If you ever take a class with exercise instructor Liz Ridley – Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Silver Sneakers or Chair Yoga – you will notice her enthusiasm for what she teaches, the depth of her repertoire, and her specificity: how in an instant she can bring awareness to a facet of a movement that can transform your practice and your skill. You’ll also notice that she has a gift for teaching, a ready smile, and an all-inclusive friendliness.
When I interviewed Liz for this article, she told me that her mother had been a professional dancer, and how by the age of 12, she had already learned the value of regular exercise. This background created a lifelong attraction to the rewards of staying fit, and the health advantages to body, mind, and spirit, as she moved over the years from aerobics and weight training into the often physically kinder forms of Martial Arts and mind-body exercises. She was attracted to Martial Arts initially because of a Chuck Norris book she read in her 40s that spoke about inner strength, dedication, and determination, and this was a perfect fit for that moment when she was ready to change her life style.
She began to teach because she thought it would please her mother, but then continued for the intrinsic and extrinsic benefits she discovered: a clearer, calmer state of mind, better coordination, increased balance, inner strength, and focus. She wanted to transcend the stale plateau she had reached in body-centered exercises, and magnify the body-mind connection with practices that emphasized natural ways of being, sustaining the whole self. As she and those who attend her classes aged, she found Tai Chi to be easier on joints and mobility, a better method for freeing one’s inner and outer vitality, and a dynamic way to create a reservoir of chi.
We discussed chi as an unseen life force in all living things, an innate bio-electrical phenomenon that is at times mystical, and part of flowing in harmony with life and nature. Some regard chi as a restorative force, and direct it toward healing and reinvigoration. Ancient and modern practitioners have understood building chi as protective, when strengthened through practice, a way to “top up” our energy and performance levels, like putting gas into an emptying tank, to replenish and nourish us. Liz shows us all this when she demonstrates “carrying the ball’ and how to “ward off’ an ‘attack’ in her Tai Chi 10 Form movements. Master Wen-Chang Wu, one of Liz’s internationally-known teachers of Tai Chi, taught her that if one has increased chi, negativity will not affect them adversely, but if one’s chi is low or weakened, they are vulnerable to a much greater degree.
Because of Liz’s teaching, with her focus on cultivating chi, people who attend her classes say these things about their results – less stress, more ease, better body flexibility, balance, core strength, and overall mobility. They feel more serene and peaceful. One high profile administrator in the Asheville community said that Liz’s classes are the best thing that ever happened to her, and, “I would come to Liz’s classes every day if I could!”
Liz teaches in several venues in the Asheville area, but nothing is dearer to her heart than her Thursday afternoon Asheville Community Yoga (ACY) class, which boasts a warm and socially connected group of participants who have developed deep friendships from coming weekly. They can be seen before and after her Tai Chi sessions, in the halls, exchanging phone numbers and recipes, and supporting one another in and outside of the Center, as a beautiful example of community caring and sharing. Wendy Lantis, Community Services Coordinator and Liaison at ACY commented, “That’s just Liz. She sets a most positive and friendly tone for everyone, and her regulars come consistently, specifically because she is there.”
When I asked Liz why teaching the many classes she does is important to her, she said, “I get to help people feel better and that’s a great thing to me, that people feel better because of something I do. In the end, I just want to be helpful.”
Liz decided to volunteer for ACY soon after they opened several years ago, drawn to their vision of building community through presenting yoga instruction for everyone, regardless of ability to pay. 16,000 students have joined in what is available at ACY, a 501c3 tax deductible non-profit, with access to health and wellness classes, healing arts services, and assistance for mind, body, and spirit, all by donation or “Love Offering.” This is a unique and successful community model for yoga/mind-body exercise that has been exceptionally well embraced in our WNC Community. “We have become a true and lasting community in which there is enormous support for one another beyond this space,” Landis said. Liz is grateful to participate, as one of a team of about 60 teachers, for a community-centered project that has such an intention. ACY offers up to 15 classes daily, special community events, wellness workshops, monthly service projects, student immersion programs, and teacher trainings.
Recently Liz made a trip to Nova Scotia where she camped and did some whale watching. She was saddened to learn that 90% of the whales in the world are gone. “It is not in my nature to be political,” she told me, “or an activist. But I feel that we need to think about how Mother Earth sustains us, and be more mindful, ourselves. If I can help people to live their best life, maybe that creates goodwill in the world, which can branch out and touch others to feel moved.”
“Only good shall come to me. Only good shall go from me” summarizes Liz’s perspective on what she offers to her classes, and why she loves ACY so much, where this exchange happens continuously, and people are inspired by one another. For more information and their program mission statement, please go to: ashevillecommunityyoga.com.