Walking into the Chicago Art Institute was like walking into a textbook. The sheer number of iconic paintings was dizzying. Unfortunately, we left without seeing the photography exhibit, the new media exhibit or Native American art, which I will save for future visits. The Impressionist exhibit alone was life altering. As I said in Facebook, “Art was pouring out of my eyes” when we left the gallery. Chicago has a lot of character. It will take me many visits to feel like I know what this city is about.
On the way back from Uvalde, Texas, after our journey through the underworld in the Caves of Sonora, Bill and I made a delightful discovery in Castroville, an Alsatian community and artists’ enclave with an incredible European restaurant. Although there were some nice rolling hills and scenic vistas on the drive between Sonora and Uvalde, the towns we passed through were a hodgepodge of trailers, decaying and abandoned homes and trucks, unplanned and untended communities. From Devil’s Sinkhole to dry devil’s creek, river; this was devil’s country. Uvalde had a few attractive buildings and some evidence of life, certainly enough fast food joints but other than the” little gallery that could”, The Art Lab, the experience was forgettable.
It was such a pleasure to roll into Castroville. Right away, the layout and feel of the town was picturesque, European, tidy. OK, I betray my roots, I like aesthetically planned communities. The sloping roofs and old country feel of the homes brought back memories of Bavaria. I include shots of the city in the gallery below. The Old Alsatian Steakhouse and Ristorante will be reviewed in the Dining section of this site. Suffice it to say, it was a rare gem. More trips to Castroville are in the cards.
In 2002, about 10 years after my first yoga experience, I decided I wanted to go into yoga teacher training. A lot had changed in my yoga practice over the last 10 years. I was aware of so many transformations in my life that I decided I wanted to share these teachings and these tools with others so they could make choices to help them heal, physically or otherwise. This was not an easy decision for me. I wasn’t sure I was really ready to be a teacher. But I was sure I wanted to at least go through the training, if I was meant to teach, it would happen.
The biggest transformation in my practice happened when I was studying in France in 2000. Every student had a family they stayed with while studying abroad. I believe I was placed in a household that uniquely fit my personality and life. My first hours there weren’t so great, as I cried because I was stuck at the train station after every person had been picked up and my family had apparently forgotten me. When my French mother arrived, she spoke no English and I understood about every 20th word. I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” All of a sudden I understood the word yoga! HAHA! I know that word. I do yoga. “Je fais de yoga!” I shouted. She smiled at me with this look of all is going to be OK. We couldn’t understand one another yet, but we had yoga in common.
When we arrived at the house, there it was – a yoga studio. Beatrice was a yoga teacher. I smiled. I was taken to my room, which was uncluttered with just a bed. a wardrobe and a desk. Beatrice said something about yoga in the morning. I wasn’t quite sure exactly what she said.
In the days that followed I figured out she was doing yoga in the studio every morning. I was still practicing in my room. I felt I wasn’t suited to join her in her yoga studio. I mean seriously, she was a teacher. I had been doing yoga on and off for many years, but she was a teacher. She must be brilliant and what would she think of my practice?
I would come and go from the house when I needed to and I would notice there were classes going on from time to time. Eventually she spoke to me about my practice. It was a slow conversation as we were trying hard, but the French I knew was so limited. I’m sure she felt like she was talking to a toddler. But we got through the conversation which led me to believe she wanted me to join her in the morning I got up and made my way down to the studio the next morning, unaware of what she was expecting. Was I supposed to do my own practice or what? She was already moving. I noticed her moving in a way I had not seen with other yoga teachers. She moved in rhythm with her breath reminding me a bit of a sheet fluffing when the air catches under it and moves it to lie on the bed in the perfect position. I watched and noticed positions that looked familiar yet slightly varied from what I had been taught in my classes.
When Beatrice finished moving she sat in stillness, breathing in way that felt to me like she was taking one breath per minute for about 1/2 hour. I wondered why I had never been told about all this breathing stuff. I mean really, here it was about 8 years of yoga classes and not once had a teacher spoken to me about the breath or how to breathe. It’s part of life. Right? I breathe everyday or I wouldn’t be walking around. I have asthma, but for the most part, I breathe like everyone else. Beatrice spent several mornings showing me how to move through asanas (postures) with my breath. Connect!
