Not everyone’s husband will join them on a weeklong, mostly-female, vegan yoga retreat. But SyteraYoga student Mary Saunders is lucky. Her husband Rick did just that. A career Army officer and former national security advisor to the Vice President, Rick had just recently cut back on his consulting work and started taking more yoga classes when she suggested that they go.
There was a point in Rick’s life when he was so stiff he considered not getting things out of low-lying cabinets. He had what he describes as “exceptional tightness.” He was working with a personal trainer who, Rick says, wasn’t really “getting him anywhere.” In addition, the fitness training aggravated an old knee injury, and the sessions did little to help Rick increase his flexibility. He has also seen a Rolfer for low back and neck problems for several years. His Rolfer encouraged him to work more on flexibility and suggested that he find a good yoga teacher. That led him to SyteraYoga.
In the beginning Rick started slowly—just one private class a week, where he practiced simple stretches and learned about alignment and modifications. He found these first few sessions extremely challenging, both physically and mentally. But, he didn’t quit. He couldn’t.
Rick is the kind of man who set out to build a couple of bookshelves for his new bride and ended up becoming a master woodworker. The majority of Rick and Mary’s furniture was made by his own hands. He’s also a skilled photographer. And that’s what yoga is like for him—a mental challenge with opportunities for meaningful personal development.
By pushing through the mental chatter and the newness of everything having to do with yoga, Rick got to a point where his brain didn’t wander and one hour of yoga slipped by in enjoyment. Now he’s at the point where he can practice regularly with Mary.
Mary is what you might call a yoga fan (as in “fanatic”). She loves everything about it. She loves the breathing, the new poses, the community she’s made at classes. Her family has bought her piles of books on the subject. She is teaching herself the Sanskrit names for the poses and tries to use them when telling you about her practice.
Mary was a runner for thirty years before she walked into a yoga studio seven years ago. Then she abruptly switched pursuits. She doesn’t miss running at all. She says running pales in comparison to what she is learning and experiencing with yoga. She goes to three to four yoga classes a week. “I love it, I’ve become addicted to it,” she said.
After earning an international economics graduate degree from Princeton University (where she met Rick when she was 22), Mary became a rock star at the Department of Commerce. At the pinnacle of her career in government, she served as a member of the Department’s senior management team, waking up every day for five years with the massive responsibility of managing operations for two government facilities. She oversaw IT systems, safety, human resources, acquisitions, budget, and civil rights and diversity programs. Oh, and she was raising two boys.
Mary admits that she’s intense. The fiery aspects of an Ashtanga class appeal to her. But in yoga, she doesn’t feel like she’s competing. She’s “never not doing well.” It’s about doing her own thing—like taking flight in dancer, her favorite pose.
Mary feels calmer now that she is practicing yoga. Situations at her new job—with a trade association—don’t throw her as much. She can step back and ask, “How important is this problem, really?” And she notices when she’s hit her limit.
Super fit and upbeat, Mary looks like a jack rabbit next to Rick, who comes across as a deep thinker. Jokingly, Rick says he doesn’t remember the names of the yoga poses, so he goes home and asks Mary to teach him. This is part flattery and part tons of admiration. Mary smiles. She’s very happy to teach her loving husband.
Rick and Mary have two sons—Mark, 30, who is doing big data analytics at Booz Allen Hamilton, and Matt, 26, who is in his first year at Eastern Virginia Medical School. And, now that their boys are launched and Rick has cut back to part-time consulting, they have more free time to take yoga vacations.
At a yoga retreat in Puerto Vallarta, organized by SyteraYoga teacher Alex Duchscher, they took two yoga classes a day, working up to one class Rick labelled “extremely challenging.” And, (major deal here) he kept to the vegan diet for the full week.
Alex says the inspiring thing about Rick during the retreat was that he didn’t seem to judge himself. He was willing to stretch himself get the most out of the experience. There’s a softness and inquiry about his practice, she says, and that is the marker of someone who is deepening their yoga practice.
Meghan Mullan is freelance writer and SyteraYoga student