Shanti Emerson: Yoga anyone? |

Shanti Emerson: Yoga anyone?

Shanti Emerson

Some time ago, let’s say 1982, I heard about a class held in the foyer of the Unitarian Church in Pasadena where one could learn a curious discipline called “yoga.” I was intrigued as I had heard that strange name only a few times.

So I went to the next class, which had only four participants. The teacher fascinated me. She was a petite 40-something redheaded mother of four. What I loved was her deep serenity, her kindness, and her sharp focus on her students and their postures.

During class, I stretched to the point where I could really feel it and held the postures (asanas) for a few breaths. At the end of class, we students lay on our backs on our mats while our teacher went to each of us, gently pulling the back of our heads lengthening our necks. It felt delicious. At the end, we sat crosslegged, pulled our hands to our hearts in prayer position, and said “Namaste,” translated as “the light in me sees the light in you, and together we are one.”

As the weeks turned into months and the months into years and the benefits of yoga became well known, her class of four turned into multiple classes of 40. She hired other teachers to help her out. The same was happening everywhere, even making the cover of Time magazine. Yoga caught on like wildfire. Yet yoga is the opposite of wildfire. It is more like water in a lake.

… when I seem to be always nursing some body part that isn’t up to par, being happy with “what is” is my goal.

My San Francisco teacher had a Buddhist background. From a trip to India, I brought her a twig from the famous Bodhi tree (under which the Buddha received his enlightenment). I attended her five-day yoga workshop, and during my yearly wellness visit, the nurse told me that I gained a half inch in height!

Students in these classes are so silent, obedient and respectful that a classroom teacher can only fantasize about them.

Many of the poses have interesting names such as “happy baby,” “downward dog,” “child’s pose” or “cat/cow.” Often there is soft background music, and the lights are low. There is no talking except from the teacher.

Sometimes, we do inversions such as “plow pose” or “legs up the wall,” where we reverse the blood flow to our brains, much needed in what’s left of mine.

As I continued in my studies, I learned that yoga has been practiced in India by the Hindus for 4,000 years and by the Buddhists for 2,500 years. Even though this was long before modern science and medicine, recent scientific studies bear out the claims made thousands of years before.

There are yoga studios all over Nevada County. All the gyms offer them, and they are the main reason I belong to a gym. Although I have never done Bikram yoga, which requires a very hot studio, I know a number of people who miss that particular form which shut down last year.

I was so lucky to have a spiritually developed teacher from the beginning. My next teacher was an American Sikh who teaches Kundalini yoga. We have remained friends even though I moved away from Pasadena 27 years ago. She, too, has deep calmness and a loving spirit.

Not all teachers are as spiritual or inspiring as these two, but all seem to be calmer and more aware than most people. Many of them meditate daily, and all create an atmosphere of respect and quiet.

Lately I have also been attending Q’Gong and tai chi classes taught by guru Homer Nottingham or his students Kathy and Jerri. I love the graceful movements and like yoga, they have such interesting names.

Q’gong is from a centuries old Chinese system of slow flowing movements, breathing exercises, and meditation for the purpose of healing the body physically and spiritually. People practice Q’gong all over the world.

I remember one time in San Francisco going to Golden Gate Park in the early morning and seeing several very large groups of people practicing Q’gong or tai chi together. What a great way to start the day!

There are many other forms of meditative movement and martial arts taught in Nevada County and although I don’t know much about them, I am deeply impressed when they offer public demonstrations. These disciplines are especially valuable to children and teenagers and can make a wonderful difference in their lives. Maybe our schools should consider having such classes during physical education.

I will never be able to do the hand or head stand, but I can easily bend over and touch my toes, and getting up and down from my mat on the floor is no problem. My massage therapist tells me that I am very spry.

My name, Shanti, is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning “peace.” It is chanted with the word “om” worldwide, especially in ashrams throughout India. Contentment, serenity and peace are worthy goals for all us. In my youth, I strove to get ahead and move up the socio-economic ladder. At my age, when I seem to be always nursing some body part that isn’t up to par, being happy with “what is” is my goal.


Shanti Emerson is a Nevada County resident and a member of The Union Editorial Board. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the board or its members. She can be reached at

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