. We could hear banging and power tools. Leslie spoke what everyone in the room was already thinking "I bet you are all wondering how the heck are we supposed to meditate, with THAT going on?!" Well, she guided us through some sound exploration meditation. Letting the sounds in, really experiencing them and listening to them. From the room we were sitting in, to the streets below, what sounds could we hear? It was an interesting concept because I have always been under the impression that when you meditate, you are trying to turn everything OFF. But, no! Over the 4 weeks, each time we meditated, we turned something ON. We focused on one thing so intently that everything else fell away. Sounds, smells, feelings in your body - even something like an itch that you leave unscratched, exploring what that really feels like. It's not always just an itch. Sometimes it feels prickly or tingly, faint or strong, present because your shirt seam is rubbing your shoulder, or there for no reason at all. We talked about walking meditations, phrase repetitions, loving kindness meditation - I had no idea there were so many different ways to pull focus from myself or the world around me.

We explored fully experiencing how something tastes and feels by chewing a raisin, slowly, for-ev-er, and letting a chocolate chip melt on our tongues, breaking down the sensation of eating to explore the wrinkly texture of the raisin to the slightly gritty texture that is left in your mouth after a chocolate chip has dissolved into nonexistence.

I was very sad when my two classes ended, 4 weeks later. As I write this post, I see there are some more evening classes available at Central Street Yoga so there's a good chance I'll wander my way down there, again. I have not been great at daily practicing of either yoga or meditation since the classes ended but I do sometimes. I climb to the big dance studio on the top floor of our building and pull out the yoga mat that Robb got me for my birthday. Even though I don't do it every day, it is nice to have the physical and mental tools to use when the feeling strikes.

If you have always been curious but have been too intimidated to try either of these peaceful practices, I encourage you to seek a recommended teacher in your area and give it a try. I found the experience to be very positive with people who are doing the same thing I am, trying to find mental space and physical calm from their hectic, every day lives. I never felt judged or inadequate and I thoroughly enjoyed each hour I spent at the top of my city. Thanks to Terry and Leslie, I came to understand their motto: "It's about the journey, not the pretzel."



  1. What a great post!! While I haven't had the pleasure of taking Terry's Beginner class, I have joined Leslie for some of her meditation classes. Your descriptions sound like you had the "perfect" experience! This was a delight to read, and I'm glad you got the whole point of yoga--be you! right now! If you ever feel adventurous on a Tuesday or Friday night, join me for ashtanga :) All the best!

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Kitty! My experience was pretty perfect - it really was everything that I had hoped it would be. Always struggling to balance life, it is nice to have a few options in my pocket to tip the scales in the direction of calm, simplification. I find the older I get, the more I am seeking that stillness of mind and body that I am able to achieve in the studio. I set a goal last week to resume regular studio time before the end of March, so you will see me there sooner than later!