The Story of Uttara Yoga

Hi friends!

Thanks for checking in on my (neglected!) blog and most of all, thank you for supporting Uttara through our MOST recent… *sigh* … move.

You know, there used to be a time, not that long ago, that I knew all of you. Everyone who walked through the door at Uttara, I met you or interacted with your name. I taught you, or my instructors told me about you; I saw the receipt where you paid for a class or bought an unlimited or a mala. I entered your email into our email list. I washed your mat and mopped the floor you practiced on. I had my finger on the pulse of everything.

Those days are over, as I suppose they should be.

Now days, Kimberly Vest (who is not only an incredible yoga teacher but also an excellent organizer and one of the hardest working human beings that I know) takes care of a lot of office and management tasks. A small but dedicated crew of karma yogis clean the Studio (a monumental task); wash the blankets, mats, etc. I barter for social media help. And I have a team of the most loving and talented yoga teachers that somehow found their way to live in Roanoke, Virginia.

When I sit back and look at it all sometimes, I am astonished. Seriously. Let me be the first to tell you, I understand all the rules of manifestation, and this is not what I set out to do. I truly just set out to do the thing I love; and share the thing that saved me. The thing that made the world make sense to me, the thing that helped me stop the lifetime war I had going on with my relationship to my body.

Yoga.

Many of you have been following this blog and know the story; but some of you are new to Uttara and new to me. We are entering our 11th year this month — and in some ways, this is just the beginning.

I came to yoga late in life; sitting on the couch, seeing a television show called “Inhale” with Steve Ross, nursing my second baby in two years. That’s how I started practicing yoga. Those of you whose first experience of yoga is online or videos, I feel ya; it’s a good start.

Fast forward a few years and I decide to do yoga teacher training; a work-study program through The Temple of Kriya Yoga in Chicago. I literally found the training from an ad in Yoga Journal magazine. It was a one-year program, distance study with several four-day intensives to get contact hours and immerse. Talk about a life changing moment; from stay-at-home Mom of three children ages 8, 6 and 3, to learning a new career. Well, actually not a career; a new way of life and living.

It was my (now ex-) husband who first said to me “Why don’t you open a studio?” Freshly graduated and inspired, there was nowhere in the area I wanted to teach. No place that expressed the love and acceptance of the practice that I knew. No place beautiful and precious enough for the spiritual transformation that takes place as a natural function of the physical practice. No place with a freakin’ basic set of props.

I went about it as I go about most things; FULL ON. No stopping me; knowing that my work ethic was stronger than any obstacle; that the fear of failure would push me to succeed. That the strength of my will would at least make me break even.

There were many successes; and much crashing and burning. Owning a business is like birthing a child; your plan is constantly changing, frequently thwarted and has very little to do with what YOU want. Especially when you are trying to bring yoga to Roanoke, Virginia twelve years ago ….

I started out volunteer teaching at Bethany Hall (a local rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol addicted women); and from there went to offering $5 drop-in classes in the basement of my church, with all money going toward the same group. I eventually rented space from a local dance studio and began offering “real” (paid) classes there a few times a week.

Eventually found a beautiful space down on Kirk Avenue downtown; we were there for four tumultuous years. A beautiful space, beautiful views; and a seriously leaking roof; an “antique” heating system; zero parking; and many other challenges.

Off to Southwest Roanoke; The Sanctuary; a renovated church building. We occupied the community room level of the building. That was also four years; and more beautiful moments and more challenges. The day the City removed the 2-hour parking signs and suddenly the blocks surrounding our building were completely parked up with employees from local businesses. The first launch of our yoga teacher training program. My divorce.

I swear, if I haven’t been moving Uttara, I myself have been personally moving. In the past 12 years I’ve moved my household three times and my business five times. That? That’s a lot, my friends.

We had to leave The Sanctuary because it was impossible for them to rent the upstairs of the building with us inhabiting the downstairs. We need quiet AND we need to be able to make noise; a yoga studio has many specific requirements, and we couldn’t make it work. The guys who owned the building were wonderful, great to work with; but it was time to go.

