Kula Member Spotlight: Kathi Kruidenier

Hello. My name is Kathi Kruidenier and I have been a student of Mary’s since day one – almost 23 years.  I have two great kids, a son and a daughter, and a wonderful daughter-in-law plus a married granddaughter and two grandsons.  I also have four fabulous sisters, a brother, and their families.  I have been so blessed to be part of a very close-knit family that has provided me with so much love, laughter, and support.   My children and grandchildren have stayed in the area, and I have enjoyed spending a lot of time with them watching them grow up.

I started my spiritual quest many years ago attending retreats, seminars, and meditation classes and finding books that enlightened me and often launched me in a new direction.  At some point on this journey, I decided yoga was something I needed to learn more about. My sister, Judie Kaufman, a fellow yogi, had wanted me to take an adult-ed yoga class with her in the mid-‘70s. The timing wasn’t right with my young children and work schedule, but I stayed curious and wanted to learn more. When I was ready, I set out on a quest to find a teacher, which in the late ‘90s in Des Moines was not an easy thing to do.

I eventually found a local yoga teacher, Marci Graham. Once I started taking classes I was hooked! At the time I was still working full-time at Farm Bureau. They had a wonderful employee wellness program. I decided to take a yoga book that I had found down to the wellness center and asked if they would consider starting a yoga class at FB. Well as the saying goes, “When the student is ready the teacher appears”.

At the time, Mary was an intern in the Wellness Center and was tasked with learning yoga and teaching a class. Lucky for us all, she became hooked as well! Mary started taking classes from Marci and began to learn the practice and how to teach. When Marcy decided to move to California in the fall of 2000, as fate would have it, she asked Mary to take over the classes she was teaching. One of them was at Plymouth Church – Mary started teaching a weekly yoga class every Monday night in October 2000 and continued offering this class until the pandemic hit in March 2020.  I attended her first Monday night class at Plymouth and have rarely missed one since!

One of the first people I met on my yoga journey was Sue Irish. She and a handful of others continue to attend classes weekly and are a part of Mary’s kula. I invited my sister Judie to join and she promptly agreed, since she had been patiently waiting since the ‘70s. Within a few years, we convinced another sister, Barbara, who had been taking classes with a different instructor, to join us as well. We became known as the “Savasana Sisters” and practiced together side-by-side for many years.

Mary has taken me on a yoga journey that I could have never imagined when I started down this path.  Her education in sports medicine was already a plus, but then she immersed herself in yoga and went to workshops, extensive teacher training classes, and read books to feed her curiosity. Mary always shared her knowledge and insight with us and helped us grow our personal practice as well.  When Mary attended a weekend yoga workshop, we all knew she would come to class on Monday very excited to pass along all that she had learned! I don’t think in all the years I have practiced with Mary I have ever done the same routine twice. The exception is now I have access to her extensive virtual library, which is an added benefit.

I have not only learned so much about yoga from Mary, but I have also learned so much about myself and my body.   In addition to learning how poses help improve my posture, strength, balance, and flexibility, I have also learned to connect to my breath and listen to my body.  The combination of exercise and spirituality has always appealed to me but finding the perfect instructor was the key.  With Mary’s guidance yoga has nourished my body, my mind, and my spirit.

About a year ago, I suffered a series of strokes and was hospitalized for a week while the doctors tried to determine the cause.  The cause was never clearly determined, but miraculously I suffered almost no lasting deficits.  One of the strokes was in my occipital lobe and my vision and balance were compromised. After a few months of PT and committing to specific eye exercises, my vision is back to pre-stroke level. I am beyond grateful because I know this could have been catastrophic. It has taken a few months to gain enough confidence to return to my yoga practice.  My balance was off and I was worried about doing twists, forward bends, or anything where my head was down. I feared becoming dizzy and disoriented.

This is where having years with Mary and years of practice have paid off.  Mary has helped gently guide me back to my mat and made recommendations for how I could adapt poses or pace myself as I regained my confidence.  Knowing the poses was beneficial because I knew I had muscle memory, and if I could relax, my body would know what to do.  Even though I was taking classes on Zoom, I knew Mary was always available to help me modify a pose in her cueing during class or if I needed to call or email and discuss my particular issues with her after class.  In addition to my weekly yoga class, I was able to return to Mary’s weekly Strength and Balance class. This has been a wonderful addition to my workout routine and lives up to the title.

I know Mary’s classes help me maintain my flexibility and strength as I age. I also know they have built in me a resilience that helped my body recover more fully and quickly than I would have expected.   When I started out taking yoga 23 years ago, I thought I wanted to learn just the poses and improve my flexibility. I did learn that and so much more! The postures are such a small part of what this practice, Mary, and the camaraderie of the yoga kula have added to my life.  They all have enriched my life in ways I could have never imagined!