In Gratitude

By Michal Retter

A yoga teacher’s students are often her inspiration and source of pride. As Thanksgiving approaches, my heart is filled with gratitude towards all of you. Here, I would like to introduce two of my longest practicing students (Pam and Brenda) who have graciously shared some personal experiences related to life, yoga and the Thanksgiving motif.

I sent them these guiding questions that you too may want to reflect on (in writing, if that speaks to you) as an invitation to gratitude. 

1. Where do you practice yoga? (Home/Studio/elsewhere)

2. What postures capture the essence of yoga for you and why?

3. What is something that yoga taught you?

4. Can you share a cool/deep/fun/unusual/ metaphysical/ mysterious/ awesome (just one of those!) experiences you have had that are related to yoga?

5. What’s your favorite Thanksgiving moment or quote?

6. Any message or prayer or insight to give other yoga practitioners?

So, without further ado:

Brenda Miller

Since the pandemic, I have been practicing at home with 3 Oms classes and some online videos. I enjoy the convenience and comfort of home practice, though I do miss the in-person community too.

Downward Dog is the first pose that comes to mind, as it seems to stretch and align every part of the body. When I settle into Down Dog, I feel my body adjusting and settling. I’ve come to really appreciate Mountain Pose too; though it seems like such a simple pose, when I really focus on the nuances, I can feel every part of my body contributing to stability and balance. I can feel the support of the earth and pull of the sky. Also I’ve been loving supported bridge pose and supported shoulder stand; these gentle inversions bring in so much new energy and vitality!

Yoga continually teaches me to respect my body, and to celebrate what it can do while it can do it. It also reminds me to breathe and to sit upright!

My mom died six months ago, and my elderly dog died not too long after that. It’s been a season of grief in a way I’ve never known before. A couple of months ago, I bought a painting at the Smith Vallee gallery that really spoke to me, but I didn’t know why until I heard its story: the painting – which is an image of a ceremonial canoe floating among clouds beneath a full moon – represents the safe passage of our ancestors to the afterlife. When I’m doing yoga at home, I’m often facing that painting, which hangs above my fireplace. As I reach up to the heavens and bow down to the earth, I can feel that passage happening, and I tap into the deep respect and love that form a wellspring beneath the grief. Tears will often flow as I flow in my yoga practice, as I build strength and resilience. (I’ve attached a photo of the painting)

I love this poem by Li-Young Lee as a Thanksgiving poem:

I’ve been practicing yoga for decades and I’m still a beginner! There’s a kind of joy in staying in beginner’s mind. 

Pam Sankey

When my children were toddlers and still nappers, I took advantage of those quiet times to practice yoga asanas with Lilias, the TV yogini of the 70’s who had a yoga class on PBS. My yoga space was a small carpeted area in the family room of our little house, just enough room for a yoga mat. As life moved on, I continued my yoga practice attending classes and maintaining my own daily practice. When I moved to Bellingham in 2004, I made a commitment to myself to have a more active yoga practice. The first week I was in town I was fortunate to walk into a class taught by Michal. Since then I have had the privilege to learn and practice with her and others at 3 OMS.

I have practiced yoga asanas in yoga studios, parks, beaches, outdoor decks, living rooms and even hallways at home and on my travels. I believe it is the mood and the state of mind that best support the practice, although a beautiful setting contributes to whole experience.

One of my favorite yoga moments occurred while travelling in Mongolia. On a peaceful early morning I stepped out of my Ger, the Mongolian equivalent to a Yurt, to a spectacular blue sky above a verdant grassy field. It was a beautiful setting for my morning yoga practice. My view was unobstructed for miles; a few animals, yaks and sheep grazing, but no humans that I could see. Progressing through my practice I readied myself for a headstand which I calmly held enjoying the silence, the warmth of the sun on my back and the sense of aloneness. As I came out of the pose and placed my feet back on the ground, I was aware of a presence. Just at the edge of my peripheral vision I saw a Mongolian man, perhaps a herder, also in a headstand. As he landed quietly on the ground we made eye contact and shared a moment of yoga gratitude.

Yoga has taught me so much, most of which is how much more there is to learn.

Pursuing balance- physical, mental, and spiritual- through asanas, meditation, focus, and awareness is an ongoing project in which every day and every practice is different. Some of my favorite postures are those most difficult for me. Headstands, half-moon pose, and even tree pose are challenging and yet so satisfying for the effort and the sense of accomplishment when they work!

Traditionally as the Thanksgiving season approaches we celebrate a time of thankfulness and gratitude for all that we have been given. I am grateful for the very fine yoga teachers I have had. I am grateful that my physical body allows my practice and that my practice enriches my body and my mind. I am grateful for the freedom to pursue my interest in yoga and expand my knowledge of the history, the culture and the spirituality of yoga. Yoga practice yields a deeper consciousness which provides stability to my thinking. For that I am very grateful.

This quote attributed to Jesuit David Steindl-Rast speaks to my feeling,

“It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.”

I do believe that gratitude is the foundation for real joy.

Michal Retter (with help from Brenda Miller + Pam Sankey)

Michal was first introduced to Yoga as a young child, going to classes with her ima (mother) in South Africa were she was raised. Michal has a passion for creating a non competitive and open space for self-discovery, and self-love of our multi faceted nature – mind, body and soul. Michal is certified by YogaFit and draws on 15+ years experience in yoga as well as a background in energy healing, relaxation techniques and body psychotherapy. Her classes address the mind as well as the body, with emphasis placed on addressing each person’s needs whether they are physical, emotional, mental or spiritual.

Click here to learn more about Michal and see her teaching schedule.

Piece of fire