Lilias Folan & Marti Glenn: Holding the Light in the Midst of Darkness

Lilias Folan & Marti Glenn: Holding the Light in the Midst of Darkness

Lilias Folan is a lifelong student and teacher of yoga, known for introducing the practice to a wide and varied audience through her PBS show “Lilias! Yoga and You,” which aired 500 episodes from 1970 to 1999. She’s an author of three books including Lilias! Yoga—Your Guide to Enhancing Body, Mind, and Spirit in Midlife and Beyond. In her 80s, Lilias’ yoga practice is still serving her life in new and exciting ways.

Marti Glenn, PhD, Co-Founder and Clinical Director of Ryzio Institute, is a pioneering psychotherapist, educator and trainer. Over the past four decades, she has served as founder and CEO of several companies and nonprofits. Marti always has her hands in many projects, all of which emphasize the integration of the latest research in neuroscience, behavioral epigenetics, mindfulness, early development and trauma.

A powerful and dynamic duo, Lilias and Marti led retreats at the Feathered Pipe Ranch for 25 years—years that have forever shaped their lives. Here, they reflect on the gift of friendship with India Supera, the importance of creating space for women to show up as their full selves, and the lessons that continue to teach them to this day.

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Let’s start with how you two met and became co-teachers.

Lilias Folan & Marti Glenn: Healing the World through Community & SongMarti: I met Lilias at a Jean Houston workshop in Santa Barbara in 1983. I think it was called The Possible Human, because Jean was one of the founders of the Human Potential Movement. She and I were both very into this work and we talked a lot and had such a good time together. Towards the end of the week, Lilias said, “Hey, we ought to work together sometime.” And, I didn’t take it too seriously because it was kind of what everybody said, but didn’t really mean it. That summer, we went to Joy Lake and did a workshop together, and it wasn’t long after that that we ended up at Feathered Pipe, where we taught for over 25 years.

How would you describe your women’s workshops at the Feathered Pipe Ranch?

Marti: Actually, the first workshop I did at the Feathered Pipe, Lilias was leading it and my husband and I came as guests. That was when Lilias did co-ed workshops, which was wonderful, but we started to notice that the women were so much more engaged during the week. We realized it was time for women to have their own space to focus on what we need to do together as women. The first year Lilias and I taught that together was in 1990.

Lilias: Yes, that shift happened so naturally—it wasn’t like we intellectually decided it. The women’s retreats evolved organically and they became these incredible experiences. I had my training in yoga, Marti loves to sing and dance—two things that I hadn’t found in traditional yoga, since much of it tended to sort of discount the emotional body—but we put it all together there. You know, when you move, you move not just your physical body, but the inner awareness that is the watcher and the observer. Everything we did together came from that inner place.

Marti: The major components of the experiences we created were yoga, sound and movement—to engage the whole brain, the whole body, the entire being. We wanted people to explore their true selves, to celebrate all that they are, and to move their emotions. After all, they’re called e-motions for a reason: energy that’s meant to move. Our belief was (and still is) that no matter who you are, all of you is welcome: Your fear, sadness, joy, silliness—every part of you is welcome here.

We had a core group of people that came back every year. Some of them we still talk to from time to time. There was a sense of being-ness within each person. It was never like “Come do yoga for a week.” It was, “Come, and let’s do community. Let’s dip into the depth of our being, together as women.” Everything we did was so much more than a fabulous yoga class. It was that, too, but it was held in such a larger context.

Lilias: Through those workshops, we learned that joy is in every human being, and when joy is given space and energy, people wake up! A lot of the old-fashioned yoga doesn’t even talk about emotion. It was tamped down, not acknowledged or outwardly celebrated. In our retreats, joy and dance and the feelings were not ignored. This was new. This was on the edge.

I imagine India was very supportive of this type of work at the Ranch.

Lilias Folan & Marti Glenn: Healing the World through Community & SongMarti: India was so supportive and personally interested in the women’s workshops. She always said she would be there and she wanted to be there for the sessions. Of course, she had a million other things to do and was so busy, so she popped in to some morning classes when she could. Even when her body wasn’t there, though, her energy was present. We felt her love and felt her support.

Lilias: Yeah… to be talking about India is such a privilege. The word “awe-some” comes to mind every time I think about her. She was a remarkable human being. I remember her as a very serious person but always with a twinkle and a smile. And she was so focused. When you think of human beings put on the earth for a reason, that’s her. What came through her eyes was so profound and wise—honestly, she just was hardly of the planet. I can look back now and say that is what a present human being was and is—awake, aware with all of her senses.

Marti: It was like she had a mission here that she didn’t talk about—she just lived it.

Lilias: I bet wherever she is, she’s busy organizing something or other! I get chills at that thought and can’t help but smile.

Speaking of India and organizing things, I hear there’s a famous sweat lodge story…

Lilias Folan & Marti Glenn: Healing the World through Community & SongLilias: Oh yes, that’s our best story! So, here it goes: As you know, Feathered Pipe supports many Native American communities and activities, and one year, it was decided that we’d have a sweat lodge during our retreat. The women gathered the wood, the sweat lodge was built and India prepared everything we needed for this ceremony. Now, this was a tiny round tent, not the kind of ‘lodge’ I was familiar with. I mean, I’m from Connecticut—what do I know about any of this?

So, we’re squeezed in, far away from the door, right next to India. They closed the flap and the darkness set in. We’re singing and chanting… the fire is going…the heat is rising… and I started to smell something burning—something that did not smell like firewood. The memory I have now is just this up close image of India’s silhouette. And I kept smelling this strange odor. And then what, Marti?

