What exactly is Yoga for Weddings?
In January 2015 I decided to leave San Francisco after a breakup. The inspiration it once offered had come to a close and it was time to move on. At the same time my dad was thinking about selling the family ranch. If I wanted a place to live I would have to help him revive the home that has been in my family since 1884. A plan was needed to cover the high expenses. As a yoga teacher I envisioned creating a mindfulness retreat venue. Unfortunately, this idea wouldn’t bring in nearly as much dough as weddings.
The ranch must’ve had the destiny of a wedding venue all along. The 1890’s ranch house was perfect for a party to spend the whole weekend. The cabin, which was recovered from the Hetch-Hetchy Dam over 100 years ago on horseback, was retrofitted as a cozy guest cabin with an outdoor shower. An 1860’s bunkhouse constructed of old growth redwood was conveniently cleaned up and converted into a music room, making an idyllic grooms’ room (or as we call it, the ‘man cave’). An adjacent granary held the award-winning wheat grown on the ranch and as the building aged, but with a roof in magnificent shape, the wood from the walls and floors were used to build a deck, which makes a great dance floor (and yoga deck!). And the two-story barn from the 1860’s makes an iconic backdrop.
And behind the barn a whole new world opens up. Beyond the meandering creek the hills roll as far as the eye can see. Morgan Territory Regional Park is in the backyard and was once home to the Bay Miwok Indians with remaining artifacts. A 600-year-old oak tree offers its symbol of lasting strength. Many people agree that there is magic on the ranch. Whether it’s the tree or the history of the sacred land, the ancient wisdom of untouched nature is powerful.
Initially the idea of a wedding venue did not spark my fire. But yoga teaches me to loosen resistance and go with the flow, so even though my initial reaction was to cringe, here I was with a wedding venue and it pretty much established itself. All it took was one great photographer and a publication in a wedding blog and I was flooded with inquiries from newly engaged couples.
I was a little sour in the romantic love department at the time. And coming from divorced parents I never fantasized about my wedding as a little girl. I would have never believed you if you told me I would be shaping this industry. I told my friends that if I ever got married, it would only be for very practical reasons.
My down on love attitude didn’t last very long. I met my soon-to-be husband the very next month. He was an incredible match for me even though I was not ready for the man of my dreams (that seems to be the way it works). Running a successful business requires a lot of research and communication on the subject. And when my klutzy social media (predicting my interests) started suggesting ads of wedding dresses and other wedding paraphernalia… I would direct the screen of my laptop away from him.
During that first year, the ranch hosted six weddings and had already booked double for the following year. I was immersed! I hadn’t even been to a wedding since I was a kid and then I had front-row seats and a backstage pass to a lot of them. I either don’t have many friends or they are all single.
I was intrigued by the whole thing and my entrepreneurship enabled a creative approach. Without wanting to dupe anyone with my lack of wedding experience, I required all couples to have at least a day-of coordinator. There was pretty unanimous feedback that this was the most crucial advice and couples that didn’t wished they would have hired one. This worked for me because I still wasn’t all that interested in the difference between sea foam green and mint, polyester or linen tablecloths and chivari or crossback chairs.
But I was close enough to start seeing a familiar pattern. All the couples that booked were pretty laid back… or they supposedly wouldn’t have gotten married at a working ranch. And as their big days drew nearer, I would hear the word “stress” popping up all over the place. It seemed to be so easy to get swept up by the minutia of seemingly insignificant details and forget what it’s all about.
Back to my wonderful guy… he happened to be German… like German German…. finishing up his PhD and without a green card. You can probably guess where this story is headed. I went back to Germany with him for the holidays and in a pub in Prague, he popped the question – “So if I stay in California, it’s because of you… So would you marry me?” Yea, the grammar confused me too but indeed, that was the proposal. Here was my very practical reason for getting married. The universe works in mysterious ways and seems to have a sense of humor.
The following year, the ranch hosted 16 weddings including my own. I realized that the projection of weddings as being stressful was reinforced around every turn. It takes a serious yogi to not go bananas at least a few times because the wedding industry stress fog can get pretty thick.
As a student of yoga I am interested in the philosophy that is the foundation of this practice. Yoga is the art on living and the best teacher of life that I’ve come across. Its wisdom is ancient – humans have been dealing with the same restless mind for thousands of years, it’s not a product of Silicon Valley. The Yoga Sutra was written in 200AD and presents Niyamas, which are, translated as personal observances.
