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April 13, 2014

Grace & Grit: Moving Into Yoga. ~ Melanie Kaufman

woman in warrior II

Quite a few years ago, I signed up for my first Yoga retreat in North Georgia.

This ancient practice was very new to me and I was curious to learn more about the synchronistic relationship between mind, body, and spirit.

Little did I know how much it would actually change my life!

I was in my mid-twenties, just growing up really. Yoga studios were not on every corner in the area where I’m from, and honestly, I didn’t really know much about it at all. I took my first class as a recommendation from a good friend who had dabbled in the practice himself, the more subtle limbs specifically.

I have to admit that in the beginning, I was simply looking for a physical activity that would keep me fit and strong.

Without a deep understanding of the different traditions, I initially chose a Bikram school, but before long I realized Yoga was much more to me than 26 poses.

I began to notice how simply slowing down and focusing on my breath could bring me into my physical body. As I learned to be present, everything else just began to dissolve.

I became very disciplined with my Yoga practice. It taught me patience and acceptance within my own life. I felt more compassionate towards others and loved being part of a community.

Looking back, I know that this when my real journey in life began.

Quickly, I came to see Yoga as a moving meditation.

I have always been an introverted person and the chaos of simple day-to-day life around me can really take its toll. Through my Yoga practice, I began to learn that I was not at the mercy of my environment. I loved feeling the power of my own breath draw me away from all this external stuff and back to my “Self.” It grounded and supported me. It was if Yoga was bigger than all of that and nothing else mattered.

Over the next few years, I practiced regularly and really began to feel comfortable in my own skin. Not only did Yoga and meditation release my physical and emotional stresses, it inspired me to want to be a better person. Yoga showed me the importance of the process rather the end result.

I learned that I was exactly where I was meant to be in life. I am reminded of this over and over again.

Like a good friend, I knew Yoga would always be there for me.

Eventually, I realized that I wanted to invest even more time and energy into my Yoga practice. With hopes of deepening both my knowledge of my practice and myself, I researched many Yoga retreats, mostly in exotic and tropical locations.

Unfortunately, none of them were anywhere near my price range. But, I did discover that one of the resorts in Costa Rica also had a location in North Georgia, not too far from where I lived. Who would have thought?!

Of course, I really wanted to go to Costa Rica, but instead settled for the retreat in my home state of Georgia. I gathered up my things, and drove North for the weekend.

I packed light, but was careful to remember my new book, “Grace and Grit” by Ken Wilber. The same friend who had introduced me to Yoga several years before had given me this book and I thought it would be perfect to read during free time over the weekend.

And though it may not be Costa Rica, North Georgia is truly beautiful in the summer; hot and balmy, all of the plants and trees are in full, glorious bloom. I really looked forward to a weekend of Yoga, sun, fresh vegetarian food, and hiking.

That weekend I got all of those things and much more. The retreat took place in an old farmhouse, and a lot of the people staying there were already acquainted with one another.

Mostly, it was small groups of women who seemed to meet for a “girls weekend” type of getaway. Many of them were much older than I was, and though they were friendly to me when we shared meals, I kept mainly to myself.

After all, I was on a spiritual journey and wanted—even needed—to go it alone.

The retreat was lovely. The Yoga teacher was energetic and knowledgeable, the spa treatments were relaxing, and the hiking was invigorating. I could not have asked for more.

Throughout the weekend, I was also deeply engaged in the book I’d brought along by Ken Wilber. Wilber is a speaker and writer of mysticism, philosophy, ecology, and developmental psychology. For those familiar with his writing, it can be very heavy and complex. I’d attempted to read other of his books, but found they were far too much for me.

“Grace and Grit,” however, was different. This is the story of Ken’s wife Treya and the couple’s five-year journey battling cancer. It is a love story, really.

Ken and Treya met as adults, both having previously been married or in other relationships. For them it was love at first touch. Tragically, only a few weeks after meeting they discovered that Treya had breast cancer. “Grace and Grit” is made up primarily of Treya’s journals, mixed together with Ken’s heady philosophy and spirituality.

Their’s is an incredibly inspiring story! These two have such a beautiful and positive outlook on life; their love is so deep. Treya and Ken use genuine spiritual traditions such as Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity to fight the cancer that keeps recurring. Treya and Ken must face the inevitability of death, but they are not afraid, as they are truly filled with and comforted by love, compassion, and mindfulness.

I wept as I read each word of this book.

I felt like I could relate to Treya and I saw the similarities between us. She was strong, beautiful, loyal and determined. Treya was exactly the kind of woman I aspired to be and somehow I felt like this story was a catalyst for the personal work I had begun that weekend.

As I read Treya’s journals, I felt such a mixture of emotions—sad, happy, inspired, empathetic and deeply moved. I continued to weep, practice Yoga and spend time with myself. I journaled a lot.

I remember the moment I finished the book; I was sitting on the lawn of this beautiful farmhouse. It was a warm and windy day. Even though Treya did eventually lose her battle with cancer, I felt elated for Ken and Treya. They were able to cherish every moment they had together.

My weekend was coming to an end, but I felt that same type of elation and anticipation for my own life. Through my Yoga practice I was learning to connect with my own emotions.

I felt sensitive and vulnerable, yet excited and new.

On my last day at the farmhouse I met another woman who had come there on her own. She was quiet, and like me, seemed to want to be alone. I did however, have a short but important conversation with her.

Though she didn’t go into much detail, she shared with me that her brother had had cancer. I told her about “Grace and Grit” and I’m sure she could tell by the light and tears in my eyes what a wonderful and powerful book I had just read. As much as the book meant to me, I ended up giving her my copy. I wanted her to have it and to feel all those feelings I felt! I just knew in my heart how much it would mean to her.

I don’t even remember that woman’s name, but I will never forget those moments we shared. To this day I continue to share “Grace and Grit” with many special people—some of whom I know well, and others I simply feel who will appreciate it. I only hope it will inspire others as it has inspired me. I am very selective about whom I share it with, though, as this book means so very much to me. During difficult times I still turn to “Grace and Grit” for guidance and love.

After that powerful, healing and transformative weekend in North Georgia, I went back to Atlanta a new person. I felt recharged and had a new lust for life.

I enrolled in a 200-hour teacher-training program, and eventually spent time teaching and exploring in Costa Rica. I met wonderful friends in my program and gathered so much Yoga knowledge; I could hardly wait to share. I even decided to shave my head in honor of and with love for Treya. It was absolutely liberating!

I am so grateful to the sweet and sensitive soul who shared that book with me at just the right time in my life. That weekend was just the very beginning of my spiritual growth and practice. It was a weekend I will never forget!

As I moved into Yoga, I felt grateful for the guidance and strength I got from Treya Killam Wilber. To this day I remain a humble student of Yoga and continue to receive guidance and inspiration from so many other wonderful teachers. I currently teach and practice in Oakland, California. I enjoy connecting with other Yogis and Yoginis within my community and the rest of the world.

Rest in peace Treya.

 

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Melanie Kaufman