Many “yogis”—a person who is proficient in yoga—will tell you that yoga is a journey. There seems to be a start, a middle, and an awakening in which all that was previously known is not as much as what was believed to have been gained. This story is about a collection of yoga teachers who have brought this art to the Iowa Great Lakes in Okoboji and Spirit Lake. In this story, the reader will be taken through the journey of a new yoga practitioner during a single yoga practice. The beginning. The middle. The awakening.
The first step into any studio is always the hardest. Especially for a guy who has been training in anything but yoga for his entire life. Not just for males, the practice of yoga can be and is often times extremely intimidating.
Amanda Jorgensen, owner and founder of Studio Yoga and Barre, located in Spirit Lake, Okoboji, and Spencer, wanted to bring in a location to the Iowa Great Lakes that people interested in the art of yoga could feel comfortable enough to keep coming back.
“I [had] to create a place and an environment where, as best as I possibly can, people can feel comfortable in their own skin and trust me to get them strong and well and whole”, Jorgensen said.
The room, dimly lit, exudes a sense of nervous relaxation. A newcomer can immediately spot the ones who have been doing this a while. The chilly cement floor underfoot can shock the senses when the coolness attaches itself with bare feet. Walking aimlessly, not knowing where the front and where the back of the room is sends an even more agonizing rush of “why am I even here” shooting through the mind.
Jorgensen says that, for beginners, “Their own mind, their own insecurities, their own lies that they believe about their bodies and about what they physically can and can’t do, and how their body is going to look and feel in the space on their mat are the hardest things for beginners”. Amanda encourages her beginners to, “Don’t give up. Just give me time. It’s ok, we are going to get there”.
Finally positioned way to the left of the room, closest to the door, standing awkwardly at the front, or maybe it’s the back, of the mat. Unsure of the people around, silently waiting to train in a way that many say is best for mind, body, and soul. Slowly, the heart palpitations and the nervousness begin to dwindle. Friendly yogis come to chat and offer their welcome. They say, “It sure is nice to have a male in here. We don’t get those very often”.
The instructor enters as the creaky door opens and closes. The instructor floats across the cold floor carrying a mason jar, filled with what is presumably kombucha, instructing all to secure three items from the wall of what seems to have 20. Simple instructions, but the ability to sort the command and find the necessary items leaves an opening for everyone else to secure the items. It is obvious I’m new. Grabbing the same thing that everyone else has, the class can finally begin.
Slow. Stretch. Examine what the body needs. Develop the mantra that will be repeated and the rhythm that the breath will need to follow. Begin.
Everyone’s eyes are closed, but the mistakes being made are simply making the breathing and mantra that much harder to follow. But, over a short period of time and while opening the eyes, the “flow”, as they call it, is all coming together. All is one with the class.
The intensity begins to slowly pick up speed. The rhythmic breathing is now subconscious and the mantra has drifted into a continuous thought. Now all that is needed is to listen to the yogi and follow the movements. Body trembling as the “bolster” is positioned under right knee, left leg protruding back with toes pointed. Lifted left arm now, adding slightly more difficulty, extends out in front. The shaking intensifies and the thought of “Why am I shaking so much” breaks concentration. Slowly the mantra and breaths return. Slowly, the feeling of community begins to take over. Everyone operating in the same manner, in the same room, all with a different goal, but the same feeling.
“We actually have like minded individuals in this area who share the same passion and have the same heart; that make you feel good walking into the room”, Dylan Dalen said.
Dylan has been practicing yoga since she was 14-years old. She is 22 now and has her own private practices, but can be found at the Studio Yoga and Barre where she is an instructor for Jorgensen, who had brought Dylan into the realm of teaching yoga.
“I feel like it is a great way to look at yourself in the third person. You’re stretching and working the body and the mind at the same time. Yoga asks you to sit with yourself and be still. Sitting with your [thoughts], listening to them, actually being there with them for a little bit. Sometimes your jumbled thoughts have really great things to say to you”, Dalen said.
Realizing now that the stressors that had been walked in with have now dissipated. The list of things to do is not as overwhelming. Much like any physical exercise, yoga provides a positive release for much of the daily problems that exist in our lives. The constant focus of perfecting a position, flowing from down dog into a cobra position; ensuring that the toes are untucking as the movement continues. Each of these small maneuvers bring the mind focus onto the movement at hand.
“This is why I do it. Because I make other people feel good in their bodies, and I hold space for people to feel safe on their mat. That’s my passion behind it”, Dylan said.
Making sure to give equal attention to both halves of the body gives the yogi the ability to perfect the movement more than once. The breathing continues synonymously with the movement. Inhale while raising arms over head. Facing forward. Exhale to swan dive downward. All repeated. All symmetrical.
“If it is not for the benefits that it can do for your body or your mind, I think starting yoga just to get out of your comfort zone is a great thing. It is not easy to walk into a studio. . . I get that whole ‘I’m nervous. I don’t want to go here’. Bust out of your comfort zone so you can allow more growth into your life”, she said.
The clock is positioned just to the left and gazing at it, 45 minutes had elapsed. “What? How?”.
The instructor advises of the following: “Find your way to your backs. Use pad, blanket and bolster to elevate torso with lower body angling and relaxing on the floor”. Doing so, realizing the position is ideal to fall asleep, the instructor begins to send commands. Soft, soothing commands to let go. Enter your personal realm of conscious unconsciousness. Where sleep is moments away, but instructing to fight the urge.
“This is to help us cope with the human mind and the difficult process of being a human being. I was in a lot of emotional pain [when I began yoga] and I needed a way to release that”, Christine Murphy said.
Chris, who had a significant impact on Amanda Jorgensen’s personal journey in the art of yoga, had created, in her loft of Prairie Chick, a way for her staff members to be able to learn and experience yoga. She began taking yoga at the age of 38 during a difficult time in her life. Christine had traveled the world to continue to learn and find as much training as possible to advance herself in the art of yoga. Christine rarely teaches anymore, but on the special occasions people are able to find her at the Pearson Art Center.
“I have always been a seeker of wisdom tradition and that is what I call yoga. The more you learn, the less you know”, Murphy explained.
It takes only moments and the position is achieved. We are there. The room extremely silent save for the Tibetan bowl music, bongos, and acoustic guitar accompanied by female vocals being played from the speakers at the head of the room. Meditation being achieved, the thoughts that had previously dwelled within the mind that seemed to be eroding away at happiness slowly become more controlled and specific.
“All of these are techniques to become a better, superior human being. How do you get better? Intuitively, yoga is connecting to yourself and connecting to your intuition. Your intuition is a guide. Yoga is supposed to help you find your life purpose”, she said.
“Slowly awaken yourself”, the instructor says. In unison, the class slowly comes out of the trance we had all shared. Smiles all around and an evidentiary feeling of being free from worry and stress envelops us all. A high overwhelms the mind as if having just consumed a drug that directly affects the central nervous system.
“The feeling that you have, that is yoga”, Murphy says.
Awakening the body once more, an inhale and raising the arms over the head and bringing them back down with palms pressed together. Eyes peeling open as pressed palms lead over the heart. Come to center one last time. . . Namaste.