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

Who Tells Your Story?

 

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The incredible soundtrack to the Broadway musical “Hamilton” (which tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and the American Revolution) has this line:

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”

I have three stories for you.

Story #1.

My son and I were playing foosball; I was getting my ass kicked, as per the usual.  The subject of the election came up.  He told me the story of how children were chanting at mock election (before the actual election) “build that wall” in the lunchroom.

I had not heard that story.

So a discussion ensues; one of the topics was that our country was founded by immigrants.  That Americans, unless they are Native American, we’re from everywhere.  I asked my son “Do you know your heritage?”  His response:  “Aren’t we from Mexico?”

Now, before you ponder that any further, let me tell you that my son is a blonde, blue-eyed boy.  And we have no family from Mexico, at least that I know of.  His heritage is England, Germany, Scotland and Ireland.

So why would he think his family tree originates from Mexico? He’s grown up hearing both English and Spanish; we still use simple Spanish phrases in our every day conversation.  He grew up listening to Spanish popular music.  We celebrated some holidays not typical to other households.  For example, Dia De Los Muertos; we have fond memories of the annual celebratory trip to the local Panaderia for pan de muertos, breads marked with a little skull and crossbones made of dough.

It was never intentional, but we have very few traditions that hail specifically from the various countries of our heritage.  I don’t have as many stories to tell that connect us to those cultures.  Yes — I burn a bayberry candle all the way down on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve; — that’s a German tradition that was passed down to me.  But most of the other celebrations; the egg-dying, the Christmas tree; they tend to be woven into the fabric of America culture.  They don’t specifically bring up tales that would connect him to these faraway lands.

The other point I recognize is that we’re not surrounded by family; it’s pretty much just me and my children; and I’m realizing that he hasn’t heard the stories of his family from a voice other than mine.

Story #2.

Fast forward to another evening; my son and I are driving and we pass a local chapter of the VFW.  It’s in a grand, old house and there is a war memorial and a tank out front.  We drive past this place often, but usually in the daylight.  That night it was late and it was dark; the tank featured prominently in the spotlight.  “Umm, Mom … why is there a tank in front of that house?”  I explained how it isn’t a house – well, yes, it IS a house – now it is a place for Veterans to gather.  And that the tank is a memorial to remember that real men and women died. “Oh” he calmly replied; “Maybe we need more of those.”

 I’ve heard some stories of war from my parents, but none directly from my grandfather who served in World War 1.  I have heard some stories from my brother, who did tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  But those stories have never reached the ears of my son; the horrors of war are far removed from him.  Even the tales from my parents of blackouts and shortages and there not being enough food; he doesn’t know those stories.  All he sees is a tank.

Story #3.

A conversation with a new friend; we were discussing the flu shot and I casually mentioned that I don’t get them.  He began to feel me out on the topic of vaccines.  You know, being Ms. Crunchy Yoga Girl some people might assume that I am anti-vaccine.  But that would not be true; I  believe in vaccines, just not the flu vaccine for me, personally. You have to dig beneath the surface; you need to know the filter of my experience.  The story of how my mother contracted polio as a child, the symptoms were recognized early; she received immediate medical care and she suffered no permanent paralysis.  The story of my mother’s brother dying of tetanus — a teenage boy who fell out of a tree and broke his arm. The doctor forgot to administer the vaccine; he contracted tetanus and died of lockjaw.  These stories shaped my viewpoint and informed my decisions.

I wonder, have I told my son these stories?

In our communities and in our nation, we have lost track of each other.  Our insulated and casual electronic connection means broken communication.  Lost connection with friends and acquaintances.    Our interactions with strangers has become more and more defensive.

We’re afraid of each other.

And because we are cut off from each other, the exchange of ideas has ceased.  We are separating off into groups.  I’m black; you’re white.  I’m rich; you’re poor.  I’m blue; you’re red.  I’m wrong; you’re right.

And that right there is the danger.  We have become less than human to each other.

When we become less than human to each other, society breaks down.

When we become less than human to each other, that’s when people start getting carted off to be put in ovens.  When we become less than human to each other that’s when people get strung up in trees and nailed to crosses and burned at the stake.  When we become less than human to each other, that’s when good people can get lost and do horrendous things.

So much of what is happening is happening BECAUSE we don’t listen to each other.  We talk and we post and we tweet and we spout and we offer opinions through the filter of our experience; but we don’t listen; we don’t have the back and forth exchange of conversation.   We spend less and less time interacting with people who are different; we spend little time considering what it is like to walk in the other person’s shoes.

Often because those can be some damn uncomfortable shoes.

We are, right now, at a tremendous crossroads.  We are writing the first chapter of a new story.  Will it be about community and connection and healing and understanding and doing what must be done for the good of all?  Or will it be about warring and factions and death and hatred and separation and so much SO much pain?

You have the power right now both to tell your story and to write the new one; so, tell me; what’s your story?

Shanti,

Jill