This was completely new to me. It was if I never took yoga before. I could move the way she wanted my body to move. I had body awareness. But she had this way of taking the postures and bringing more to it. There was movement within the asana and then there was stillness, which never meant not moving because the breath was always moving me. Why had I not noticed this breath stuff before?
So after some time, I developed my morning practice, moving through some asanas that prepared my body to sit and breathe! It was amazing to me how this awareness of breath seemed to make me really tune in. I could follow my breath through my body. I could notice areas where I lacked awareness of breath movement. I was able to breath freely! My breath wasn’t constricted to my chest, it moved all through my body.
Beatrice had shared these tools with me. And although yoga is sacred, it is not a secret. I was and am so fortunate that someone was willing to share her knowledge with me.
When I returned to Austin, I looked for a teacher who moved me in the same way. I needed to find a teacher who talked about breath and knew that asanas were only a tool if they worked to help support the breath and the body that I was living in. I kept practicing what Beatrice shared with me. It was limited since our time together was limited, but it was a good base to build from. The foundation was laid; I just need the right architect.
I went from class to class, teacher to teacher, never connecting to anyone until I went into my teacher training. The second weekend we had a class on Pranayama. Pranayama is breath control. I was excited about this class. Heather Kier walked in and once again, I found a teacher! Heather moved in similar ways to Beatrice and talked about the breath as if it were the most important part of the yoga practice. I was hooked. I spent the next few years going to her classes and taking private lessons.
Heather had trained for 6 years with Gary Kraftsow and Mirka Kraftsow at the American Viniyoga Institute. The more she shared with me, the less I felt I knew about yoga. (And I must admit I still feel this way today.) For me, since my first lessons with Beatrice, I noticed that I wasn’t having asthma attacks and I wasn’t having panic attacks anymore. Life seemed like it was less threatening and frightening. It was becoming more beautiful and a bit easier. Not easy, just easier. And people were asking me “How do you stay so calm?” and “I don’t know how you do it, but you should teach me how to let go.” “Could I teach them how to let go?” I wondered. I wasn’t sure I could, but a lot of this led me to step up and try.
Because of Beatrice, I wanted better teachers and I was led to Heather. Heather’s teaching led me to Gary and Mirka Kraftsow. Going to workshops with Gary changed every idea I had about yoga and what it was about.
I do not believe it was an accident that these people were placed in my life when they were. They came when I was ready to receive what they had to offer and I am grateful. Each of these teachers is present in my life and my teaching even though I do not have them by my side every day in the physical sense. Their words resonate in my head and lead me to accept each opportunity that comes my way. They lead me through my practice each morning and guide me through the classes I teach.
“Just Kids” brought the early years back to me, when I discovered Patti Smith, back when the Armadillo, the Austin Opry House, Club Foot, Liberty Lunch brought in The Talking Heads, Echo and the Bunnymen, Devo, The Clash, Willie Dixon, Grace Jones, young enough to ride the wave, own the city – mi vida loca. Those years were full of light and shadow, music, art, poetry, rage, love and wisdom. Now I watch the fire’s flame, time winding through my thoughts in a spiral, bringing me to a forgotten stairway in my mind.
The journey, taken alone, with friends and lovers, into the penumbral landscape of the unconscious, dreaming life into being. The realm of the poet, who trusts the power of the word to re-cognize that which is so strangely familiar. The surrealist visionary composer playing piano on the easel of your mind’s eye can tell you which way is up, down, all around. Taking refuge in the hub stops the spinning wheel from tearing the veil from mystery’s dark eyes, rimmed with light, keeping the world in balance. The passion for justice, serving up a slice of the pie to the soul standing on the corner begging for some small act of kindness from a stranger.
Like Ghandi waiting for the world to awaken. The dark hours before the dawn hold treasures for those who are listening. Hearing the silence shaping sound and vision, creating space in time, cresting like a wave into consciousness. Horses running in from all directions, with their nose in flames.
