The True Essence of Partner Yoga

By Monique Parker

Ed (71) and Lynn (66) Galusky, both of whom have been working to improve their balance, support each other in Vrkasana or Tree pose.

The term “partner yoga” conjures up the image of a couple simultaneously exercising together, perhaps one person supporting the other while both assume a posture.

While this relatively new form of “couples yoga” is on the rise among yoga practitioners and may offer a novel way to experience asana and “other”, the truest form of partner yoga is when two people provide the mutual support, trust, and encouragement to learn and grow in a way that serves the highest good of each individual.

Married 44 years, Lynn and Ed Galusky took up yoga for different reasons, but support each other in their individual practices, which they perform at the same time in separate rooms of their Questa home.

For Lynn and Ed Galusky, this means having a practice that addresses the unique needs and goals of each partner. Married forty-four years, the Galusky’s, who came to yoga for different reasons, practice yoga at the same time of day in separate rooms of their Questa home.

“Lynn started doing yoga first and kept it up,” says Ed, “I started thinking, ‘there must be something beneficial to this’ and it got me going.”

The Galuskys moved to Questa from a Dallas suburb ten years ago after retiring; Ed worked as a building maintenance engineer and Lynn as a special education teacher and counselor.

Lynn stretches her quadriceps, which is also a balance posture.

I met Lynn at Questa High School four years ago; I was teaching dual-credit college English and she was back at work full-time as both as a counselor and special education teacher. “I could have stayed retired, but why, when I can still make a difference in kids’ lives?” she says.

Lynn, 66, started taking yoga classes with me nearly two years ago at the Questa Health and Fitness Center. Soon after, she augmented her routine with a home practice. “I had polio as a kid and had to wear corrective shoes or my ankles would get all bloody,” she says, demonstrating a hyper-pronated duck-walk.

When Lynn first started practicing, she habitually locked her knees when standing, which is not uncommon when someone has a meniscus tear or knee pain accompanied by movement. “I have arthritis in my knees and a meniscus tear—probably from playing soccer—but I’m holding off on surgery,” she adds.

With the advice of Dr. Ganesh Mohan, we designed a series of exercises that helped strengthen the muscles surrounding her knee joint. “And look,” she happily says, “I don’t lock my knees anymore.”

Lynn also suffered from neuromuscular tension in her back and neck, affecting a rounded posture with hunched shoulders. “Turning my head like this,” she says, looking over her shoulder, “was almost impossible before I started yoga. My shoulders are now down and I no longer have aches and pains like I used to.”

The yogic breathing also helped her to cope with work-related stress. “It’s gotten harder at school with all the politics,” she says. “There are nights I don’t want to do my practice, but halfway through I’m glad I did.”

Her dedication has paid off in a marked change of attitude. “I can still spout off and get mad, but it doesn’t affect me as much,” she says. “I do deep breathing at work and my attitude now is ‘Oh well, it will be there tomorrow, let it go.’”

Nine months after Lynn took up yoga her husband Ed came to me for a private session. “I’ve never been flexible,” he says. “I had low back pain and high blood pressure. But since I started yoga my blood pressure has lowered. A few weeks ago it was 115 over 70.”

Ed practicing Tadasan or toe balance pose.

After a long hiatus, Ed, 71, took up tennis two years ago. While he was sprite, which allowed him to cover the court, he noticed that he was stiff and that his balance needed improvement. “I used to fall all over the place when I started standing on my toes,” he says.

One of the postures Ed practices is Tadasana or palm tree pose, a basic but important exercise for spinal extension, focus, and balance. While inhaling, he simultaneously raises his arms and lifts his heels to balance on his toe mounds. At first he took support of a wall, but he no longer needs to. Every couple of months, when Ed is ready for more challenge, he follows up with another yoga session.

Although retired, he keeps himself busy practicing permaculture; Ed also built a greenhouse and woodworking shop. A believer in preventative measures, he appreciates having a personal yoga practice that he can do in the privacy and convenience of his own home. “Group settings can be impersonal and somewhat generic since the teacher has a lot of students,” he says. “Having a home practice, then a weekly group class for variation is ideal. The familiarity of the exercises helps in the group.”

Perhaps by accident, Ed has already tapped into the crux of yoga practice: “I always feel better afterwards,” he says. “It’s what keeps me motivated so that I’ll do it again.”

