In January 2015 I decided to leave San Francisco after a breakup. The inspiration that the city once offered had come to a close and it was time to move on. At the same time my dad was thinking about selling the family ranch. If I wanted a place to live I would have to help him revive the home that has been in my family since 1884. A plan was needed to cover the high expenses. As a yoga teacher, I envisioned creating a mindfulness retreat venue. But I couldn't deny that the ranch was also perfect for weddings even though getting married was the farthest thing on my mind. But fate is a tricky bastard.
The ranch must’ve had the destiny of a wedding venue all along. The 1890’s ranch house is perfect for a party to spend the whole weekend. The cabin, which was brought from the Hetch-Hetchy Dam project in the 1920's on drayage wagon, pulled by massive draft horses; it has served as a cozy guest cabin with an outdoor shower ever since. An 1860’s bunkhouse constructed of old growth redwood, making it an idyllic room for the groomsmen (or as we call it, the ‘man cave’). An adjacent granary held the award-winning wheat grown on the ranch and now serves as a great dance floor (and yoga deck!). And the two-story barn from the 1860’s serves as an iconic backdrop.
Behind the barn a whole new world opens up. Beyond the meandering creek the hills roll as far as the eye can see. Morgan Territory Regional Park is in the backyard and still hosts remaining artifacts from Bay Miwok Indians. A 600-year-old oak tree offers a symbol of lasting strength. Many people agree that there is magic on the ranch. Whether it’s the tree or the history of the sacred land, the ancient wisdom of untouched nature is powerful.
I met my soon-to-be husband the very next month. He was an incredible match for me even though I was not ready for the man of my dreams (that seems to be the way it works). Running a successful business requires a lot of internet research and communication on the subject. And when my klutzy social media (predicting my interests) started suggesting ads of wedding dresses and other wedding paraphernalia … I would direct the screen of my laptop away from him so we wouldn't get any big ideas.
All it took was one great photographer, Jennifer Skog and a publication in 100 Layer Cake and I was flooded with inquiries from newly engaged couples.
I was immersed! I hadn’t even been to a wedding since I was a kid and now, suddenly I had front-row seats and a backstage pass to a lot of them.
I was intrigued by the whole thing and my entrepreneurial attitude enabled a creative approach. I require all couples to have a day-of coordinator. There was overwhelming feedback that this was crucial advice; couples that didn’t hire one wished they would have. This worked for me because I still wasn’t all that interested in the difference between sea foam green and mint, polyester or linen tablecloths and chiavari or crossback chairs.
But I was close enough to start seeing a familiar pattern. All the couples that booked were pretty laid back … or they supposedly wouldn’t have gotten married at a working ranch. And as the big day drew nearer, I would hear the word “stress” popping up all over the place. It seemed to be so easy to get swept up by the minutiae of seemingly insignificant details and forget what it’s all about.
Back to my wonderful guy … he happened to be German … like German-German. I went to Germany with him for the holidays ... and you can probably guess where this story is headed. Here was my very practical reason for getting married. The universe works in mysterious ways and seems to have a sense of humor.
The following year, the ranch hosted a number of weddings including my own. I realized that the notion of weddings as being stressful was reinforced around every turn. It takes a serious yogi to not go bananas at least a few times because the wedding-industry-stress-fog can get pretty thick.
As a student of yoga I am interested in the philosophy that is the foundation of the practice. Yoga is the art of living and it is the best teacher of life that I’ve come across. Its wisdom is ancient – humans have been dealing with the same restless mind for thousands of years, it’s not a product of Silicon Valley. The Yoga Sutra was written in 200AD and presents Niyamas, which are, translated as personal observances.
“Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.”
If we had the intention to have a good attitude toward others, and ourselves, our experience would be much more pleasant. We are still human, that’s where this advice comes in handy. Isvara Pranidhana is one of the Niyamas and is interpreted as surrender to a higher power. Marriage is about a union – a higher power than our individual ego, which seems to feed off of wedding planning because we all get really attached to the things we start to create. It is not easy to let go when something isn’t available, goes wrong, or wasn’t anticipated in the budget. This Niyama suggests that we should cultivate a trusting relationship with the universe and make each action an offering to something bigger than ourselves. Obviously there is a lot of room for interpretation here but I think that is the point. Flip your palms face up and observe what this gesture feels like.
Allen Watts reminds us that life should be about play – not work. A strict task oriented schedule cannot be our primary objective of life. I have seen countless couples turn the wedding planning process into a stressful job. It requires coordinating logistics, correspondence, organization and sweet, precious time, making it easy to feel spent! Most of us already work our real job too damn much.
I was afraid of the wedding monster, jokingly nicknamed Bridezilla and in order to avoid her I tried specifically to be mindful about the planning process of my own wedding. Because it didn’t follow a recipe at all times, it turned out to be smooth and enjoyable. I was able to find very crafty people who were willing to help and my experience in weddings had already shown me how many hidden talents my friends and family have. I explained our style to them and encouraged them to run with it. Instead of pinning down the choice of food, flower or fork, I left the decision and responsibility to the person I had designated, so it was out of my hands. It was wonderful to discover trusted vendors and give them creative freedom to do what they do best. And of course I hired a coordinator myself. I was able to feel light and quirky because I trusted that everything would be just right. Our officiant was one of my yoga teachers who not only helped to craft a beautifully unique ceremony but offered healthy chats which helped to put some things in perspective. She reminded me of how to be a normal, sane person. This was about when I started to get the idea that there really is a need for something like a wedding planning coach. And I realized that yoga philosophy provides a solid framework for just how to approach it.
A Vedic astrologer I once consulted foretold that I would have some heavy clouds looming in my life but all I had to do was bring an umbrella. Even though this little Balinese dude might have been a scam artist, this indeed is great advice for wedding preparations. Expect that something will go wrong and you will appreciate all the details that work out even more perfectly than you could have ever planned for. Letting go of the utopian expectation allows the monkey mind to shed a layer of chatter which will further allow the process to be more playful.
In my first few months in the wedding world, I offered a free yoga class as a booking incentive. Everybody needed that little reminder to breathe and be present. I received a lot of sincere gratitude as it can be especially challenging to get grounded and balanced before such a significant and emotional event.
This inspired me to develop a quick prototype ‘Yoga for Weddings’. Independently, a woman confided in me that she was fantasizing about a mindful approach for her wedding preparations. She and her partner were inspired by the self-expression and creativity of Burning Man and she wanted to integrate a yoga teacher to guide the experience. I was blown away by the synchronicity of the universe. Burning Man just might have been where I got my inspiration to trust my creative team, hand over the responsibility and feel free to be myself. It was also a breath of fresh air for everyone else around.
That is how Yoga for Weddings started. I hope that the energy continues to build and that the art of staying calm becomes trendy on all the blogs, sites and social media that currently make it all feel so very overwhelming. Bring your wedding back to its true essence. What is important to you? And how do you want to celebrate the most important party you’ll probably ever throw?