I know sooner or later I’d have to write about how yoga has played such an important part of my life. I have been practicing on and off for over 40 years. I was 16 when I was a young apprentice at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in the summer acting program. A free spirited peculiar man named Jewel Walker was teaching something called yoga incorporated with the Alexander Technique. Now this was Cincinnati, Ohio in 1971 and any practice like that was looked upon as an idea short of witchcraft. There was no lululemon, no fancy studios or designer mats. Most of the time we were in pajama pants and a t-shirt. Jewel had long scraggly hair and always wore free flowing pants with a tank top. He spoke very softly, focused and was very, very relaxed. I just thought he enjoyed some nice weed as it was still heavy in the hippie days and everyone in the “theater” was looked upon as being out there.
Somehow his inner strength made a huge impression on me and I wanted to have that kind of presence. I was trying to find my way as an artist as I knew even then I was destined to be involved in the arts for the rest of my life. I wasn’t sure how all of that was going to work out but I knew I felt at home when I was in Jewel’s class.
As the years wore on I dappled in other forms of dance, aerobics and movement but I always kept coming back to yoga. It seemed to be a place where I could relax, breathe and strengthen my mind and body. There are many forms of yoga but I always seemed to be the most at home with Hatha. The meaning of yoga is union which is a perfect way of describing what it is like when the tension in your body is released by the relaxation of your mind. They say we hold our emotions in our hips and there have been many times when I have started to cry, not from sadness, but from sheer relief that the tension I have held onto has finally been released.
I have had strange thoughts while in the most bizarre yoga position and I think it has been my mind’s way of saying to let go. Listen to my body and respect what it is trying to tell me. I will have worked many long hours on my feet and not notice the wear and tear I am doing to my body. Then I will do an hour of yoga and be reminded the gift my body gives me everyday. I must take the time to give thanks to this miraculous gift of life I take for granted.
I am a cancer survivor and if nothing else, being a survivor has taught me to listen not only to my mind but what my body is telling me. To be aware that good health is vital and can be lost in an instant. That the gift of breath which is the basis of yoga is the basis of life. I don’t know if Jewel was his real name but I know what he taught me at an early age has set me up for life to have something to go to when I need that special support. And that makes him a gem to me.