**First published in The Taos News on April 18, 2013


Martha Flanders: Not Ready to Be a Senior

by Monique Parker

Martha Flanders of Arroyo Hondo became a certified yoga teacher through UNM-Taos and Svastha Yoga and Ayurveda of Chennai, India at the age of 60.

Martha Flanders had already been practicing yoga for several years before taking my Svastha Yoga class at the Northside Spa in the winter of 2009. It only took a few classes before she realized yoga had much more to offer than just stretching. “Svastha Yoga didn’t just improve my flexibility, it also helped me to develop core strength and quiet my mind,” Flanders says.

 Martha wasn’t like other students who simply showed up for class and went through the motions. She asked poignant questions, took notes, and approached her health with a proactive and inquisitive mind. I suggested she come for a private session where I could address her questions in-depth, as well as develop an individualized routine that she could practice at home. “Oh, no, I’d never be disciplined enough on my own to do that,” I recall her saying.

Fast-forward five years. Today, Martha, 61, not only has her own home practice which she adapts as she sees fit, but she also teaches yoga classes in El Prado and on South Padre Island, Texas, where she vacations. A year ago, just weeks after completing her 200-hour yoga teacher certification at UNM-Taos, she traveled with me to Mamallapuram, India, to meet my teachers, A.G. and Indra Mohan. While there she obtained a second 200-hour level yoga certification from Svastha Yoga & Ayurveda.

Martha uses Virabhadrasana II or Warrior Pose to strengthen her legs for downhill skiing, cycling, and windsurfing.

“Since I found Svastha Yoga, my life has changed dramatically. The teachings make so much sense. Postures are synchronized with the breath, putting more attention on the movement and giving the asana practice a meditative quality, thus calming the mind—a quality that for me has had the most impact,” Flanders says.

Martha is one of fourteen other Taos-based yoga instructors who are working towards their 500-hour level certification in Svastha Yoga Therapy with the Mohans’ son, Dr. Ganesh Mohan, here in Taos. The program requires a three and a half year commitment. “What is so unique about Svastha Yoga is that it emphasizes the adaptation of postures for the needs and abilities of the individual, while continually reassessing the individual’s condition and making appropriate modifications,” Martha adds.

Prior to yoga, Martha had always been physically active. Two of her favorite pastimes include skiing, which she took up in high school during Christmas break when her family holidayed in Taos. (The formative memories of which have inspired her to make Taos her home since 1979.) The other is windsurfing, which she took up in her 30s and continues to enjoy today.

Martha demonstrates Adho Mukha Savanasana or Downward Facing Dog to stretch the hamstrings after long bike rides.

But it wasn’t until she quit drinking in her 30s and quit smoking a decade later, that she started taking her health more seriously. “When I quit smoking, it changed my life. I started walking and then hiking for twenty minutes during my lunch break at Taos Ski Valley, where I worked in the accounting department. Then I joined the spa for aerobics and weights. I didn’t start yoga and cycling until I was in my fifties,” she says.

Although Martha came to cycling late, she took it up with the same passion she does with most everything. Already she has completed two half continental rides: California to Colorado and Colorado to Georgia, with routes covering over 1500 miles each. She has also participated in several shorter rides of 400 miles and less, including a trek through Slovenia. “I’m active, but I’m no animal,” Martha says. “Plenty of fit folks my age and older leave me in the dust on the slopes and pass me on the road cycling.”

A few years ago, Martha was diagnosed with osteoporosis. But that hasn’t slowed her down. If anything, it gives her greater motivation to stay in shape.

Half Lord of the Fishes Pose or Ardha Matsyendrasana is great for opening the shoulders, neck and hips.

“I see people now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s whom I have known for twenty years and who continue to enjoy activities –skiing, cycling, hiking—if even at a slower pace,” she says. “I am saddened when I see those who have not addressed specific health issues or who have simply stopped moving. As we age we cannot avoid slowing down, but we can strive to comfortably carry on our essential day-to-day activities.”

Martha started teaching yoga last year. Her classes are geared to those who wish to improve their range of motion, flexibility, muscle strength and balance. The pace of her instruction is slow, with easy-to-moderately challenging exercises (asanas).

To quiet her mind, Martha meditates, focusing on her breath and repeating a mantra.

