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The “quality of stillness available” is deep and delicious. Yoga’s reminder to welcome all that the day brings.
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST JOANNA HELLER
Website RudyPeirce.com Yoga in Tuscany and other yoga workshops
Related Post Written in Pencil December 2010 A Cautious Life: Is it later yet?
It’s not yet October. We are in Tuscany with our backpacks and a dictionary. We land in Rome and negotiate the shuttle train to get from the airport to Termini, the city terminal to catch the train to Florence.
Four days in Firenze. Only four. For the Uffizzi, the Duomo, the Arno river, the mass of winding, narrow stone paved streets … and around every bend, a sight that stops me. A street takes a bend and suddenly becomes a wide open piazza. Or reveals a startlingly large and beautiful garden behind huge iron gates. Another alley, a turn and there is the world famous Duomo, and then behind us Ghiberti’s massive bronze doors.
Happily, everywhere are places to sit and look. And ponder all the people and all the years that went into creating this amazing concentration of achievement, the heart of the Italian Renaissance.
So many places to walk and to sit and a very wide world to watch go by. We share the streets with tiny vans and work trucks, buses large and small, scooters, bicycles, taxis, people on foot … and very little honking or impatience. Everybody just seems to weave in and out to get where they are going on feet or wheels.
Then our four days in Firenze end and we meet our yoga group at the Firenze airport. We are driven to Ebbio, the villa outside of Siena, our home for the next week.
Softer: awakening to appreciation each day
We arrive via a long narrow dirt road twisting its way up the hills with ancient rock terraces, fields of grape vines, tall dark green Mediterranean cypress trees, and groves of soft gray – green leaved olive trees … in every direction.
We were stepping into the pictures we had dreamed of. For one week this stone house built eight hundred years ago would be our home.
The stone and tile floors have been worn into waves, the wood beams, doors and window frames and shutters are dark and aged. We walk into our room, deja vu … the Van Gogh room long lodged in my mind has come to life. A bed, a small table, the stark, bright blue painted wood chair with the woven seat in the corner. Same window and shutters. A large canvas hanging on the wall. La camera di Van Gogh a Arles.
A picture of the room on the wall of the room. They echo.
First day yoga … It is six am, still dark and I walk slowly down the uneven stone stairs to our yoga space. My feet and legs are still swollen from air travel or maybe from walking Firenze’s stone streets. A beautiful space with Rudy already sitting cross-legged and soon to be back lit by the large window as the sun comes up. My body is struggling. But by the end of our session, I am feeling different. Much softer. Just as I am musing on the difference, Rudy says “notice any shifting currents of sensation” …
The “quality of stillness available” is deep and delicious. And yoga’s reminder to welcome all that the day brings.
The Fig Tree
Still feeling the effects of our morning yoga practice, I walk out the front door into this first light of day and see soft luscious green figs hanging from their branches. How exciting and sweet to pull a fig from its tree and bite into it. I eat several as I approach our courtyard breakfast table and then several again each time I pass the tree …
Just outside our window is a walnut tree. We crack some nuts with a rock. Yum … A few steps further and I try an olive off the tree. It is bitter. In any direction, there is an incredibly expansive view of the hills, the ancient terraces, olive trees, and tall dramatic dark green Mediterranean cypresses looking like guardians and in many places standing in long straight lines.
We meet in the dark each morning at six thirty for yoga and meditation. We then have breakfast together and then group for a day trip into one of the nearby hill towns. Siena. Volterra. San Gimignano. We return in time for four thirty yoga and meditation and then dinner.
October 1 arrives much too soon.
Two seas and three trains
We walked a different ancient town each day. We swam in the Tuscan Sea and soaked in the Petriolo hot springs. We returned to yoga each afternoon before dinner. It is hard to believe that it is over and hard to say goodbye. But we do. For now.
I want to hold on to the feeling that I had in our yoga space. We will now be in very different spaces, tight for yoga postures and with none of the props that help to make a yoga space. No Rudy sitting cross legged straight and tall and reminding us to come back to our breath and to notice changing sensations. No group energy. I miss it all already.
Nikki and I are now bound for Isola d’ Elba for a few days stay at the sea. We negotiate three trains, one being an error that we correct by scrambling across the tracks encouraged and hurried by the train official who, along with other passengers pay no attention to the sign “Vietato” forbidding such activity.
We then take the train in the right direction, then a bus to Piombino and then the ferry to Portoferraio. Then another bus winding around the mountains to the tiny seaside town of Marciana Marina.
Our back packs have grown in weight and we are coping with aching shoulders and legs. I remind myself to welcome whatever the day brings. Sometimes easy and sometimes a struggle.
Next day, we walk down to the shore to wade in the Tyrennian Sea. After that very long travel day with overloaded packs we don’t have the strength for too much more than that and we decide to box whatever we can do without and send it home by ship. We’ll be home before it will but that’s okay. We won’t have to carry it. We spend a few easy days here gazing at the mountains and swimming in the sea before our next stop, Lucca, birthplace of Puccini.
Bicycles in Lucca
Also narrow winding stone paved streets but also different. A mostly level city. Quieter. Far fewer cars. Far fewer scooters. Many many bicycles. The Lucchese going to work or to home, shopping in the small bakeries, meat, fish and produce markets, seem to be mostly on bicycles.
Many art studios and many references to Puccini. Opera music available every evening, and the Lucca Center of Contemporary Art with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. We manage both. They are as satisfying and delicious as the food.
For three Euros each we rent bicycles for an hour and ride the walls of the ancient city. Nice that after decades, although a bit tentatively, I can still ride. I thank yoga for keeping me in good touch with my body and with possibility.
This walking and bicycle riding space is about thirty feet across, planted with long rows of chestnut trees, oaks and sycamores, and one other that I can’t identify, and has become a beautiful raised park encircling the city. We stop at one of the public fountains to refill our water bottle before returning the bikes and going to look for something to eat.
Staying present to present happiness
Tomorrow we will spend the day at the hot springs in Montecatini, a twenty minute train ride away. Then a few more days wandering among the Lucchese and the travelers before we take the train to Venice.
In Venice surrounded by more palazzi than I can believe, and many works of art that I really want to see, I suddenly feel terribly rushed and disappointed at all that I will miss. Only two full days here plus the travel days.
Rudy’s words echo.
“Come back to your breath.” “Welcome whatever this day brings.”
This slows me down and stretches my sense of available time. The yoga week at Ebbio has become the linchpin of this trip in more ways than I would have imagined. I know it will echo again in Rome, when four days will have to suffice to see and feel layers of history there before this wonderful adventure brings us home.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.