In 1969 a book was published titled, Richard Hittleman’s Yoga; 28 Day Exercise Plan. Some time in the early to mid 70’s, my mother got her hands on it. This was not some Flower Child seeking Nirvana. This was a mother of six, a soon to be middle-aged housewife (the term seems so derogatory now, but was fully descriptive back in the day), with eyes on the prize of an empty nest, that was coming into her own as a woman, but more so as a seeker. And for this book to have been suggested to her by her brother, a Catholic priest, is in hindsight both stupefying and absolutely glorious.
That being said, Richard Hittlemann’s 28 Day Exercise Plan was my first introduction to the practice of yoga. And let me just be honest and say that I have never participated in, let alone completed the 28 day plan. Nor have I read more than a few pages. So, how is it that this book has had such a profound influence on my yoga journey?
One might imagine that my mother had introduced me to the yoga path at that time when she herself was beginning her journey, and that the rest is history. But if she did, it was a very subtle nudge, more by example than anything. I was busy being a teen-ager, and she was busy coming into her own. We were both transitioning through our own journeys and only occasionally stopped to tell of our tales. We were typical of the times, and kept sharing to a minimum, and layers over our hearts. And in my family, humor was an integral layer. Laughter was the best medicine. I relished in joining in with my older siblings (I am the youngest of the 6) in teasing our sweet mother for her newfound adventures of spirit. Her “exercises” and “health food” were fodder for our feeble-minded fun. She took it all in good stride with an all-knowing grin, like she held a secret that we would all one day discover for ourselves.
The book remained in its’ rightful place, next to her other varied reading material (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Edgar Cayce among others) for as long as I can remember while living at home. On the floor, at the foot of the bed, underneath a bench lay her sacred space. Her books, a towel (talk about an old school yoga mat!), a couple of 2lb hand weights, a strap, and some stretch bands. Every morning at 6:00am she arose to her routine; prayer/reading/meditation/yoga/exercise. And every morning I dragged my sorry ass out of bed, dressed for school in flurry, came down to the kitchen for a quick piece of toast and a grumbled greeting to my parents (who sat there like Ward & June Cleaver with newspaper and coffee), before flying out the door to an awaiting carpool.
Fast forward a decade or so. My husband and I had just been transferred to Miami, and as the current vernacular goes, I was “adult-ing”… or at least trying. If you have ever seen an episode of the 80’s classic Miami Vice you have an understanding of what my environment was like. For real. Suffice it to say, it was all a little bit out of my comfort zone. Add to that that I missed family and friends in Chicago. I missed my old job. I missed wearing jeans and a sweater in the Fall. I just missed my old self that didn't have to adult so hard. After a particularly pity-seeking phone call to my mom, she sent me the book. Inside was a note that read in part “…I hope you will have yoga as a part of your life. It is a way of life that teaches you how to relax. Fr. Matthew gave me this book and it was he who encouraged me…” Reading that note again just now brings a lump to my throat, but also an enormous sense of warmth and gratitude. What a blessing. And yet, when I received the book, I rolled my eyes, read a few lines, howled with laughter, and promptly placed it on a shelf with other books I had no intention of reading.
The pictures alone were cringe-worthy; a 1960’s era, leotard clad young woman in poses that seemed ridiculously mundane, and just plain weird. And then there was the chapter titled Yoga and the Housewife (Day 14);
“Housework and all that it entails may not be fun but it is important and must be accomplished with a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.”
Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahah!!!!!!!!! And there went my path to enlightenment.
Fast forward AGAIN. This time, almost two decades. Decades that included moving four more times, raising three children, and stepping into that “housewife” role with aplomb (arguably). My then 13 year old daughter, Bridget, approached me with an offer to take a yoga class with her. Any parent of teen-agers understands this does not happen often, and the opportunity should be snatched up immediately despite any misgivings. So off we went. I spent the first few classes stifling my giggles and rolling my eyes at this free-sprited, hippie of a teacher, but soon began to realize what my mom was on to all those years ago. There was peace in this process. After some digging around I managed to find the old book, that for reasons unknown to me, followed us with every one of those moves. It was especially poignant to see it with the note inside. My mother has passed away the year before, so seeing her handwriting brought that lump to my throat again. This time I perused through it with a little more openness and understanding. It still made me guffaw, but now I could stand in the shoes of my mother as she was in those days. I could understand what she was learning and opening to, because I was learning and opening to it too.
I still wasn't buying into the 28 Day magical potion. I realize that in the world of therapists and psychologists, it is a common practice to set 28 days as the amount of time needed to change habits. So, I get what he was doing there. And I get that calling it an exercise plan was more appealing to women (trust me, this book was definitely geared toward women!). So, God bless Richard Hittleman for his efforts to, in a way he knew best, bring this beautiful practice of yoga to his world in 1969. And although I could not then, nor now relate to the pictures, and stories, and guidelines in the book, I honor it as my teacher. Right along with my mother.
Yoga is a journey. There may or may not be a clearly defined beginning, but there is absolutely, positively no end. As it is said, we cannot un-know what we know. There are many teachers along the way…not all of them human. I never imagined that my yoga journey began with the sighting of this now sacred book so many decades ago. But I now know that it did. The seed was planted by my mother, it took root for decades, and finally began to peek up from the earth.
Trust the process.