Daily Practice, on the Mat and in the Barn

by Meg Schader

Some yogis begin each day by rolling out their mats, and chanting the sound of om. I begin my days by rolling up my sleeves and listening to a chorus of moos.  

Muscles tight in our cold, drafty barn, I squat in my torn Carhartts beside my first teacher: a 900-pound Jersey cow. As I sleepily wash Nellie's udder, she wakes me up with a half-hearted kick. Moving down the line of tie-stalls, my mind drifts off to plans for tomorrow and reruns of yesterday. Gladys brings me back to the present moment with a swift slap of her wet tail across my face.

My bones are built of calcium from food grown in our heavy clay soil. Grounded to this place by choice, my husband carries most of the weight of that responsibility on his strong shoulders. I feel the effect of this work in my body, too. Years spent bending over to weed crops in our vegetable fields created a long-lasting tightness in my hamstrings. I feel a constant, slight twist in my torso from tossing thousands of hay bales in our barn each season. Mindful of this imbalance, I make an effort now not to favor my dominant side when moving hay; I consciously alternate from left to right with each 60-pound bale.

My root chakra is strong from nearly 20 years of work on this farm. Rooted here by family tradition and a commitment to this land, I know each of these 150 acres of pastures, fields, and woods. I travel them by foot and tractor, depending on the purpose and season. From the highest point on the farm, I can see my in-laws’ barns and silos a mile to the west. There’s a small creek in our valley, which eventually joins with the river that flows behind my parents’ house in the village to our east.

I’ve been practicing yoga almost as long as I’ve been farming. I took my first yoga class as a physical education elective in college. My dedication to this practice has waxed and waned since then, fluctuating with the intensity of my family and business commitments. Now that our son is a young man and our farm is established, there is more time for my practice. As I’ve gone deeper into yoga philosophy and studied with experienced teachers, I’ve realized that my strong connection to the earth does not have to hold me down. Instead, I’ve learned to use this stability to open to the sky. Like a kite tethered to a rock, knowing that my connection is firm allows me to freely explore the areas in my body and mind where I can create space.

For years, I longed to rise up and expand back into Wheel. But when I prepared for the pose, lying on my back with my hands on the floor behind my head, my small frame felt like a huge boulder, dense and inflexible. A couple of summers ago, I decided to attempt it outside. With grass between my toes and a cushion of sod below my head, the sun ignited my determination, and I easily arched my heart towards the sky. I was surprised by how little effort this pose actually required. Suddenly, literally feeling my connection to the earth through my fingers and toes, I was able to open my body and mind to the world of possibilities that exist in the sky.

My schedule on the farm is fairly rigid—my days nearly as predictable as the life of our cows. Morning and evening milking times are constant, interrupted only by the urgency of hay season or a medical emergency. Sometimes this steady rhythm feels oppressive and monotonous.

Lately, I’ve begun to appreciate the freedom possible within these limits. Because I am self-employed, I get to choose when and how to do most of my work. With family and work so intertwined, my days with my husband are like a continuous flow of partner yoga poses. We balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and he often provides the base so I can fly. During my trips to Kripalu for teacher training and workshops, he works double time to take care of both our farm and home.

On those trips, I savor the luxury of rolling out my yoga mat at 6:30 am in a warm yoga studio. But when I come home and walk into my barn the next morning, I breathe long, deep breaths, grounding myself with complex smell of cows, hay, and old wood and preparing to begin my daily practice once again.

Meg Schader milks cows twice a day and teaches yoga twice a week. She is owner of Wake Robin Farm and Hayseed Yoga, both located in Central New York. Meg graduated from the 200-Hour Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training program in 2013. 

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