All Posts from October, 2010

Remembering Judy: On Cancer and Courage

October 27th, 2010 | By Bill in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

One of the first students that ever came to Bernal Yoga was a woman named Judy Garlow, who at the age of 58 was also probably the oldest student at the time. Judy had red hair and a black Jade yoga mat with her name written in silver across the top. She was as regular in the Saturday morning Yoga Basics for years. Always one of the first people there and usually quietly out the door at the end. I never knew really knew who she was or too much about her until years later. We just thought Judy was the nicest lady and how great that she practiced yoga every week like that.

Our bonding moment came unexpectedly next to each other in line at the Good Life Grocery. “The Steelers are on Monday Night Football.” I explained nodding to the Sierra Nevada on the scanner breaking the silence. “That’s ok”,she whispered leaning in to fill me in on a secret. “I like to treat myself to a Burger King Whopper after Savonn’s Saturday class sometimes.” Now that’s something you typically don’t hear from yoga students. But Judy grew up in a different era and if anything, her honesty was refreshing.

The Saturday morning Yoga Basics class that Judy came to eventually changed when Savonn moved to Portland. As what happens with all classes when the teacher leaves, the class eventually evolves.

I took over and Judy stuck with it, which was great. The class got a little bit harder and the people started changing around her, but she had her routine and knew her limitations so she was doing fine until one day we noticed Judy wasn’t there, then a few weeks went by and still no Judy. Several weeks later Judy came back a much different person. Judy was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer.

We watched her health decline rapidly from week to week. I started to get concerned as she often became disoriented in class. She would mistakenly sit on the yoga mat next to hers or have a hard time finding her footing leaving the studio.

When the decision was made that she should only take Restorative or Gentle Yoga classes with the support of a friend she told us “the Saturday class is the only thing that makes me feel good, like I’m normal and this is not happening to me right now.”
How do you deny someone the right to practice yoga when all they want to do is come to feel “normal”? You don’t.

As much as our decision to try and limit her practice was for her personal safety, we couldn’t refuse her desire to be there for the sake of being there. And so began my journey of watching a student rapidly lose her battle with cancer week by week.

It was a courageous effort on Judy’s part to just come. There was nothing much besides a few seated poses that she could really do and everywhere all around her, healthy people happily stretched and practiced. Yet there she was.

Judy made it to about six more classes after that. Her last class, she fell face-first down onto the ground from a standing forward fold. I had watched this fall happen many times in my dreams only in reality thankfully, she didn’t die like in my visions. Fortunately, she was not seriously injured in the fall and happened to have a licensed RN practicing next her who stabilized her enough to get her to lean against the wall for the remainder of the class. Afterwards it took nearly 30 minutes to get her from the studio out to her ride. There was no denying that this would be the last class.

I saw her one more time when I went to visit her at home the last week in Hospice care. She died a few days later on June, 3rd 2007. There is a bench at the top of Holly Park near her home in San Francisco honoring her life.

This post is dedicated to Judy, my mom who has fought brain cancer and is currently cancer free and to the many yoga students who drag or have drug themselves to class in the middle of chemotherapy hell and have the strongest and most focused practice imaginable. Thanks for the lessons in courage.

About Judy:
Judy Garlow was a longtime director of the State Bar program to fund legal services for the poor in California. After the federal government cut legal aid funding in the 1980s, she got involved in a new program to help subsidize the programs, which offer free lawyers or legal advice to low-income people in areas such as housing, welfare and domestic violence.


October 22nd, 2010 | By Tania Ketenjian in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Yesterday and today, I find myself taking lots and lots of deep breaths. It’s not that I am sighing, just breathing mindfully. Taking in a breath, feeling it fill my chest, go deep into my belly and then slowly letting the air out. It started at the end of the day yesterday and it seems to be sticking. It wasn’t mindful at first, I just seemed to need it suddenly. And now that I think about it, I am remembering how in class the other day, we were asked to breathe deeply: breathe in, one, two, three, four, five six, retain, let it out, one, two, three, four, five, six. Repeat.

It’s amazing how breathing has a deep, calming effect. I suddenly feel relaxed and alive and present and not caught up in worries about work or life or whatever else might come in the way. It also offers a real sense of feeling your body, your cells, your muscles, even the synapses in your brain.

And yoga does this, we feel our bodies, we feel its “hows” (to quote ee cummings), we feel where we’re blocked and where we’re open and we can feel this in a pose or we can feel it by the simple, rhythmic, consistent, fundamental, reliable act of breathing.

So today, just breathe, and breathe deep. Breathe in the rain and the air, breathe in strength and support, breathe in life, just breathe. You’ll be amazed at how grounding it can be. I sure am.

Feel the burn….or don’t

October 18th, 2010 | By Tania Ketenjian in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

We all know that moment where we think, “I can’t do this anymore”, “ok, I have reached my threshold”, “why do I come here anyways, to experience this suffering, I mean what’s the point?”. We feel the burn, so to speak, and we just want to fall to the ground and lay there, skipping all the asanas and getting right into the final resting pose, Shivasana. But it’s not about feeling the burn, or not feeling the burn, it’s about watching how you react when the burn comes. Because we feel the burn in all different parts of our life. We feel it when we’re struggling with work, we feel it when we might be frustrated with something in ourselves, when we’re trying to understand the deeper relationships in our life. Burn is part of life, and a wonderful part of it in fact because it sheds light on the smoother and more fluid parts of our day to day.

So when we do feel the burn, be it in asanas or in our own practice of daily living, do we run away, give up, escape, get angry or do we go deeper, really get a sense of what the burn feels like, see how much we can learn from it, where it actually is coming from and, as one teacher at Bernal reminds us to do, smile through it. When someone suggests you smile during a particularly hard Warrior One it doesn’t sound very appealing but it actually helps. It breaks down the fear and frustration, but even more importantly, it stimulates certain synapses in your brain which are hard wired for happiness.

So when the burn comes on, and it almost always does, watch closely. First, look at your immediate reaction. Then, try and break the burn down into various senses. Rather than saying, “this is so hard”, think of all the ways it’s challenging you by trying to understand it muscle by muscle (pulsing, throbbing, shaking). See how your understanding can become a reflection of how you react to other challenges in life. By looking at that, you can then learn something about yourself. And then…smile.

Practicing while sitting at the computer…

October 7th, 2010 | By Tania Ketenjian in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

….I know, it’s an oxymoron. The computer seems antithetical to practice. But for those of us who do have jobs that keep us on the computer all day (pretty much), we can take an opportunity to practice almost all day long.

First of all: breathe. OK, one of the basic parts of practice and we can do it just by sitting here. Maybe write yourself a little note and stick it on your wall, on your screen, send yourself a daily e.mail. Breathe. Take a deep breath. Skype asks you to do just that when it first opens up and I love that because I am reminded that I am a body sitting in front of this machine, not just a mind.

Next, open up your chest. There are so many postures where we have to have an open chest: Pigeon, spinal twists, upward facing dog, warrior one. Open that chest up. Give some space for your belly to move, your ribs to expand.

Finally, get those shoulders down the back, freeing up the neck. One of the places many of us hold tension is in our neck. By pushing the shoulders back and down, we open up some space for tension to flow and be released rather then getting all caught up…

There are many chances to practice off the mat but maybe one of the most important times is at work, at your desk, when you’re getting deeply involved in your head. Getting into your body as well can help you work better and be more effective all around!