If we had the intention to have a good attitude toward others, and ourselves, our experience would be much more pleasant. We are still human, that’s where this advice comes in handy. Isvara Pranidhana is one of the Niyamas and is interpreted as surrender to a higher power. Marriage is about a union – a higher power than our individual ego, which seems to feed off of wedding planning because we all get really attached to the things we start to create. It is not easy to let go when something isn’t available, goes wrong, or wasn’t anticipated in the budget. This Niyama suggests that we should cultivate a trusting relationship with the universe and make each action an offering to something bigger than ourselves. Obviously there is a lot of room for interpretation here but I think that is the point. Flip your palms face up and observe what this gesture feels like.
Allen Watts reminds us that life should be about play – not work. A strict task oriented schedule cannot be our primary objective of life. I have seen countless couples turn the wedding planning process into a stressful job. It requires coordinating logistics, correspondence, organization and sweet, precious time, making it easy to feel spent! Most of us already work our real job too damn much.
I was afraid of the wedding monster, jokingly nicknamed Bridezilla and in order to avoid her I tried specifically to be mindful about the planning process of my own wedding. And because it didn’t follow a recipe at all times, it turned out to be smooth and enjoyable. I was able to find very crafty people who were willing to help and since I already knew them all, weddings showed me how many hidden talents my friends and family have. I explained our style to them and encouraged them to run with it. Instead of pinning down the choice of food, flower or fork, I left the decision and responsibility to the professional so it was out of my hands. It was wonderful to discover trusted vendors and give them creative freedom to do what they do best. And of course I hired a coordinator myself. I was able to feel light and quirky and trusted that everything would be just right. Our officiant was one of my yoga teachers who not only helped to craft a beautifully unique ceremony but offered healthy chats which helped to put some things in perspective. She reminded me of how to be a normal sane person sometimes. This was about when I started to get the idea that there really is a need for something like a wedding planning coach. And I realized that yoga philosophy provides a solid framework for just how to approach it.
A Vedic astrologer once foretold me that I would have some heavy clouds looming in my life but all I had to do was bring an umbrella. Even though this little Balinese guy might have been a scam artist, this indeed is great advice for wedding preparations. Expect that something will go wrong and you will appreciate all the details that work out even more perfect than you could have ever planned for. Letting go of the utopian expectation allows the monkey mind to shed a layer of the chatter which will further allow the process to be more playful.
In my first few months in the wedding world I offered a free yoga class as a booking incentive. Everybody needed that little reminder to breathe and be present. I received a lot of sincere gratitude as it can be especially challenging to get grounded and balanced before such a significant and emotional event.
This inspired me to develop a quick prototype ‘Yoga for Weddings’. Independently, a woman confided in me that she was fantasizing about a mindful approach for her wedding preparations. They were inspired by the self-expression and creativity of Burning Man and she wanted to integrate a guiding yoga teacher. I was blown away by the synchronicity of the universe. Burning Man just might have been where I got my inspiration to trust my creative team, hand over the responsibility and feel free to be myself. It’s a breath of fresh air for everyone else around.
That is how Yoga for Weddings started. I hope it catches on and that the art of staying calm becomes trendy on all the blogs, sites and social media that currently make it all feel so very overwhelming. Bring your wedding back to its true essence. What is important to you? And how do you want to celebrate the most important party you’ll probably ever throw?
My own yoga story:
I once had a salsa teacher exclaim, “No pausa, no salsa”. I took it as advice to live by. In a pause exists a moment of stillness amidst internal and external movement. In a pause, we have an opportunity to choose to respond instead of react to life. In a pause exists the present moment. I also like this advice because life should be a dance.
It was a moment of clarity during a pause that I decided to quit my job as a restaurant manager in San Francisco and pursue yoga. I chose to study in India seeking authenticity. I found it. I didn’t receive a manual or a lesson on how to make it in the yoga business, but I did discover my own spiritual path. I learned to stay a little longer in the present moment, to linger and enjoy the pause.
I pay reverence to all my teachers. I completed my 200-hour certification with Sindu Nayar at the Tulasidalam ashram in Kerala, India. I reached my 500-hour training with Janet Stone in Bali. These women taught me that it is possible to have a new relationshipwith the universe and myself.
It was another pause where I discovered I could no longer ignore my calling back to my family ranch in the East Bay where I am 5th generation. I had long since had the idea to turn it into an event venue and retreat center. I now live my yoga on the ranch where I am surrounded by the tranquility of nature and the sounds of animals. Although I miss teaching in San Francisco, I embrace the change.
My classes are challenging yet approachable. I offer a fluid vinyasa accompanied by the pause. No pausa, no yoga. I want my students to be present for the sensation, even if it is discomfort. I encourage softness and breath to overcome struggle because suffering is a choice. I take pride in my playlists. I give hands-on assists and anatomical cues to invite awareness and subtle shifts in specific parts of the body.
Pause to feel pleasure, pause to appreciate movement, pause to smile at the wonder that surrounds us and pause to enjoy being alive.