Compassion by Example: My Personal Story of Healing

RadiantRetreatAdmittedly, my yoga journey began as an accident or possibly divine intervention. A writer that I admired was co-teaching at a yoga and writing retreat in Mexico and I planned to attend in hopes of practicing wordplay with like minds. It just so happened that my divorce became final two days before the retreat began. It was an unexpected, unplanned damper. I knew the date was coming but had hoped it would be different timing. I had been keeping a stiff upper lip but the news had me more raw and fragile than I wanted to be on vacation. I would have preferred to lick my wounds alone and not amongst twenty strangers. Under the circumstances, I was not feeling cheery or friendly or the least bit interested in making small talk that might include details of my fresh new marital status.

When I planned to attend I had imagined quiet writing and musing beside the blue ocean in the hot sun. I had convinced myself it would be a time for sanctuary, peace, quiet, pampering, journaling and a little exercise. In my mind I had framed the yoga as the less important part of the week. I thought it would be nice way to exercise and relax.

Naively, I only knew of yoga as another form of exercise. I had no idea about yamas or niyamas or the complexity or depth of teaching related to ethics, morals or spiritual guidance. To me, yogis were flexible health nuts who showed off in extreme contortions. This was my ignorant perception until I met Jennifer Schelter, respected teacher, founder of Radiant Retreat, writer and yogini extraordinaire. It was Jennifer who led me through my first yoga class in the Tulum palapa. She was not any of the radical things I thought yogi’s to be. She was a blonde concoction of calm, sweet, loving and generous with witty humor, woven in like a swirl of raspberry ribbon in vanilla ice cream. Delicious. Her presence was confident and gentle, she was comfortable in her own skin.

JenniferMeditatingEach morning I would see Jennifer sitting on the beach facing the sunrise in meditation. Her connection to the earth and the ocean was nothing short of magical. She would sit completely motionless with only her hair blowing in the wind. I could sense something divine was taking place. Each morning she would take her seat and each morning I would sit further up the beach on a lounge chair journaling, steeling glances in her direction. I yearned to have whatever it was she was experiencing, whatever it was she was connected to.

I suspected this was a familiar routine or ritual for her. I sensed that it was deeply soothing and important to her. I was impressed, maybe jealous, that she had a life which allowed this that type of practice, presence with nature, with God, and with herself. She was doing her own thing and yet at some level it felt like a spiritual challenge to me. Why couldn’t I meditate? Why wouldn’t I go sit in the sand and sun like that? As I noticed and observed her daily routine I was captured by her serenity and beauty and it triggered my own anxiety and loss. I realized, my spirit wasn’t ready to be seen by all that sun.

I denied myself the chance to sit with the sunrise on that trip. I couldn’t bring myself to be that present with God. To be that still in my busy mind. To be that exposed on the beach as if the onlookers could read my thoughts or know my heartache. I wasn’t ready or practiced in something so daring. Without ever knowing it, Jennifer shared something very important to me. The vision of her commitment to stillness and meditation became something to aspire to or at least explore. Someday.

ErikaRetreatThe gentle waves, the creative writing, the collection of people with common interests, the laughing, and the yoga, all began to sooth me. It felt good to be nurtured by our hosts. I felt less alone as I got to know other participants through writing. The retreat agenda and the people all played a role in letting some light get back into my soul. It was the light of compassion, the reflection of others who see your goodness and worth. I was remembering myself. The old me before divorce and sadness. Like the ocean, my heart was an ebb and flow of hope and sorrow.

Divorce has a way of creating self-doubt and self judgement. It has a way of disconnecting your heart in order to cope with the loss. With the writing, yoga and the general being together, I felt kindness, understanding, and compassion. I was reminded that we all have value, we all matter. Inside that bright open air studio with its big wooden shutters I began to feel reconnected.

As the yoga classes continued I found my heart opening and noticed my mind was settling. I struggled with down dog, sun salutes, and Sanskrit. I loved dancer pose and how it made me feel strong and graceful. I felt alive in my body, mind and soul again. I sweated, I cried, and I was inspired because I was being taught yoga, real yoga, with teachings, readings, poetry, love and quiet inquiry.

Jennifer had a firm grasp on the history and offerings of yoga and she lived the teachings. Without a personal conversation or persuasion she signed me up for life. I was able to see that yoga had more to offer than simply exercise and stretching. It was a mind/body/spiritual practice that provided guidance for living a life of connection. The connection I desired with myself, others and the divine. Without knowing it Jennifer’s skilled and experienced teaching brought me through the messy aftermath of self-imposed suffering towards hope and healing. It was compassion, ahimsa, that opened the door. It was not a direct teaching of the yamas and niyamas that touched my heart, it was my teachers living example of them. It was the way she sat with the sun, held me safely with her words and how she lived her understanding of yoga that prompted my own adoption of yoga.

Suffering leads us all somewhere. Lucky for me I landed on the right beach. My someday came. I have a new marital status. On the last day of the retreat we sat in a circle and wrote sweet remembrances to each other. I have many of them tacked on a cork board in my office. Amongst them is one I wrote to myself and it reads “I will marry yoga now” and I did. Within three months of my first yoga class I was enrolled in a teacher training. Three years later I opened a yoga studio. This week, five years later, I am completing my 500 hour teacher training and am working on curriculum to teach chiropractors how to utilize yoga for rehabilitation and patient management.

I could not have predicted the line of life events that opened up for me after landing broken hearted on that beach at that retreat. Maybe I was just in an influential state or karma or divine intervention really was at play. Maybe it was the huge does of kindness I was extended and extended to myself because of the influence of an amazing teacher. I only know that I felt I was spiritually challenged to take my seat in meditation on a beach someday. Perhaps, the best yoga I learned was yoga taught by someone just being herself. Her influence, her yoga, her simple way of being sacred and present with the sun and the wind taught me just as much as any yama or niyama ever could.

A very deep and heartfelt, Namaste, to Jennifer Schelter and Radiant Retreat.

If you’d like to know more about Jennifer and her retreats  you can visit her website: and Radiant Retreat 2016

Dr. Erika Putnam

By Dr. Erika Putnam

Dr. Erika Putnam is a chiropractic physician by trade, a writer at heart and a yogi by fate. She has practiced chiropractic for almost two decades and owns a yoga studio in Idaho. The two practices connect structural stability with the true core of well-being. As a doctor, she brings a hearty helping of nurturing nerdiness to her classes. Her venue is a colorful mix of teaching. She teaches anatomy to students at yoga teacher trainings, yoga for medical professionals’ classes, and creative writing classes with yoga-inspired exploration. She pines for a view of the Montana skies and the smell of Idaho mint from her road bike. Pedicures in the shade of Rocktoberfest are her favorite self-care indulgence.

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