With Spring’s official arrival just a couple of weeks away, Shree Yoga Taos is getting ready for their annual Spring Challenge.
I invited Suki Dalury and Genevieve Oswald, the co-owners of Shree, to tell us, in their own words, what the annual Spring Challenge at Shree Yoga Taos, means to them. In 2017 the challenge is named, Root Down.
Q) Shree has been open now for a good while – how many Spring Challenges have you done?
Suki: I believe we have offered the Spring Yoga Challenge for the past seven years. Genevieve has a way better memory for those kinds of things than I… Maybe we had a challenge in 2010? I’m not sure.
I think it is important to say that the challenge is about making a commitment to one’s practice, not winning or losing, or even finishing. One year, I signed up to take the challenge and attended something like five classes, which was actually a great success (and foil for my rather perfectionist, must-finish-the-job-personal-bent). The revelations and breakthroughs that one has on the mat can’t be predicted, only fostered and nourished. Plus, we had to pick a number, as the call to practice until you are done is too vague, even though that does rather sum up the call of any spiritual tradition, doesn’t it? (Try this, it might help, but only you will know when it is helping and what that help even looks like…) 20 in 30 sets solid roots, and then see what pops up.
Genevieve:You have stumped me with this question…as for what I can remember…we opened in the fall of 2009, and I believe that we did our first spring challenge in 2010. We have also over the years done a similar challenge in the autumn, but it has not been consistent in comparison to the spring challenge which has become a yearly tradition. The only deviance from the tradition was last year when we tried a new model on for size. That model invited students to complete 30 classes in 30 days as opposed to 20 or 21 classes in 30 days. I myself have participated in a good portion of these challenges and as a result have a clear perspective on the effort required to complete any of them… The 30 in 30 model was off the charts hard to finish. Not only do these challenges pose great feats for the physical body, they are incredibly time-consuming. And the 30 in 30 model was the most time-consuming of all, so we scaled it back to the less time-consuming model. The challenge is still present, however, more manageable in a 30 day schedule.
Q) Genevieve, Suki is now the studio manager, does that mean your involvement in the running of Shree is minimal or have you become in effect, a silent partner?
Genevieve: I am not a silent partner. However, as you suggest my involvement in the day-to-day managerial tasks is minimal. Running a studio the size of Shree is a minimal, but not to be undervalued, job. Suki and I used to do it together and while the process of collaborating was super fun and rewarding, things took twice as long as they needed to because there was so much communication that had to happen for something to be done. Over the years we have established what we both feel works and does not and now making those choices comes easy. As a result we have been able to create the position of studio manager and while Suki holds that title now, it could be transferred to someone else at a future date if she felt it was time to transition into a new role in her life. For now, I think she is happy with the work, and I am happy, so we go forward like this.
Q) What does the Challenge mean to each of you personally?
Suki : The Root Down Challenge is an invitation to set roots into practice. Yoga is meant to be a lifetime and lifestyle practice that peels away the residues and layers of illusion that can veil our bodies, spirits, and minds from the truth. Attending a class here and there is a nice way to move the body, shake things up, and get some perspective, but is only a millisecond of the wisdom lineage that yoga has to offer. You don’t have to completely alter your entire life to practice yoga, but over time, the behaviors and even thoughts that no longer serve, tend to fall away, if there is room and space for growth. When one commits – to anything – the very thing transforms under the generous light of attention. It’s a natural process. In this consistent and regular approach to practice, the yoga really starts happening and transforming old habits into new, healthier, and more balanced ones. Also, it’s perfectly natural for one to get accustomed to their preferred teacher, and even style of practice. To make the goal of 20 in 30, those habits need to be broken, too, and the challenge provides a chance to find something valuable in every kind of class.
I don’t personally love the word “challenge”, for its possible misconstruction toward competition. Rather, the title is an acknowledgement of the inevitable challenges, discomforts, and sometimes hard truths that will present themselves in the course of such a critical mass of practice. In good company, and with good support, these acknowledgements can rise up from the depths, be tended, and then move, making way for the new. All this makes it sound rather uncomfortable. I’d like to be clear that much of the time, especially for a practitioner who is paying attention, being gentle with their body, and working with a skilled guide (like every one of our teachers at Shree), yoga actually feels really good!
Genevieve: I love this question because it gets right to the heart of everything yoga is. Life is full of challenges! From the minimal challenges of the small day-to-day choices we are called to make, like simply choosing what to wear, to the greater of life’s challenges like loosing a beloved. How we respond to these challenges is what creates the texture of our lives, not the challenges themselves. Most of life’s challenges we have no choice over. However, choosing how we respond is completely in our control. And respond is the key word. Our culture conditions us to react, not respond. Yoga, which is essentially a mindfull and spiritual practice, teaches us to respond, not react. Yoga asana pushes us beyond the limits of our physical comforts and into the realms of physical discomfort. Through attention to breath, thoughts, and physical alignment we find our way into a state of peacefulness in the presence of the discomfort. The process teaches us that we do not have to be comfortable to experience peace. This is where asana practice translates off the mat, over time, after much consistent and continued practice, our capacity to respond to what is taking place rather than react increases. As a result it does not matter what life hands to us, we know we are resilient, flexible, adaptable, and have the capacity to walk through it, mindfully, and hopefully with an open and receptive spirit.
So, in this vein, signing up for a challenge, choosing it willingly, is like Jedi training for life. And if we stay the course we come to realize that perseverance leads to satisfaction. Life’s challenges are often simultaneously life’s greatest gifts, but only when we allow them to be. If we resist the invitation, we increase the friction and the feeling of discomfort, simultaneously decreasing the opportunity for peace. When we allow ourselves to follow the invitation, to be like a raft on the current, we can learn to navigate the obstacles with more finesse and eventually we don’t flip the raft anymore. Instead, we nail the handstand, or sit with our grief without substance abuse, or have the difficult conversation without degrading another’s character. This is what yoga is about, getting better at living in the heart and in peace no matter what is rising or falling away.
Q) For Suki, where did the concept/title, Root Down, come from Ms. Wordsmith?
Suki: Root Down is a nod to the springtime natural world, where deep root systems are breaking through to new ground, creating support and nourishment channels for all that sees the sun. These roots are inseparable from the fruits. It’s meant to honor all the work that goes in beneath the surface, or under the radar, and give big love to our roots.
Thank you ladies!
For more information on Shree Yoga Taos and the Root Down Spring Challenge, please visit their site linked below.
Photographs of Shree Yoga Taos by Robban Reynolds
Shots of Suki and Gen pressing cider (by Anicca Cox), and doing handstands, lifted from their Facebook pages