Riding down Congress Avenue in the summer heat on my bike -my horse- weaving through traffic to go for a cool plunge into the icy waters of Barton Springs. Tribal dancing, fence shaking at Auditorium Shores with Stevie Ray Vaughn‘s guitar voodoo, once in a lifetime with Talking Heads at Fiesta Shores
Art claimed me as it did Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith. Working at Dixie’s Bar and Bus Stop, Amdur Gallery, Cafe Brasil, dancing at night, traveling cross country
with a black dog and a yellow cat, painting, writing, loving and riding, a leaner me in a smaller town. The stories came freely, traded with bands of gypsies, the empress and the fool loving on the razor’s edge that cut so deep. Like a moth, I gave myself to the flame. It consumed, it resurrected it cast long shadows and shed light in my dark places. I rose many times from this pyre, shedding words like feathers from my blackened body, sharing the light still dawning in my heart. And in moments of loving union, in the moment of leaving this world for the next, I say hello and goodbye to this sweet dream.
LeeAnn Matson-Thomason is a certified Hatha Level 2 teacher, completing an intensive study of asana, pranayama, and meditation designed for experienced teachers and students. Her teachers, Mark Uridel Sadani and Heather Kier encouraged her to further refine her personal practice and her teaching.
LeeAnn’s Hatha classes are inspired by Viniyoga and the teachings of Gary Kraftsow. She has had the wonderful opportunity to study with Gary and Mirka Kraftsow, Leslie Kaminoff, Donna Farhi, and Srivatsa Ramaswami, among others. She incorporates pranayama and variations of the traditional asanas into her classes to allow students to create different physical and meditative experiences for themselves.
LeeAnn‘s yoga story
Who I am now and who I was when I first began my yoga practice (while ultimately the same underlying person) is very different. I might describe myself today as a mother and wife who has a wonderful opportunity to share the teachings of yoga as I was taught, in the Vini Yoga tradition. And yes, I do teach yoga classes – but I do not consider myself by any means a yoga master. The more I learn about yoga, the less I feel I really know. I share what I have learned with others so they may experience yoga as a practice leading to the elimination of suffering.
Let me tell you about my first yoga experience. I was living in Monterrey, Ca. studying dance and theatre at the Monterrey Peninsula College in 1992. I had an amazing jazz teacher, Debbie, who told us one day “In our next class I am going to share some yoga with you. So dress in layers of clothes because your body temperature will change according to what we are doing.” I left class wondering what she was talking about. I asked a fellow dancer, “What is yoga?” Meredith’s response was something like “Uh, it’s just a relaxing way to stretch. No biggie.”
So I came to the next class in layers of clothes, full of wonder about what to expect. I was taken through a sequence of postures and poses that stretched my body in such a wonderful and gentle way. I felt as Meredith said, relaxed. In fact, I was so relaxed I felt like I could just stay in the last pose she called corpse pose, forever…funny name and how I felt I could stay in that state forever, right?
And so I experienced my first yoga class. Relaxed, refreshed and back to life I went. I left and really didn’t give it another thought. About once a month Debbie would share another nice way to stretch with us. And every time I felt so relaxed and yet ready to go in the same breath. Not ready to leave, but ready to move and do and take care of things. But I didn’t connect the feeling with yoga quite yet. I just knew I was doing some gentle stretching of the body, which for a dancer was great.
It is nearly 19 years from my first yoga experience and I’m still learning and taking it in, trying to not only practice these poses on the mat, but carrying the focus into my daily life to bring some balance and understanding to whatever life might throw in my direction.
I wanted to share this, not only to let you know that we all have our first experience with yoga, but also to remind myself that where I began and where I am now is so different. As a teacher, it is important to remember when someone starts classes, that sitting still, focusing and learning how to breath properly is not easy and not even on most people’s mind. We all come with different expectations, or without expectations, wondering what yoga is about. I had a teacher once tell me that there are two ways that yoga happens for people – those who find the physical practice easy to begin with, then yoga becomes more challenging as time goes by and those who find the physical practice difficult and find that yoga gets easier as time goes by. I think you can guess that I fall into the first category. Physically I could do anything my teachers asked but going deeper inside myself was a challenge.
