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Surviving Ruth White at Grimstone Manor

by Ruth White(more info)

listed in yoga, originally published in issue 110 - April 2005

Grimstone Manor is a large comfortable house set amid 27 acres of garden and pasture which float on the hem of Dartmoor. The name is taken from a tall and narrow stone which stands grim and sparse against the sombre granite tors, and yet there is nothing grim about the manor. It is very spacious with bedrooms for 40 people, bathrooms and showers tucked behind little doors, a swimming pool, jacuzzi and gorgeous gardens flowing outwards in all directions. Meals are delicious vegetarian fare with an enormous ever-full bowl of fruit placed decoratively in the dining room.

Many different healers and therapists run courses here. To those who have not met her, Ruth will at least be known as a purveyor of Yoga mats, blocks, belts, videos, etc. To those of us who have, she is an exacting Iyengar Yoga teacher who deftly manages to combine experience and ability. Her husband, John, is also deeply involved in the Yoga world. I do feel, however, that there is always a slight undercurrent of relief when John teaches the 5.30am class. He is slightly less demanding than Ruth.

Despite the opulence of the surroundings, there is a certain Spartan aspect to Ruth's teaching. When people chatter at the beginning of class, she puts a finger to her lips and says quietly "Now I'm going to be strict about talking. The reason for this is that when we do Yoga, we look within". Quite right too. And, after a few asanas, there's not much breath for chatting in any case.

Ruth's special talent is an ability to know your body as well as, or better than, you know it yourself. During one class, she came and put her finger on the exact spot where I broke a vertebrae 20 years ago. Apart from Mr Iyengar, she is the only teacher who has ever noticed. Yet, having acknowledged the weakness, she only works on one's strength – each person according to their own ability.

Last year I was pregnant, and although she was teaching a class with 35 people in it at times, she was still able to give me individual instruction. She also paid attention to a man with over-extended knees and others in the class who had other physical idiosyncrasies. This year, by some genial stroke of synchronicity, Ruth chose to focus on backbends for the time I was there.

Now I know I have been lazy about getting my tummy muscles back to their original shape after having been stretched to spaghetti lengths after last year's baby, and had just begun working fairly intensively with cobras and locusts. I had not practised backbends for nearly six years. When I'm not pregnant, they make me feel sick these days – breast feeding hormones, I generally excuse myself. But Ruth is not one for letting you get away with anything and she had me up and stretching as if my last backbend were but yesterday. Nausea fled in fright. After the class, Ruth came up and told me I needed to work on my abdominal muscles.

I hope I do not make Ruth sound too severe. She scared my nausea away because I had been harbouring it, as if fostering the whim of a spoilt child for too long. To genuine nausea she knows the antidote and to the less strong (as opposed to merely lazy) she is infinitely compassionate. To the merely lazy but quite happy to remain so, she is tolerant and gently encouraging. She teaches each to their own level and expectations with an amazing matter-of-fact omniscience.

This is an ability she must have imbued somehow from Mr Iyengar himself. In a class with Mr Iyengar some 20 plus years ago, he pointed to Ruth and said matter of factly "You're pregnant". That was the first time Ruth had known, but he was right. This sort of finely attuned knowledge comes from working with the body every day over decades and owes nothing at all to projections, assumptions or guesswork.

John's approach is different. Although he divides the class into 'old hands' and 'new hands' he treats everyone the same. His instructions are clear and precise, leaving room for everyone to become absorbed into their own practice. John is also a shoe maker and always notices people's feet. If you describe someone to John, all you need to do is to describe their feet and he knows immediately who you mean! He always makes the class work their toes and talks about the binding effect of shoes – especially if they are too tight. In fact, even if he makes them himself, shoes are still shoes and constrict. An exception he told us of one morning were the shoes of Krishnamurti (the Indian philosopher) who had asked him to make him a pair which were like boats they were so roomy and wide.


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About Ruth White

Ruth White is an established yoga teacher, who was taught by BKS Iyengar. She has two centres for Yoga, one at Fetcham, Leatherhead and the other at Cheem, Surrey. She has produced an entire range of Yoga Videos and DVDs useful for everybody's needs or abilities. Ruth conducts Teacher Training Certificated Courses and Workshops throughout the UK. She can be reached on Tel: 020-8641 7770;;


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