“When I was a child and my granny was 60ish, she was OLD.  She had permed bluish hair, wore support hose, and I think the only exercise she got was walking the two flights of stairs to her apartment. The thought of being that old was scary. When a friend suggested I market my yoga classes as “Gentle Seniors,” I was aghast. I am not ready to be a senior!”

**First published in The Taos News on January 24, 2013

Yogi Profile: The dedication and generosity of Carrie Leven

by Monique Parker

Carrie enjoys meditating and chanting each day, even if only for five minutes, to help quiet her mind.

Fourteen months ago, Carrie Leven, an archeologist with the Carson National Forest Service and yoga novice, started attending my community classes at the gym in Questa with the admirable dedication of a seasoned aspirant. Fast forward over a year later: she will receive her 200-hour Yoga Teacher Certification at UNM-Taos this December, and, on top of that, she is already nearly half way through her 500-hour Yoga Therapy Certification.

“After doing yoga for a year I feel transformed physically and mentally. I feel calm, clear-headed, with things falling into place without my effort,” said Leven, who attends two to three yoga classes a week. “I remember my first class with Monique. At the beginning she said something like, ‘Bring your attention away from the outside world and begin to draw your awareness inward—toward your breath.’ It resulted in such a peaceful and connected state that I was hooked.”

Diagnosed with osteoporosis, Carrie read that yoga could help in building strong bones. She started taking yoga with me in July of 2011 with this in mind, as well as to compliment her other activities: Zumba, ice-skating, and the hiking required in her job. “In addition to gaining flexibility, strength, and balance, I’ve also gotten a lot of psychological benefit from practicing yoga,” Leven added. “The chanting is definitely a big part of it. The more I chant, the calmer I feel. I’m not so reactive to situations.”

Last year Leven had a noticeable bump on the back of her neck where vertebrae were compressed. She experienced stiffness, a hunched posture, and frequent numbness in her arm and hand. “I sit at the computer a lot, writing archaeology reports,” Leven explained.

The asymmetrical yoga exercises have helped her to keep her spine elongated, which has reduced the pain she was regularly experiencing. “I noticed last month that my neck has lengthened and my posture has improved significantly. Even the bump on my neck is almost gone,” said Leven.

One position that has helped her realign her upper body is using “cactus arms”, where the arms are bent at the elbows and pulled in towards the ribs in postures such as warrior. Other positions that helped increase the mobility in her back are seated twist and cobra (a prone facing back bend), which she practices daily.

Carrie demonstrates the seated spinal twist she practices daily to relieve discomfort and to strengthen her back.

“Yoga has helped me to know myself better. I hope to share what I’ve learned about yoga with others,” she said. Anyone who knows Carrie will tell you her words are golden. Always willing to lend a hand or help somebody who is less fortunate, it comes as no surprise that Carrie was nominated as one the “Remarkable Women of Taos”.

At a young age, Carrie’s parents instilled in her the value of community service through their local Catholic church. “My mom and dad still do a lot of charity work to feed and clothe the poor and homeless,” she said.

Carrie volunteers for a number of causes. She and husband Monte Doeren help to raise awareness about the cost of war with Taos Veterans for Peace, a non-profit group that meets weekly at the Metta Theatre. On weekends and after work she and local volunteers are rebuilding the St. Anthony’s Church in Questa, one adobe brick at a time. And she writes war memorials for the Daily Kos, a liberal political blog.

“I’ve written nearly 100 war memorials. Publicizing American war fatalities is my protest of war and prayer for peace. I write the memorials to remember and honor the soldier who died, and for their families and friends who might read it,” she added.

The first war memorial Leven wrote was for her friend Joey Gallegos, who died in Iraq almost three years ago. Joey had asked her to write a memorial for him in case he died there. “I’ve had family members thank me for writing about their loved ones. It means a lot to them that a stranger would care enough to take the time to write about their son or daughter or spouse.”

What is remarkable about Carrie Leven is that she not only practices yoga now out of conviction for the physical and psychological benefits, but that she consistently models for our community a pleasant disposition and true charity.

“I like that everybody can do yoga,” Leven said. “You can always find 20 minutes a day, whether in the morning, at the office, before bed, or any time you feel stressed, sore, tired, or stiff, to breathe and reinvigorate your mind and body.”

*First appeared in The Taos News on September 20, 2012