Student Spotlight: Mary Gillaspey

Greetings, fellow yogis! I’m Mary Gillaspey here. I live in Urbandale with my husband, Dean, and our golden retriever Luke. Our two adult sons are out in the world—Daniel in corporate America, Adam as a chef. Before I retired in 2001, I worked for 15 years at Metro Waste Authority, our local solid waste agency, as the environmental educator. Prior to that, I taught 3rd grade for 22 years in Altoona.

My first experience with yoga was through DMPS Adult Ed many years ago, and I never really knew what was going on. I moved on to tennis until arthritis in my right hand became too painful. Some years later, I found a yoga studio in Des Moines that was on my way home from work, and there was a 5:00 practice—perfect! After I’d practiced there for a year or so, I began to feel I was being pushed into poses I didn’t feel comfortable with or felt ready for.

A neighbor who was practicing at R Studio invited me to join her for a class, and I loved the space and the teachers, Beth Damm and Julie Rice. The way we positioned our mats felt strange at first; there were 2 rows facing each other with an open path in the middle. After a while, I didn’t even think about it. Unfortunately, R Studio closed but fortunately, I found Robin Bourjaily and Radiant Om. (Yes, Rachel and I were on the same yoga circuit.) Talk about an awesome yoga space! Robin had a welcoming retail space in front, and a huge open, yet inviting room for practice. And I think she had every yoga prop in the book. A silly factoid–every time I sweep my arms overhead, I do a little backbend and say out loud, “Thank you, Robin.” She always encouraged a little backbend at the top. Unfortunately, Radiant Om had to close. Fortunately, I found Mary and the Resilience and Grace community. So, now, lucky me gets to practice with Mary and Beth each week, and I do the “Yoga with Adriene” 30 Day Challenge every January.

My physical practice has certainly evolved. I’m stronger and my balance has improved a lot. I’m seeing a physical therapist who’s determined to keep me away from the back surgeon. He’s impressed with my core strength, my flexibility and overall coordination. I say, “Thank you, yoga!” often during my PT sessions and he agrees. Along with the physical benefits, yoga has helped me cope with the everyday and the dramatic. I’ve always been pretty chill, and yoga helps keep me on an even keel. Seated meditation isn’t my thing, but I certainly call on my mind and the breath to get me through some unpleasant and/or scary situations. I’ve had a few serious surgeries and lots of head-first MRI’s, with more in my future. When I need grounding, I call on years of yoga experience.

Practicing with Mary has given me so much more than just great asana practices. I’ve learned about essential oils and use them every day, morning and night—topically and in my diffuser. I know about chakras and hand mudras and setting intentions and modifications and so much more, thanks to Mary’s wide-ranging knowledge and her desire to keep learning and sharing. Mary has done so much to make yoga accessible to all; indeed, there is a class for everyone. My personal favorites are Yin and restoratives with the lights turned down low.

Dean is very respectful of my yoga time. He understands the important role it plays in my overall health and well-being. When covid started and Mary’s classes went to Zoom, I was practicing in our first floor living room. Not ideal, but I could practice facing east and look out the window and Dean was as quiet as he could be. Then one day the light bulb went off…why wasn’t I using the extra bedroom upstairs?? No bed, just a few tubs of bedding and other random stuff, with plenty of room for a yoga mat and other props. I feel very blessed to have my very own yoga studio.

Being retired is such a gift and I’m one who likes to fill my time with things that matter to me. One such thing is the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Our six-year-old granddaughter, Olivia, has cystic fibrosis and we’ve been involved with the Foundation pretty much since she was born. Dean and I serve on the CF Board and chair the “Grampions” committee. Grampions are grandparents or other advocates for CF fighters/patients and it’s our job to make connections and provide education sessions. I’m also a long-time Stephen Minister at Plymouth Church. Stephen Ministers are trained to help others who are suffering and walk alongside them in their time of crisis.

Covid really messed with my other volunteer opportunities. I used to volunteer at the Urbandale Library—that need dried up. Plymouth had the Career Closet at the Downtown YMCA, where women in need could get free clothing. That closed due to covid. Dean and I delivered food for DMARC until we were recently replaced by Door Dash. What???

This past spring, Dean and I began volunteering at the Planned Parenthood Bookworks, where folks donate books for the big fund-raising book sales held in the spring and fall. We’ve recently been assigned the “New Age” category, which includes alternative medicine, psychic powers, spirits, occult, and paranormal phenomena. We’ll see!

If I had to choose the greatest gift I’ve been given through years of yoga practice, it would be the sense of gratitude I feel every day for my health and my mobility, my family and friends, my community and my yoga teachers past and present.