A Thousand Mile Journey

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The last few years have been a time of profound personal change for me, in almost every aspect of my life. There is pain and anxiety with growth, as from molting or shedding a cocoon

~ Ryan Gellman

There is a Chinese proverb from the Tao Te Ching, usually misattributed to Confucius, that is so simple, so universal, and so undeniably true, that it has become an American cliché: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I suspect that my course of beginning yoga is different than nearly all that have traveled this way before, not because of me, but because these are unique and odd times.

My curiosity about yoga stretches back some time. I can’t articulate when, what drew me in, or what kept me from scratching that itch, because I really didn’t know anything about yoga. I had just a vague, uninformed attraction. Those who practiced struck me as people who were on to something. And every time I drove by Mind Body Flow Yoga, or was in that plaza, I thought to myself one of these days I am going to have to give this a try.

Although I enjoy different types of physical activity, for the last year or two my main form of exercise has been spinning. Spinning provided me not only with steep challenges that led to rapid physical improvements, but also with my first experience with group exercise. Having an encouraging instructor who knows how to push students to their limits was a revelation to me, as was feeling the camaraderie and instruction-by-example of those beside me. I knew immediately that single-person treadmills in gyms and basement exercise equipment would no longer be a focus.

I was with family at a resort in Mexico in late 2019 when I attempted to sign up for a spinning class. I could see that half of the bikes were vacant, but was told the class was full. Grrr! The desk clerk then told me there was a yoga class on the roof overlooking the ocean in 15 minutes. And just like that, it was finally time to take the first step. Along with my daughter and niece, both 17 at the time, I entered the class, with no preconceptions or expectations.

I did not know physical activity could be so much more than physical activity. Or that it could incorporate breathing techniques, although now this seems so natural, even obvious. I did not know physical activity could involve meditation, a practice I had recently begun, and shared wisdom, steeped in ancient traditions, rather than ephemeral fads and platitudes. Or that I could learn balance, strength (mental and physical), stamina, flexibility, perseverance, and how to tackle and manage the seemingly-overwhelming challenges and obstacles that life throws at each of us far too often. I left that class with soreness in muscles I never knew I had, and with a sense of overall satisfaction I had never experienced. On the surface, this class was by no means a success. I struggled, and the poses I attempted bore only the slightest resemblance to what the instructor and the other students projected. I had barely even scratched the surface of this eye-opening and enigmatic phenomenon. But I had survived my first step on this journey.

A few weeks later, on a wintery Tuesday night in January, I came home from working downtown a little too late to make it to the last spinning class. I saw on my phone that Mind Body Flow Yoga had a 7:30 pm class. I knew no one at the studio, but was feeling adventurous. When I arrived, Taylor was kind, patient, and accommodating, a stern and disciplined taskmaster. My fellow yogis were warm, accepting, and silently supportive, even though it was disconcerting to be the only male in the class.

This class immediately became my Tuesday night routine. I found myself looking forward to it throughout the week. I always left physically exhausted, but, more importantly, with a deep sense of accomplishment and a feeling that a weight had been lifted from me.

About two months after I first crossed the thin threshold from the frigid Buffalo winter into the all-embracing warmth of the Mind Body Flow Yoga studio, and the all-embracing warmth of everyone I met there, the world changed drastically and unexpectedly. Other than a single, invaluable, weekend beginner’s pose workshop, Taylor’s Tuesday night classes were the only studio classes I ever attended. It’s futile but unavoidable now to wish I had gone to more classes in the studio. I eventually met many of the other instructors, but on Zoom from their houses, or outside at Bassett Park, in the shadow of that wonderful giant tree, near the eye-catching blue modern sculpture, with the fresh summer air and the clouds and the sunsets and the goose poop. I suspect this was a different way to begin my practice than what most of you experienced, although we’ve all traveled this path for the last six months or so. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.

The last few years have been a time of profound personal change for me, in almost every aspect of my life. There is pain and anxiety with growth, as from molting or shedding a cocoon. It was difficult to face changes in my perspective, because some things I thought were foundational – I had trusted and relied on them for so long – turned out to be transitional. There were new mistakes and the uncovering of what I now know were old mistakes. Each new phase of life brings unexpected challenges. Children, parents, and marriages are profoundly rewarding but almost equally challenging. Practicing law and sharing the responsibilities of running a practice is often stressful. Mind Body Flow Yoga has taught me increased awareness, greater mindfulness, and it brought me equilibrium and tranquility, even in places where I had not noticed the turbulence. I am enjoying the many physical and psychological benefits of better fitness. And for these things, I will be forever grateful.

Now, with bittersweetness, we have to find another place. Hopefully, with the same warm souls, but we know the vibe is at least a little bit different in every location. I am beyond grateful for the time I spent at Mind Body Flow Yoga – in the studio, in the park, in my home, and visually, at least, in many of your homes. I thank Marina for creating this wonderful space, for obviously pouring her heart and soul and sweat into every inch of it, and for her family’s contributions. I will miss this place and these people. I’m not too proud to admit that I will also miss those cool refreshing forehead towels.

Less than a year into my practice, I am still a beginner, a novice. I don’t fully understand pranayama or ujjayi breathing, and I have yet to master a single asana or vinyasa. Handstands are somewhere off on the distant hazy horizon. I have not yet completed a class without taking breaks not offered by the instructor. If this journey is going to last a thousand miles, I am approaching the 100-yard marker. But I am proud of what I’ve accomplished, grateful for those who guided me towards those accomplishments, and for all of the people I have been fortunate to meet at Mind Body Flow Yoga.

I am honored to be the featured student in this final newsletter and to have this rare opportunity to thank you. Despite the emotions we are all feeling, I don’t think this is goodbye. I know this will not be the last hooty-hoo!

Namaste. And, as Marina so beautifully says, love and light.


*If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.

What’s This Pose About?

This is a standing, balancing pose. The resulting shape is a deep opening through the shoulders, ankles, and legs. Watch Ryan enter into this asana from Mountain Pose (Tadasana). He will exit the pose and land back in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) as well.

Here are a few things to keep in mind, if you decide to try this pose, or if you have already started to experiment and play around with it.

Tips for Airplane Pose (Virabhadrasana III)

  • From Mountain pose, step the right foot a foot forward and shift all of your weight onto this leg
  • Inhale lift the left leg up and back, hinging at the hips, lowering the torso slightly towards the floor
  • Arms can stay together in a prayer position at the middle of the chest, or can be outstretched forward towards the front of your mat, or can be outstretched to the sides like airplane wings.
  • Look down at the floor and stare at a point for balance
  • Reach out through the left toes, making a straight line from the left heel to the crown of the head
  • Keeping your hips and knees in place, twist from your shoulders to the right
  • Place your left elbow on your right knee and spin your chest open to the right
  • Breathe and hold for 3-5 breaths
  • To come out of the pose, lower the leg back to the floor and step both feet together back into Mountain pose

Benefits

  • Strengthens the ankles and legs
  • Strengthens the shoulders and muscles of the back
  • Tones the abdomen
  • Tones the abdominal muscles
  • Improves balance and posture

Caution

Modify this pose if you have high blood pressure, or recent or chronic injury to the legs, hips, back or shoulders.

Have you tried this pose before? What has been your experience?

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