Marti: Well, you kept saying, “No, something really smells strange here,” and you were poking me, and we were trying to look around. It seemed India was getting even louder with her chanting, and she’s just going on and on in this celebration of life and ceremony. We kept saying, “Something smells wrong.” We said it to each other then out loud then directly to India. You mentioned it to her three or four times—and she didn’t budge.

Lilias: Finally, we both really realized what it was: The tent was on fire! We were on fire! (And, no, not metaphorically.) India kept singing and smiling and saying, “No, no, we’re not.” We had to make a big scene in order to get her out of her state of concentration. We kept at it and eventually, we got the women to open up the door and we filed out—and by gosh, the tent was in flames!

Marti: The even more incredible part: We did not miss a beat. No one panicked. No one got hurt. In silence, all of us women walked down to the sauna and just finished our prayers in the sauna—thank you very much!

That’s a story you’ll never forget! I imagine it brought you three, and the group, even closer too.

Marti: It did, and we teased India about that forever, of course. She was so dedicated to helping other people have experiences of a greater possibility, so open and committed to making everything work for everybody. Even when things went awry, we got through them and kept going.

One time, we wanted to do a labyrinth, and she said, “Sure, let’s do it!” Next thing you know, we were designing and drawing, and then she set it all up for us to go outside and walk this labyrinth on the lawn. It was amazing how she could make things happen.

Lilias: She was always of the mind, “What do you want?” and listening for how she can meet the needs of the people at the Ranch. We didn’t really know what we wanted, but we learned. One of the key ancient questions is “Who am I?” and India created space for that answer to continuously evolve. That was part of her encouragement, “Keep asking yourselves the questions,” she’d say. “Who am I, really?” Laughter, love, sadness—don’t push anything away. Bring it all out.

Today, how do you answer that question, “Who am I?”

Lilias Folan & Marti Glenn: Healing the World through Community & SongLilias: Well, I just lost my husband last year, and what I keep telling myself is “Don’t run away.” I remind myself to stay with the feeling. There’s maturity in that bravery, and it’s a constant practice. My life is a practice, and I am always practicing the present moment. “What are you feeling right now?” This is the same question I had 45 years ago, and I feel and feel and feel—and I don’t run from it. Losing a near and dear part of me for over 50 years, that’s huge. And still: Don’t run from it. I am present. That’s where I am today. That’s my practice.

I feel so honored to be soaking up this wisdom from you both—thank you. What advice do you have for those like me, the young seekers of our world right now?

Marti: Where you are is such an opportunity because the world as we know it is changing. Hopefully we will not go back to the old world. As Lilias was just speaking, I wrote down, “Don’t run away from the storm. Stay here.” If you stay, you’ll see that the storm has wiped the landscape clean to make way for a new world. That’s the job right now: stay.

My job is to support people like yourself to weather the storm and realize the landscape has been swept clean, and now it’s time for you to step up in a new way. The old way of fear and divisiveness doesn’t work. We must have a group to stand up and say, “We’re all alike. We’re all one. When you win, I win.” Our job is to do whatever we can to create this sense of oneness. We have it now in the darkness, and I think the darkness is opening to the possibility of the light. It’s up to each of us to carry that light forward.

Lilias: That’s beautiful. I like the idea of practice. When I use that word, it gives a detachment rather than being swallowed up. I actually have a magnet on my refrigerator door, “And this too will pass.” The commitment that the great teachers say in all of our lives, that this is one of the reasons you came on the planet: To know thyself. Know thyself and you shall know the mystery.

Not all want to hear it or can hear it. I think you come into the planet like that, or the ear opens up at a certain point and something dissolves, and you go, “Ohhh!” I like ceremony and ritual—not everyone does—but it helps me move forward.

I just learned this: The first part of the word ritual—rita—means “that which gives art and order to the moment.” For example, I write things down and perhaps burn it in a fire and release it to the light. Everyone is different when it comes to these practices, but that’s what helps me make things fun, and people can find their own order and art in unique ways.

Do you have any other current practices or rituals that keep you connected?

Lilias Folan & Marti Glenn: Healing the World through Community & SongLilias: The first hour of my day, I have a little coffee then I’ll sit quietly and read something that uplifts me and opens my heart. I make that commitment to start my day, no matter what. Sometimes I have to do it in the car, but I do it. Then to close the day, I’ll take a moment to really be present. And throughout the day, while I’m having lunch, I put my feet to the floor, and practice presence. Be here now. Right now. That’s how I practice.

Marti: For me, the more I’m in the moment, the more joy I have, the more love I feel, the more gratitude I access. So, I keep coming back to the present, too. My commitment is mentoring younger people to do the work. That’s my job now at Ryzio—training and working with coaches and therapists who want to step up and step in to do the work. I will say that your generation is hungry for leadership, and it’s clear that you all came here at this time, for this reason. So, it’s wonderful to guide this work.

The other thing I do as a practice is sing. In the last few weeks, we have learned to do a lot of our work online, and learned that you can’t really sing all at once on a Zoom call, but one person sings and the rest mute so we can still do it together.

I’d like to sing you a song to close if I could….

Cou-rage // M-y friend // You do not walk alone.
We will // Walk with you // And sing your spirit home.

We know now that singing together stimulates the brain, the vagus nerve, and it’s medicinal for our bodies, for our souls. We always sang together at the Ranch. It didn’t matter if you could hold a tune or not—we were all healing, and we are still healing through song.

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Special thanks to freelance writer Andy Vantrease for doing this interview!