Yoga, for all seasons, all reasons

Yoga is described by Sister Paulette Schroeder as “an hour in which you honor your whole being.”

And Gemma Marschke sums it up this way: “In a nutshell, on a physical level, yoga helps me maintain my health and helps me address my aches and pains without having to rely on medication. On a more energetic level, yoga has helped me reconnect with myself and has given me a desire to take care of myself.

“On a mental and emotional level, yoga has reduced stress and helped bring me a to a point of self-acceptance and self-love. Beyond that, I see other people in a more positive light.”

Both women say yoga is beneficial to people at a physical level. But for those who are ready, the practice can teach people about themselves at a deeper level.

Schroeder, of the Sisters of St. Francis, said she was the first person she knows of in the Tiffin area to begin using yoga.

“I had learned some when I was away on sabbatical,” she said. “Yoga has been the best growth source for me throughout these 16 years. It goes beyond prayer. It’s a relationship with God.

“What I have learned is what I do on the mat is how I’m called to live my life. This is not just an hour of your time. It’s an hour that teaches you how to live your week.”

Schroeder listed several benefits of yoga that go beyond the physical; she said yoga teaches her to be more open and nonjudgmental.

“It is meant to get our egos out of the way,” she said. “That’s why many teachers say you don’t begin in earnest until age 50.”

Yoga moves an individual toward “wholeness,” she said. “The stretches aren’t complete without an awareness of each stretch that goes deeper and deeper. Whatever the awareness is in that particular stretch, that awareness can be deepened.”

It helps people accept their bodies the way they are, she said.

“I can accept where I am right at this moment,” she said. “But my hope is always to go deeper. I’m never finished with life. I’m always hoping to go deeper.”

In addition, Schroeder said yoga has taught her to take a holistic approach to life and to seek balance.

“Intellectually, physically, emotionally take the needed rest,” she said. “Don’t be frantically rushing around all the time. I work with the part of my emotions that are out of balance. It helps me deal with my anger about the world as it is and teaches me not to over-intellectualize at the expense of my feelings.”

Schroeder said yoga gives her a greater awareness of the present.

“Not to let my mind be somewhere else when I’m physically here with you,” she said. “I’m not multi-tasking.”

She said Buddhists call it “mindfulness,” the idea of being in the present and not looking to the past or the future.

Although Schroeder said she doesn’t talk about prayer during class, yoga is a powerful method of prayer.

“Jesus said, pray always,” she said. “Every breath in is a new life. Every breath out is a death.”

She said learning to breath properly is a big part of yoga.

“Breathing becomes a teacher and heals me from my own stress,” she said.

Marschke was healed from a physical problem before she delved deeper into yoga.

“I actually started right around 1997, purely as a physical activity to go along with other exercises I’d been doing,” said Marschke, who opened Gem Yoga and Life Enrichment LLC last July with co-owner Lindsay Kagy in the Laird Building downtown.

Her yoga practice fell by the wayside, but several years later, she became a caregiver for her ill mother and sister.

“I needed an outlet. I needed something for myself, so I started taking yoga classes at St. Francis,” she said. “At the time, I had chronic insomnia and a lot of stress. I found that within a couple weeks of taking yoga twice a week, my insomnia was almost gone, under control.”

She said she had stopped grinding her teeth at night.

“It became what I looked forward to,” she said. “If I had to miss, I knew it. Something was missing.”

She’s been practicing ever since.

A few years ago, Schroeder asked whether she had considered becoming a teacher.

“That planted the seed and put the thought in motion,” Marschke said.

She became certified to teach in 2013, and now is studying to become certified in yoga therapy.

“It just felt like something that was very right, because I loved it so much,” she said.

When she started certification classes, however, Marschke said she learned yoga was more than she imagined.

“I was just blown away to find it was so much more than just breathing and stretching,” she said. “I discovered this whole community, people from all different walks of life coming together because of a similar love for yoga.”

In addition to the physical aspect, Marschke said yoga taps into the psychological and spiritual aspects.

“There is so much more to this than we ever knew,” she said. “It’s just become what my life is based around now. It is truly a lifestyle.

“It’s all the things I’d been afraid to delve into,” she said. “It becomes a support system and a way to deepen your own connection with yourself and see the world in a different light, a very positive light.”

She discovered she has a gift for empathy.

“I’m very empathetic,” she said. “Growing up, I was called too emotionally sensitive. I didn’t know about empathy. I really started feeling free through my teacher training to embrace who I really am and discover who I am.”

Marschke said her training also opened her to other aspects of life that are difficult to understand and explain unless someone experiences it themselves.

“I started to realize that there is so much more to the story of divine power than what we’re taught to believe,” she said. “It’s not a religion. It doesn’t discourage people at all in their belief system.”

Instead, it encompasses all belief systems, she said.

“Being around that environment that encouraged that very thing was incredibly liberating,” she said. “I have become very comfortable because I have come to the realization that I don’t understand anything because it is beyond my understanding and I’m always going to be full of wonder and I’m always going to be open to new possibilities.”

Yoga is a union of body, mind and spirit, Schroeder said.

“It’s a 5,000-year-old science,” she said. “It originated in the Far East with people searching for the answers in life. It’s a spiritual and intellectual understanding of what life is all about.”

People in ancient times went into nature to study how to become more one with the universe, she said.

“They observed a frog and tried to imitate it,” she said. “They saw a cobra, and they tried to become like it.”

Yoga has pagan origins from ancient times in the Far East, but she said that shouldn’t prevent people from trying it.

“I always invite people to observe, participate, see for yourself,” she said. “One of the real things yoga does is open us up. It’s a not a mindless advocate of one religion. It’s going to open the mind to question. And that scares some people.

“There is so much we can learn from the East. It’s only scary for a person who is stuck in their way of thinking.”

Schroeder said her original reason for bringing yoga to Tiffin was practical.

“When I came here (to St. Francis) and became the program director at the retreat center, I needed ideas,” she said. “I needed a skill to teach the public. I needed to bring in money for the center, so earning money was the primary motive.”

She remembered her yoga classes and began to teach simple sessions, although she had no formal training. She then took an online certification course and continued teaching.

From that beginning, she said yoga slowly branched into many areas of the community and several people teach classes now.

Today, she said, schools are adopting the practice to teach children to have a holistic sense about their bodies. She said it helps build and maintain strength and balance and maintains or increases bone density.

Prisons also are adopting yoga as a means of helping prisoners discover who they are on the inside.

In addition to her weekly class at the St. Francis Spirituality Center, Schroeder said she teaches men’s and women’s classes at CROSSWAEH rehabilitation center and the county juvenile detention center.

“I wish I could teach at the jail, too,” she said. “One of the best things yoga does is build up your self-esteem.”

Doctors are embracing yoga, she said.

“It is frequent now where students say their doctor told them to come to me,” she said. “Doctors are recommending it more and more.”

Marschke said yoga is good for anyone of any age, shape, size or skill level.

“I’ve heard people say they can’t do yoga because they aren’t flexible,” he said. “Most people start their yoga practice because they aren’t flexible.”

Classes are open to anyone who wants to walk in, except a few designated classes where people must register.

Gem also offers one-on-one lessons for people who want the basics first.

Marschke offers yoga therapy, which is more of an indepth session designed to meet the specific needs of a person.

The fee is $10 per class, or 10 classes within a 90-day time frame for $80. Students with valid college identification cards are $5 per class.

Marschke encouraged people to try other yoga teachers in addition to Gem. She can offer suggestions.

“It’s like choosing a doctor,” she said. “You have to find somebody you really resonate with.”