The Summit That Changed My Life

Last week I was going through old papers and articles, sorting them into piles: keep and toss away. The toss pile was winning, along with the constant question, “Why on earth did I keep that?”

The task was taking longer than anticipated, as it was a walk down memory lane. I found old schedules I had created back when I taught yoga at local gyms; newsletters that were cut and pasted before computers were in daily use; and articles with titles like “Why Smoking Is Bad for You.”

Then I came across a newspaper clipping from October 17, 1996. “Peak of Courage,” read the headline in Simi Valley Daily News. “Climbing Mount Whitney puts 19 on top of the world.” I smiled as I read, for now — 21 years later — I can fully appreciate that event (though at the time it was the hardest thing I’d ever done).

Inspiration comes in many forms, and one Sunday afternoon 22 years ago it came to me as I was watching a PBS special. It was a documentary about a group of women who were recovering from breast cancer and had climbed a mountain in South America. This film was to become a catalyst for a fitness program my husband Rob and I created.

At the time, I worked for a women’s gym here in Simi and watched women exercise in my classes and in the weight room — but to what end? They never used the fitness they developed, never put it to task. So why not give them a goal and hike up the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney?

“How many women do you think will attend the first hike?” asked my boss as I presented the idea.

“Oh, I don’t know, probably about 20.” My estimate was hopelessly low. By the time we set off on our first hike up Rocky Peak, 84 women had signed up — and Rob and I got our first taste of what the next 10 months would bring.

Every month we designed and led hikes in the local mountains, each hike longer and harder than the last. We also offered classes under the banner, “Get fit for Whitney, get fit for life” and awarded points for events attended. Participants had to accumulate points to qualify for the trip.

Ten months later, in October 1996, 17 women were ready for Whitney. They all made it to the top, and I watched them celebrate after struggling and achieving so much in those 10 months. But Rob and I couldn’t celebrate yet — we still needed to get them back down the mountain safely.

I can remember feeling unfulfilled in that moment. I was surrounded by elation and joyous abandon, but I couldn’t feel that in myself. Instead the responsibility of getting everyone home safely loomed large.

Now, I look at the smiling faces in the summit photo, and I’m filled with pride for them. We all got to know each other so well in that 10-month program. It was life-changing for most, and an affirmation of fitness and dedication for all.

As for me — well, a few weeks after our climb, I turned in my notice at the gym and became a full-time yoga teacher. Whitney changed my life, too, and now 21 years later I can celebrate.

 

The Sound of Life

This week, as I was sitting in the Yoga Nook garden between clients, I was filled with gratitude for all those who have helped keep the plants alive and added to the bounty with new shrubs and trees.

Light filtered in through the lacelike structure of the pepper tree leaves, creating a soft green hue. The scent of jasmine and pepper filled the air. In the distance, I could hear the roar of the freeway.

Suddenly a flutter of wings brought me back to the garden as a sparrow came to the fountain for a drink. Then I was aware of water trickling and listened to its music for a while, till I was drawn away again by the sound of the train as it blew its horn across Tapo St.

A mockingbird sitting in the branches above my head abruptly launched into joyful song, and I began to smile as I saw a rhythm in the sounds surrounding me. Then our neighbors arrived home and children’s voices were first loud, then soft as they emptied out of a vehicle and were ushered inside. Our resident cat strolled into my view, sat down and meowed to be fed.

Sounds were arriving like waves, first taking my attention away then bringing it back to the garden. I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between the idea of deep listening and meditation. The sound of life surrounds us, and directing our focus to what we hear in the present moment is a deeply grounding practice.

Listen right now in this moment. Notice how the brain likes to label sound. What if you just allowed sound to move through your awareness, becoming acutely aware of the quality of the sound without labeling it?

Sound changes all the time, each wave unique and rich with life. Can you let your awareness float on the waves of sound? No judgment or story – just sound.

If you catch yourself thinking, return to pure listening. Let the sound of life become a tool for spiritual practice.

 

Image credit: John Baer via Flickr (CC)

Making My Way Back

It hardly seems possible, but I have now been away from the studios for 12 weeks. It’s an unusual feeling, as it’s the longest break from work that I’ve ever had in my life.

This has been a time of reflection as well as healing, and I have been grateful for it even though it’s been emotionally and physically challenging.

I want to thank everyone for the support you have shown me, especially my staff who have worked with passion and dedication to maintain the exacting standards that our students have come to expect at Yoga Nook.

I start back to some of my yoga classes next week, and I’m beginning to see a few clients again for private AIM sessions. Self-care is my priority right now, so keeping my schedule more open than full and building time into my day for my own practice are key.

I hope to see you in class or around the studios soon.

With gratitude and love,

Jeni

 

Image credit: HD_Vision via Flickr (CC)