I can’t wait to share with you how this practice has changed for me through the years and why I stuck with it and began to share these teachings. It has changed my life in so many ways, ultimately allowing me to discover some of the real me, not just the words that tell you I am a mother, wife and teacher.
Finding an oasis in the city like McKinney Falls, fed by Onion Creek, keeps ennui at bay. Walking in the afternoon sun on the last day of our winter break, Bill and I had to really use a sauntering eye. When the scenery is spectacular, it’s easy to overlook small delights. Maximizing little pleasures has long been a secret to keeping my heart fire lit, so with time and fresh air the flame steadies. I’ve been thinking about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and feeling chained by my work a day world. Time for meditation, reflection pictured below with shadow play to come. What is it about dreams, reflections, shadow and light that teases my imagination?
It’s always nice to be with family for a traditional Christmas dinner. Our hosts, my sister Lucy and brother in-law Bill are beyond gracious. Growing up in a military family with a European mother and living oversees made me a world citizen before I knew I was American. In the last few years I’ve understood how much honor and courage means to me. It takes courage to face the ups and downs, the battle of life. Generally I prefer a more aesthetic approach, but one rises to meet challenges with grit, a quality I learned at home. Missing Aurora, who traveled north to Buffalo for a white (and frigid) Christmas, we were warm but not as bright.
The tables turned to more down home fare at the Salt Lick, as I meandered out to meet my sister Carol, Mike (my other brother in-law) and Dick, in from California and up for ribs. Holy smoke, I believe it has expanded threefold (like my waistline) but the food is still authentic and the people friendly. Except in the parking lot, where the feeding frenzy prompted snapping carnivores to lose some holiday cheer. We got our cheer back at the Duchman Family Winery (formerly Mandola’s) where we sipped some reds and whites, and split North and South. It’s probably clear to most who venture into this blog that I’m “big on Austin” but honestly, where else can you drive out in the country for great barbecue, enjoy the rolling hills and fields, cypress creeks, vineyards, an ass or two and Barsana Dham, a Hindu temple? The evidence speaks for itself. I hope you stay merry through the New Year and into 2011!
Bill and I had fun in San Antonio, staying at the Hotel Havana on the Riverwalk. I was given a membership to the McNay Museum as an early Christmas gift, signaling the start of a new series of photo abstractions. I’ve included a few, but most are in development. Friday evening we dined at the famed Liberty Bar in its new location in the King William district (housed in a former convent). A lovely meal, nice appetizers and a particularly tasty Cotes du Rhone, easily 3.75 stars. Apparently, Black Friday was cause for celebration and a river parade, adding a little glitter to the experience and a lot of traffic. The Havana Bar was a fabulous dungeon with underground cellar or hotel elevator entrances, good drinks and quaint alcoves. While it was busy, Bill, Carol and I managed to take over a sitting room with little fanfare. On Saturday we visited the Pearl Brewery farmer’s market, had a drab cup of coffee and a questionable taco. Off to La Villita looking for blankets then back to the King William district for an outstanding breakfast at Tito’s. For a convenient overnight trip, this was a lot of fun. I recommend everything but the Hotel Havana for a quiet night’s sleep. Charm trumps comfort there.
Perused several art complexes in East Austin: on Smith Road, Bolm Rd and Shady Ln then back to the Eastside Showroom for good food but alas, poor service. Off to the Davis Gallery for an opening, and the Saxon Pub to see a classic performance by Miss Lavelle White. Be forewarned, at the Saxon the headliner plays at 8:00 (WTF) so we missed seeing Malford Milligan. Live and learn, even a well-worn path holds surprises.
Seeing life as art finds beauty in odd places. I include a few random objects in the gallery below. Makes for fun sauntering.
Club 21 cannot be replaced. I took these pictures of the Lucky Tomblin Band playing there last October and set them to one of Lucky’s tunes. A classic dance hall since the late 1800s. If those walls could talk . . .