Kula Member Spotlight: Susan & George Riley

Meet Susan!

Greetings! My name is Susan Riley, and I live in Windsor Heights with my talented husband George. We are both retired now. Since moving to Windsor Heights a few years ago, I’m enjoying more gardening. (Our previous property had a steep hill in the backyard.) I’ve discovered deer spray to deter hungry deer from munching my beautiful gardens. I’m planning on expanding with raised beds to grow more vegetables.

George and my blended family includes my son Garrett and his wife Chryssi who live in Denver CO; George’s daughter Rachel in Blue Grass IA; and Melissa and his son Patrick in the Des Moines area. We love living close to Melissa and our three active granddaughters ages 8, 12 and 14.

Years ago, when I lived in Tucson, AZ, I attended yoga classes. Little did I know how much more there was to learn once I started experiencing Mary’s all-encompassing approach to yoga. I found Mary through a mutual Book Club friend. Ironically that friend subsequently moved to Oregon. How lucky I was to have found Mary in the nick-of-time.

After a few years in Mary’s classes, I convinced George to join, too! We both value Mary’s approach to healthy aging. We’re grateful to have such an experienced and talented instructor who gives detailed instructions and suggested modifications!

Then came Covid, and we could no longer gather together indoors. Mary did a phenomenal job switching her practice to online only! Although we miss seeing everyone in person, we love the convenience of practicing at home. And the technology allows us to see each other online at the beginning and at the end of class.

Fun Fact: George and I met online in 2004 through eHarmony.com. George was living in Forestdale (Des Moines) and working at Mid-American Energy as in income tax manager. I was living Oskaloosa and working at Pella Windows as a Marketing Manager. I only had three “matches”…George had over 100! We both entered a radius of 60 miles to find a match. I was 59½ miles away! We have been happily married now for almost 17 years.

Meet George!

Hi, my name is George Riley. In my younger years I was always attracted to active sports like gymnastics, weight training, biking, running, roller blading, etc. After my children were born, they were also active in many sports. I enjoyed participating with them whenever I could. During those years, I always thought of yoga as kind of a “wimpy” activity. It wasn’t until I became older and wiser that I found out how wrong I was.

After Susan and I got together, she would very faithfully follow Miranda Esmond-White, a Canadian trainer, who created an exercise program for aging wisely called “Classical Stretch.” I had been a runner for about 30 years when I first started having hip pain. Susan suggested doing the Classical Stretch program on DVD with her. I quickly discovered how beneficial stretching was for an aging body, and how utterly inflexible I had become.

As Susan mentions, she started taking yoga lessons here in Des Moines. She kept telling me about the exceptional yoga instructor named Mary. When Susan asked if I would like to join her, I hesitated at first, because I knew from the Classical Stretch how tight my body had become. And, honestly, I was embarrassed to attempt yoga with people I didn’t know. But my mind was quickly changed! Mary has a way of making anyone who attends her classes feel “at home.” Her teaching style and clear verbal cues makes following her routines not easy, but simple—except for the Sanskrit words she uses with ease that I can neither remember nor pronounce!

It’s hard to overstate what a committed professional Mary is. Her extensive educational training, years of teaching and a voracious appetite for learning and teaching all aspects of yoga make Mary a consummate teacher. She not only improves your physical well-being, but, if you are open to it, your mental and spiritual well-being, as well. I am always amazed at how yoga helps with ordinary, everyday activities. I have been playing guitar for over 50 years, and the improved posture that yoga provides helps me to maintain good posture required for proper classical guitar technique. I have also become an avid woodworker since retirement. The increased strength and flexibility gained from practicing yoga makes woodworking, gardening, and most daily tasks (like shoveling snow—yuck!) so much easier and more enjoyable. Finally, the various kinds of yogic breathing exercises and meditative training, like yoga nidra, that Mary teaches, improves relaxation, concentration and sleep quality—valuable techniques to navigate the crazy world we’re all experiencing.

Combined with Mary’s guidance, Yoga prepared me for—and helped me to recover from—having both hips replaced over the past four years. She continually suggests modifications to yoga poses, providing ways around various physical impediments her students might have, whether temporary or permanent. As I approach 75, that kind of flexible teaching style gives me comfort for the practice of yoga in the years to come.