We moved to Albemarle. Right as my post-divorce relationship collapsed. It was good and it was not good. The new Studio space was great but also a little confining and small. Things were flowing along. And then suddenly, they were NOT flowing along. Verbal agreements were violated; we were receiving bi-monthly letters filled with demands and threats. Our lease was broken; we hired an attorney. Someone took a shot at the backdoor of the building.

It was time to go. Again.

I thought my heart would break.

I swear I have looked at every commercial space in the Roanoke area; truly; it’s an odd set of requirements we need for a yoga studio. We almost landed at Towers Shopping Center because I just could not find any place else; and then we settled on 401 Highland Avenue, SE.

It’s a gamble, as all real estate is. Most of the parking is on-street parking; it’s close to downtown and yet not downtown. But it had two compelling features; a go-getter landlord who was willing to help us make it work, and space. Space. It’s almost 3,000 square feet that is all ours. No one above us, no one below us. Space for both the 200- and 300-hour trainings; space for simultaneous classes; space for people to come and go; space for multiple teachers to run private sessions; space to sublet to like-minded businesses.

Room to grow.

Of course, all this unfolds with Divine timing that I gotta say seemed a lot less than divine. Our lease ended before the new space was available. Magically the good folks at Ferguson Fitness heard about our dilemma and graciously made space for us to sublet a room from their facility; we had a temporary move and then another permanent move.

And all this goes down within the framework of me being diagnosed with congenital hip dyplasia and being told I needed two total hip replacements.

Right.

Somehow the wonderful instructors and students (and especially Kimberly Vest) stepped up and made it all happen; even when I couldn’t lift a thing; even when I was dragging myself around with a walker. Everything happened. People I scarcely knew stepped up. People made generous donations to help with the build-out; people cleaned and organized; the Uttara community made it come together.

Have you been to the new space? It is a sacred space, a safe space. A place to learn and grow and love and evolve. A space filled with the coolest people you will meet in Roanoke. A place we hope to call home for a very long time.

Shanti,

Jill

Meditate?

Back in September I traveled to Glasgow, Scotland with my daughter to take her to University. It was our first trip there, and we had a lot to do in the short time I could stay in town. Every day was packed with paperwork, finding our way around town, and a good deal of shopping to outfit her kitchen and flat with everything she would need for the coming school year.

Weave in the intensity of taking my first baby off to college. Off to another COUNTRY to college.

Yeah.

So one morning we’re first thing on the subway, zipping into the city center to shop for bedding and kitchen items. My mind was very busy with lists and we were both steeped in the emotionality of this big change. Sitting on the train I realized; I had not taken the time to meditate that morning.

So I closed my eyes; Resurrection Breath (a quick double exhale through the open mouth over the left shoulder; it’s a Kriya technique); and began my little inner routine. Bringing in the light through my crown; letting it fill my body; growing light roots down into the Earth. Then filling the planet with light; and sending that light out through our solar system and beyond to the entire Universe.

I have a technique for protection for my beloveds; and a regular practice of various techniques to work with energy. But that morning I didn’t have much time. So, I let my mind clear with “Hong Sau” Kriya and after a few moments I wrapped up my literally four-minute meditation by posing the question “What do I need to know today?”

Most days it is a very benign thought that arises; usually encouragement or some minor insight. On this morning, the little voice said “Watch out for the man in blue.”

Watch out for the man in blue? Huh?

Okay.

Wrapped up with my prayers of gratitude, and when I open my eyes, I mention to my daughter the warning from my meditation. She gazes around the subway car. “Mom, every man on the train is wearing blue.” Ahhhh – yes, okay. Right. The train stops and it’s time to go.

Off to our first adventure in the shopping district of downtown Glasgow. In and out of shops, someone is playing the bagpipes; we’re taking pictures, soaking up the scene. My emotions are flooding me; a hot mix of excitement and fear and awe and fear and pride and fear and fear. This town, this place I’ve never been to before – this is where I’m leaving my baby!

