As this is my first time on this blog, let me introduce myself. I am affectionately called SierraSue by friends because of my love for nature. I am a natural kind of woman and perhaps that is the reason I was drawn to Yoga so many years ago. This blog will be about my journey with yoga through the years.
My first Hatha Yoga class was in 1973, in the basement of a really “cool” metaphysical book store. Yes, I was a “Hippy” back in the day, fresh out of college in Ohio. The class was fun and I took an immediate interest in not just the physical movements, but the reason(s) behind the movements and the benefits taking place within my body and mind, as a result of daily practice of Hatha Yoga. This interest and the instructor teaching the class led me to meet his teacher, Yogi Amrit Desai.
It was like striking a gold mine. Yogi Desai was the real deal. A true Yoga Master. This was a stroke of good fortune that would initiate me into yoga and the Eastern Spiritual world on a life long journey. Yogi Desai is credited with introducing Hatha Yoga to the western world. Back in the early 1970’s, Yogi Desai was featured on national television demonstrating his amazing command of the human body; today he is internationally renowned garnering the highest honors in the world of Yoga. I have continued to study with Yogi Desai over the last 45-years. Most recently, I accompanied him to India in 2017 on an in-depth spiritual journey in his home country.
My physical journey in this life took me far from Ohio, to the West coast, where I would encounter many different yoga teachers and styles. All with something to offer. I took a course in Iyengar Yoga, which I found exacting and difficult, but it helped me develop correct posture and alignment. I took private yoga classes which focused on inverted postures. At home I did a 28-day yoga exercise plan out of an excellent book by Richard Hittleman. In the 80’s I watched, “Lilias Yoga and You”. It was an effective tool for me to learn as well as it was taught by a great teacher role model. I continued to follow her teaching yoga via television classes. 500 episodes aired on PBS from 1970 thru 1999. I took many classes with no name, and I took classes with big names. Bikram Hot Yoga was initially difficult, but I grew to love it as I found it was a good fit for my body and personality. And “Yes” it was hot and sweaty, but also liberating and structurally very sound. Some yoga classes I attended over the years weren’t so sound. Some were taught by individuals that clearly had no idea what yoga was, and sometimes their instructions were unsound and held potential for injury. Their classes never employed the breath and their postures had no flow to them, resulting in stretching but not yoga.
Along the way, I was occasionally asked to teach yoga myself. Decades ago, yoga certification was in its infancy. I taught small classes with success, but none that evolved into long term commitment. What these short forays into teaching taught me was in the observation of how yoga could spiral students into deep states of meditation. I always intuitively ended my classes with a brief guided relaxing meditation. Little did I know these guided meditations were laying the ground work for me as a teacher today, teaching Yoga Nidra.
Weaved throughout my Yoga journey was also the spiritual quest of learning to meditate. While yoga done properly evolves into “meditation in motion”, there is much to be learned from a sitting meditation practice.
Along my journey, I tried many meditation teachers, eventually finding a Buddhist teacher I particularly resonated with. While attending a one-day sitting practice in Washoe Valley with Dharma Zephyr group, I encountered Marv Treiger. An immediate sense of acceptance and affinity was established at this point. I followed my intuition by attending a 3-day residential retreat in the San Bernardino Mountains at a Buddhist Zen center. This was the first of many mountain retreats with Marv, learning the science and application of how to meditate by using well established, time honored Buddhist teachings. These retreats were held primarily in silence for days and weeks at a time, leading me into deep states of focus and eventually into what some call the “Roaring Silence” of Meditation, where one experiences the clarity of consciousness and moments of enlightenment.
Becoming a Yoga Nidra Teacher
At a point in life the student must become the teacher to further the learning process. This may involve teaching one person or a class full of students. Either way, passing the knowledge of yoga on to others is a natural progression of yoga. Many of my fellow yoga and meditation friends were insisting that it was time for me to teach. With a humbled mind, I turned to my original teacher, Yogi Desai for instruction, guidance and blessing to become a certified Yoga Nidra teacher.
Today, I teach Yoga Nidra, which is a blend of Hatha Yoga and Meditation. The simple yoga postures are designed to loosen up the body, release tension, and to create a rhythmic flow that allows the mind to tune into moving sensation in the body. The result is a state of mindfulness. As the class progresses, the student(s) recline into a relaxed state of stillness as my guided meditation directs their minds into a deepening awareness of the life force via their breath flowing in the body. Gradually with guidance, the student(s) enter deeper and deeper states of awareness and relaxation, effortlessly entering a state of meditation where healing through harmony of the body, mind and spirit evolves.
Yoga Nidra is a process which anyone can engage in. An athletic body is not a requirement. Injuries are not a hindrance. Age is not an obstacle. Yoga Nidra works well with all body types, all experience levels. One does not have to be able to touch their toes. No extreme postures are employed. Just a willingness and desire to gently stretch the body and open the mind into states of calm, peaceful stillness.
The majority of my students are everyday working people in the latter half of their lives; yet I sometimes have children, and sometimes three generations attending the same class. My students range from physical fitness instructors to people who haven’t seen a gym in 20 years. Some students are reasonably healthy, and others have shoulder and knee injuries. Frequently students arrive stressed out and full of tense aching back and neck muscles or with a headache, but they come to class anyway. After class, they leave behind the tension and the headache is now gone. They leave Yoga Nidra with a deep sense of peaceful stillness. They leave with quiet smiles and a lightness in their movements. They frequently share with me that they have less pain, sleep better, deal more easily with problems at work, and their personal relationships are improving. They also share becoming more comfortable with who they are by being more accepting and more loving of themselves and their loved ones. Sometimes huge obstacles in their lives dissolve away. One woman after attending class went home, picked up a paint brush and resumed painting after a 16-year absence from a professional art career. Through Yoga Nidra, she freed something within herself, allowing her to get back in touch with her artistic side.
My years of training along with my personal journey of yoga and meditation have left me with a wealth of experience which I use in my teaching. I teach from the heart, I teach with prana in charge guiding me, tuning into what my students need. I do not decide before hand what to teach, or use a cookie cutter training agenda in my classes. I listen with my heart and mind, and I trust in the process of allowing my energy to harmonize with my students, allowing them to receive the very best I have to give.
All of life is a journey, an exploration. Exploring the outside world is fun but exploring the internal world within is a truly amazing adventure. Yoga is an integral part of my life’s journey. Make it part of yours. Join me if you feel an interest in exploring the world at a deeper level or just loosening and relaxing the body and mind.
I hope you have enjoyed meeting me, I am Susan Fritz, RN or affectionately called, SierraSue. More topics, more health and metaphysical commentary in future blogs, thank you for joining me. Questions, comments are always welcome, drop me a line, let’s talk about Yoga. Let’s talk about living life fully, with health and vitality.
Susan Fritz, RN an affiliate of Sierra Nevada Holistic Services, LLC and Serenity Studio has been living and practicing yoga for more than 40 years, resides in Carson City and employed at Carson Tahoe Behavioral Health Services, specializing in physical, mental and emotional well-being.