Plenty of studies have looked at yoga, providing evidence that it makes for healthier people in body and in mind.
Geraldine Smith wouldn’t argue with them.
“It’s a way of life,” according to Smith, a septuagenarian yoga instructor residing in Gays Mills. “It’s a part of what you do.”
Smith’s introduction to the discipline began over 40 years ago at her local library in Chicago.
“Yoga was suspect,” Smith said. “Many clergy were suspicious that organizers would convert users to Buddhism.”
The yogic practices originating in ancient India were first brought to the United States in the mid-1800s but did not filter into the mainstream until the 1960s.
“I was 35 years old, I had six kids, and I couldn’t turn my head from side to side,” Smith recalled. “The library made space available for the class. I went with the goal of being able to stand on my head and to do a back bend like I did as a kid. It took one year.”
As a young woman, Smith had attended Chicago Teachers College, but she did not feel the calling to teach other people’s children. So, she became a secretary and worked. Then, she married and children followed.
But once she began learning yoga, the call to teach made itself heard.
“I had two friends ask me to teach them what I was learning,” Smith said. She’s been teaching ever since.
These days, it’s not rooms full of people she teaches. Her practice is one-on-one instruction, twice a week in her home.
What does she teach first? Listening to yourself.
“I tell students ‘Please know that while you’re helping your body, making it healthy, keeping it healthy, you’re also feeding your soul’,” Smith said. “Your mind is part of what you are doing. And if I suggest something and it doesn’t appeal, ignore it.
“A class has some movement, it has some rest, it has respect for what the body can do that day, that moment, it does not criticize the body or the self,” Smith explained. “You’re not here for perfection. It’s good to learn to disassociate identity from the body. The body is a tool. You’re the master of your body, but you must respect its abilities.”
Yoga is a meditative practice, according to Smith. It has been an integral part in her life, helping her learn patience and acceptance. It has also helped her learn to trust herself. Smith’s personal philosophy embraces many traditions, including the Kabbalah, Buddhism and Christianity. She see’s her yoga practice as a spiritual and philosophical journey.
“The purpose of yoga is meditation, which is just a way of being in touch with your God,” Smith said.
She credits yoga with allowing her to pay attention to what is going on around her in the world, to pray upon it, and then let it go, focusing her intentions upon what she wants in her life.
After all the years of practicing yoga, Smith said her practice is no longer relegated to some specific time of the day, but is ongoing throughout her waking moments.
“Most of it is done while I am cleaning or walking the dog or even nursing a bump,” Smith said. “It’s part of the day, the yin and yang, the balance of existence. Balance is everything.”