As we are walking down the crowded street a man with a clipboard approaches me and comments on my malas – the prayer beads I wear on my wrist. He knows what they are and begins to talk to me about a kirtan camp that he leads somewhere in Scotland. Now, anyone who knows me knows I talk to EVERYONE, something that drives my children absolutely crazy. So here I am, having a little chat about kirtan. And suddenly, I glimpse over his shoulder the face of a young girl; she looks me straight in the eye and says “run.”

Run?

And I’m looking from him to her from him and to her and again she says – “Run.” In that two second gap while I am processing what she is saying, and he is talking and my mind is racing and there are crowds of people all around us. She says it a third time, though this time she is yelling. “RUN!!!”

Suddenly my mind seizes what she is saying, and I wrap my arm around my daughter and we literally begin dashing down the street. When we coast to a stop she chastises me. “Mooommmm, you do not have to talk to EVERYONE Mooommmm!”

We continue on with our shopping trip. So many decision and things to consider; what is essential, what is frivolous. Purchase pillow, blankets, bedding, silverware, cutting board, plate, mug, peeler … it goes on and on. I want to think of everything; want my baby to have what she needs.

It isn’t until we are sitting at dinner that night when my daughter casually says to me “Did you notice what that weird guy who stopped us was wearing?” I paused and thought back …. “No – was he wearing a white shirt?” “No, Mom” she replies. “He was dressed all in blue.”

Oh wow. The man. In blue.

I still have no idea what possible danger he posed. Was he a well-known pickpocket or something? Do people native to Glasgow know him as a con-artist? And who was the angel-girl who appeared to tell us to run? I don’t know.

So why am I telling you this story?

Because I want you to meditate.

Seriously. If we’re gonna save the world, we’ve got to start working with the incredible power of our minds. We need to take the time to listen to ourselves, to our guides and to our untapped connection to all of LIFE.

Often people think you have to sit for an hour to meditate; that you must have some secret technique or live in a cave. People think that those of us who do meditate sit for long periods of time with no thoughts; no mind, as it were.

Let me dispel that myth.

Most of your meditation practice is just concentration. It’s training the mind. Think of it like a puppy; if you don’t train it to sit; if you don’t train it to do certain things at certain times and in certain places, then it just makes messes. Like a puppy, your mind gets into shit it shouldn’t get into. With the untrained puppy there will be literal shit, everywhere. With the untrained mind, we unconsciously create and gravitate towards thoughts that are precisely what we do NOT want.

Mindfulness is the current sexy lingo for a meditation practice; but really one yields the other. To be absolutely present in the moment is a form of meditation. When my dear friend talks about surfing, he talks about completely being in the moment and all else dropping away – that is a type of meditation. When you’re loving on someone and you merge together, the moment of orgasm – bam – your mind stops grasping. It’s a glimpse at perfect happiness and contentment; for even just a second. That’s meditation, too.

Sitting on your cushion thinking “sheesh, my back hurts.” Yes, that happens in meditation practice, too. Cause remember – it’s a PRACTICE. You have to do it over and over and over. For me, it’s taken years of practice to be able to slip over into a meditative state with little effort. And even now, there are days when I sit on my cushion and all I do is watch my poor little brain spin on something and there is no true meditation. Not a single gap or moment of peace.

It is still worthwhile on those days because it helps me to be compassionate with myself and my mind. Even if the only place I get to is thinking “Goddess bless Jill and her little spinning brain today. She’s doing the best she can.”

That glimmer of compassion for myself is enough.

My dear friend and Uttara instructor Wendi Wagner is holding a workshop on Mindfulness and Meditation coming up on December 10 from 1:00 to 3:00 pm. If you’ve ever had an interest in learning to work with the mind; learning to harness that power and find peace and stillness within; this is a fantastic opportunity to explore.

Another option is the Guided Meditation class we have every Sunday morning at 9:15 am. It’s only $5 to drop in and take it and each week one of us is there to guide you through a half-hour meditation.

There are lots of resources online; plenty of podcasts and books and information. But one of the best ways to start is just to sit down; to close your eyes; take a couple deep breaths; and effortlessly seek out those tiny gaps between your thoughts.

They exist. I promise that they do. And those gaps of silence and space are more healing than you can imagine.

Shanti, Jill

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