This blog is the text of what served as the second of two speeches to my Toastmasters club on my experiences with yoga. My hope is that through relating my experiences through my blog, I can help to promote some wonderful and dedicated practitioners of yoga from several different traditions. (For me the main road for “physical ” yoga is “hatha” yoga, with Sivananda, Tantric, Restorative, Gentle, Vinyasa, Kundalini, etc. all being branches off the main highway of hatha). I encourage any readers of these posts to please check out the classes, books, CD’s, DVD’s, blog posts and courses of the folks mentioned, as they all provide great value for the time you will invest.
Fast forward to the modern era and my interest in yoga is rekindled through LA Fitness classes. My early experience was based on the physical aspect of yoga known as “Hatha Yoga” through the Sivananda tradition. For the most part there is a beginning and an end to the pose, and then a short break, before another pose is started.
Upon returning to regular yoga, I experience a variety of teachers and approaches, many teaching a Vinyasa style, also called “flow” because of the smooth way that the poses run together; it is one of the most popular contemporary styles of yoga. This constant movement through poses appeals to a lot of fitness folks who want the core strength and flexibility that yoga can provide.
One teacher, Adrienne Wade (shown in picture below) , stands out in that she does not follow the standard protocol of demonstrating postures while she teaches, but instead talks you through them with exceptional detail and a watchful eye and the occasional demonstration of the asana. She also throws out references to her teachers with names such as Naime Jezzeny and Douglas Brooks, PhD and an expert in the Auspicious Wisdom of Tantric Yoga and the Goddess Tradition of yoga, and founder of Rajanaka Yoga. Brooks, Brooks, – I am thinking, that name is very familiar to me; finally I make the connection to a Professor Brooks at the University of Rochester where my son is enrolled. And yes it is the same Douglas Brooks, he not only teaches courses like Sanskrit and Eastern Religions at the UofR, but also leads a philosophical school of Tantric Yoga called Rajanaka Yoga.
Brooks’ Rajanaka School of Tantric yoga is the philosophical foundation of the tradition practiced by Adrienne and her teachers Naime Jezzeny and Sue Elkind. Naime and Sue own and operate Dig Yoga, a studio located in Lambertville New Jersey. My hatha experience has been with Naime, who is highly regarded as a teacher’s teacher, and runs many focused workshops on maintaining proper alignment through yoga postures.
They also sponsor workshops with Douglas, where he sets up shop in the studio for a weekend, and weaves his tales of the origins of yoga, the goddesses that populate the Hindu traditions of yoga, the Tantric teachings of his beloved “Appa”, (Dr. Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoorthy, the anti-guru guru), and the myths that resonate with yogis of today. All done in an interesting, light-hearted, conversational manner with the most precise use of language you might ever hear.
Professor Douglas Brooks, Naime Jezzeny and Sue Elkind at Brooks’ workshop at Dig Yoga Lambertville NJ
I have attended several of Douglas’ workshops by now, and would highly recommend them for anyone wanting to take a deeper dive into the philosophical basis for yoga, or an interest in exploring the Tantric or Goddess traditions that are the foundations of Rajanaka yoga.
So having weaved all these things in my yogic path from around 2006 to the present, there is still one more fork in my yogic path, and it’s not an easy one.
In 2013 my wife is diagnosed with ovarian cancer after a long surgery performed by a Gynecologic Oncologist Dr Edelson from Abington Hospital. I note this because it is important to the patient that this initial exploratory surgery be done by a gynecologic oncologist with years of experience. A general practice gynecologist lacks the experience to maximize the potential for survival by removing all cancer cells from the patient at the time this surgery is completed. See link for more info on this aspect of the story.
There are many recommended complementary therapies encouraged for cancer patients and yoga is one of them. However, my wife had only minimum actual exposure to yoga, and was not at full strength or stamina. I wanted to get her started on yoga again, but she would have to be able to handle it.
I found the solution through Dig Yoga and something they offered called Restorative Yoga. Restorative takes a very passive approach, and utilizes an assortment of “props”, such as bolsters, straps, blankets and blocks to support and maintain the body in longer hold times, sometimes as long as 5 minutes in one posture. Even though my wife was a four year survivor, she finally succumbed to the disease. If there is one thing that I can look at in the whole ordeal, and say that was the right decision, it was choosing to do Restorative Yoga with Nikki Albano Robinson, who was the actual instructor of the course provided by Dig Yoga.
Nikki is a fantastic teacher, and my wife Annie and her bonded so well, that she continued to go to Nikki’s weekly restorative class, even though we had a 1 hour drive into Philly, for much of her treatment time. One thing I quickly came to learn was that I needed a class like this just as much as my wife did.
Foundations of Restorative Yoga class at Dig Yoga led by Jillian Pransky, respected leader in the field and teacher of Nikki, Sue and Naime, and Adrienne (seated along wall)
I have my own physical challenges that developed over the course of my wife’s treatment, but don’t need to go over the details of that. But due to current limitations I have looked into less physically demanding forms of hatha yoga and discovered “Gentle Yoga” with Nikki’s help. My current practice is based out of the Yoga Garden in Narberth PA, where Nikki is now a Managing Partner with a wonderful owner Mark Nelson, who teaches Gentle Yoga on a regular basis. Gentle is kind of what you would expect, no strenuous vinyasa flow sequences, no constant moving through “down dog”, no extremely challenging poses. Mark does a good job of pushing the envelope just a bit into some challenging moments, but always allows for a safe place to maintain if that is what you need to do.
With my current physical challenges, I will soon try something called “Chair Yoga”, which incorporates yoga movements, but eliminates the ups and downs of working from the mat. I think this would be a good fork to take at this point in time , on my path through yoga.
Nikki Albano Robinson
Mark Nelson and Nikki Robinson
I have to be in my present moment with my yoga, no judgment for not being where I once was, no longing for where I might be going, no envy for where others already are.
“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh,