A typical morning
It’s 8:55 on Wednesday morning and students are filing into the studio. Coats are hung, shoes are kicked under the bench, and mats are dropped onto the floor. Hellos and hugs are offered, and the lovely chatter of friends begins.
I listen carefully to snippets of conversation, catching up on news of the day from my perch at the front of the classroom. I take in tales of travels, illnesses, community happenings and family delights. I notice who is here and who we’re missing. And all the while I gauge the mood of the group, rejiggering my plan for our morning according to the energy my friends have carried with them into class.
At 9:05 each week the last student predictably breezes in, reminding us to begin. And for the next hour and a half we stretch and move and breathe and relax. We explore the limits and possibilities of our bodies and our minds. We shed our stress, restore our energy, and reclaim our lives.
It’s been like this for 20 years
We’ve come together like this for nearly 20 years. The cast of characters shifts from week to week. The location changes occasionally. But two things never change: First, we practice yoga. And second, we cultivate community. We foster a sense of friendship and camaraderie that reminds us that we are part of something greater than our small bodies and individual breaths.
The word yoga means “to yoke,” and in the beginning the practice teaches us to reconnect the scattered parts of ourselves back into one complete whole. With each ounce of stress we shed, with each tight muscle we relax, we are brought back to a sense of wholeness and ease. We are returned to our truest selves.
With continued practice, though, a deeper understanding of yoga evolves. We begin to see how the practice not only yokes the body, mind and spirit together, but also yokes us to everyone and everything around us. Through yoga, our sense of self expands farther and farther beyond our skin until we take on all of life as our own.
A deeper understanding
It’s our Wednesday morning yoga class that has taught me this deeper understanding of yoga. I didn’t set out to build a community, just to teach a few friends some healing yoga stretches and relaxing ways to breathe. But yoga works its magic – creating community it its wake – whether you ask it to or not. Thanks to my yoga students, I now understand that in some beautiful way, yoga is community. Yoga is seeing clearly and experiencing deeply the strong bond we share, the shared experience we live, the extent to which I am you and you are me.
You get to know someone pretty well once you’ve done enough downward dogs together. You learn how people move and breathe and think. You learn who runs hot and who runs cold, who runs fast and who runs slow. You learn who can be counted on to add a little humor to the morning, who always has the perfect book recommendation, and who is always ready with a hug and a supportive word.
And in the beautiful container of yoga, you also learn to take on everyone around you as family, in the best sense of the word. You begin to love people not just in spite of their curiosities and foibles but because of them. You take an interest, as a matter of course, in the ups and downs of the lives of others. You embrace each soul around you as a vital and important light in the great constellation of life.
I think about this every Wednesday morning, as I watch this mystery unfold in our yoga class. Each of us enters with our own frustrations and fears, wishes and needs. And yet each of us, just by virtue of showing up, is knit into the greater whole of all of us. Breath by breath and moment by moment, we are banded together into a beautiful circle of care and support.
Every week I remind my students about how this works. When we’re feeling energized and balanced, we share that sense of vitality and support with those around us. We reach out to those who are struggling. We offer our support and energy. And when it’s our turn to feel dispirited or empty, we let ourselves be held and carried by that beautiful network of helping hands that surrounds us.
After 90 minutes of stretching and breathing, we settle into a few blissful moments of deep relaxation. I smile as I survey the room, which has settled into a soft and lovely glow. I sigh as my eyes survey my friends resting quietly, restored to some deeper peace and softness. I thank yoga, yet again, for working its magic, for guiding us back to ourselves, and for knitting us all together into one.
I pick up my Tibetan bowl, ready to chime us out of relaxation and off into our days. But then I inevitably pause, reluctant to disturb the collective peace and reverie that has descended upon us. Bowl still in hand, I sweep my gaze across the room, silently wishing each lovely member of our yoga community well. “May you be happy,” I think, looking at one beautiful being. “May you be well,” I offer another, and then another. On and on, until I have wrapped the whole room in a blanket of goodwill.
I offer up my silent thanksgivings to these beautiful souls, to this Wednesday morning tribe that embodies all yoga can offer, a living expression of yoga’s ability to connect us to one another, to create community, to share the joys and sorrows of life with the world around us. And then finally, I chime my bowl and bodies stir. Slowly, happily, each of us gathers our belongings and slips out into the day. And even though we head our separate ways, we remain yoked together by the practice of yoga, and by the invisible strands of love and support that carry us all.
Claudia Cummins has taught yoga and meditation for more than 20 years, and she invites you to join her Wednesday morning yoga group – or any other yoga class in the area – to savor the many benefits of the practice. Visit claudiacummins.com to learn more.
I love animals, and as a little girl I dreamed of a career doing what I love, caring for animals as a veterinarian. Today though, I’m not a veterinarian.
Fast forward 30+ years and I find myself the owner of a small business in my hometown and I love my life.
I’ve learned that life isn’t what we plan, it becomes a journey with changes at every turn. I’d planned one career, but it didn’t turn out as I expected. I fell in love, and of course that seldom goes as planned. And then there were surprises, sometimes wonderful ones in the form of unexpected opportunities. My journey has had many UPS and DOWNS and many surprises. Thankfully, what my parents instilled in me was to be true to myself, stay positive and keep an open mind.
As I attended the 1st Women’s Showcase at the Renaissance Theatre last month, I took a moment to reflect on where I have come from, where I am and how I got here.
The women in my small town love to help each other, nurture, and support each other. As a small business owner, you are challenged to be competitive and successful. When you have a strong network, that in my case includes family and friends, as well as many women, anything is possible. I appreciate the fact that I can ask another professional woman for help with an issue in my business or personal life and she will help me or help guide me to the right person to help me. I love the way women nurture and care for each other, and yes it happens in business.
Owning a business can be scary, and it’s nice to know you are not alone. I can also count on my network to remind me to stay mentally and physically healthy. From my observation, women tend to care for others before themselves, often leaving us stressed, depressed, and or anxious.
The Women’s Showcase offered business solutions and opportunities, health and beauty solutions networking, time for us. It was a reason to come together and celebrate our success and share what we do and love! It also helped me realize that I didn’t have to become a veterinarian to find a career that I truly loved.
As I mentioned, I have had many challenges in owning a business and have had a few partners. I hope you can join me November 25, 2015, 8-9a at My Town Partners office at 31 E 4th Street to discuss “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” of Partnerships. As we meet the day before Thanksgiving, I appreciate the fact that we can again be reminded of the network in our community and give thanks!
Mary K. Bolin is Graduate of Lexington High School and North Central State College. She has worked in the staffing industry for 29 years. Mary has two grown children, Alex and Maggie, and a grandson Nash. I love the community and have been involved in many non-profit boards and fundraising events. Currently, Mary is the board President of United Way of Richland County. and the Director of the staffing division at Temp2Higher, of N.E.C.I.C. Mary enjoys reading, golf, the beach and anytime she can be with her family. Her favorite challenge is finding solutions for our community.
In March of 2013 Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg’s much anticipated book, Lean In, hit bookstore shelves. I’d followed the buzz and clamored to the bookstore to get my copy right away. I was hoping that this highly successful woman would have the insight I needed, but alas I was underwhelmed. In the end I forged my own path and I decided to Lean Out.
Our workplaces are broken
Sandburg did quote statistics most women already know about the inequities in the workplace, and struggles that women face. She did share some of her own personal challenges with candor. I can’t disagree with any of the problems she presented, but I certainly noticed some glaring omissions.
I’ve lived a ton of clichés. I’ve worked the same job as men for significantly less pay (I made 1/3 to be exact). I’ve had bosses hit on me, or even worse try to force me to date their friends (isn’t that tantamount to prostitution?) I once found out that a young man, with no education or experience, who was an assistant manager reporting to me, was in fact being paid MORE than me. And then there was the time my employer tried to deny my maternity leave and when I “Leaned In” and stood up for myself they started building a case to fire me. I could go on, but suffice it to say, I know this is a man’s world.
However you look at it, my own career simply hadn’t gone the way I’d hoped it would. In fits and starts I’d poured myself, my WHOLE self into job after job, and over and over I’d hit walls, glass ceilings, or dead ends. No matter how hard I worked, how much I cared, how desperately I chased achievement and produced remarkable results, in the end I was depleted, unappreciated, and often looking for another job.
The mentor myth
Where Sandburg really went off the rails was in a chapter titled, Are you my mentor? Once you weed through the litany of humble brags and whatnot you find that successful women like Sandburg don’t want to be bothered with peons asking for mentorship. Her advice is to just plug away and work hard, somehow your mentor will just magically show up, after all, that’s what happened for her. It’s good to be Sheryl.
Funny thing is, that’s exactly what I’d been doing my whole life and my mentor had never come. Was something wrong with me? Of course not, ask ANY woman and they’ll tell you that mentors don’t fall out of the sky.
So what do we do?
Sandburg talks a lot about “Leaning In.” The idea feels a lot like victim-blaming, but basically she suggests women stand up for themselves, be assertive, and advocate on their own behalf. That’s nice, but I didn’t need a book to tell me that, I’d been standing up for myself for quite some time and it hadn’t really panned out in the ways Sandburg seemed to think it should.
In my experience “Leaning In” was a sure-fire way to find myself out of a job. My elusive mentor probably wasn’t going to show up any time soon, and I was at an all-time low.
Then I got a message from an acquaintance (who later became a friend and mentor.) “Maybe it’s time you start something of your own?” she said; and so I did.
Around the same time another book was published. David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell, and it was just the inspiration I needed. In this book Gladwell makes the case that meaningful social change seldom happens from within, rather, the misfits, underdogs, and marginalized make the greatest impact from without, when they can play by different rules.
This became my formula. If the system is broken, why am I trying to be a part of it? Why try to fit where I obviously don’t? Why should I keep setting myself up to fail?
I decided to Lean Out, and for me that took the form of entrepreneurship. I started my own business, and did it my way, on my terms. That means people first, the profits will follow, and above all else, building everything I do on a foundation of loving-kindness.
You know what? I’ve never been happier.
One of the first things I did when I founded Tog Loft was write a manifesto. This was serious business for me, because it is the foundation of everything that I do. I’ve always lived and worked with purpose, but often found myself at cross-purposes with the organizations of my employ. Never again is my life and work out of alignment with my values, and for me that is a beautiful thing.
The Tog Loft Manifesto
every living thing deserves to be treated with dignity and respect
We want to live in a world where
cooperation and sustainability is our way of life
What we know for sure is
entrepreneurship and the arts are powerful catalysts for change
Your voice matters
You bring something wonderful into this world by being you
Tog Loft is developing space
Developing photographers, community, and entrepreneurship
Tracy loves people, small businesses, and the local movement. She’s passionate about seeing other people succeed, which is why she splits her time between her marketing agency, Graziani Multimedia, and her startup, Tog Loft. She’s also a mom, wife, daughter, friend, artist, writer, and doer of impossible things. She believes in infinite possibility, so look out, she’s dangerous.