A Tribute letter from 2007 Guest Penny

As I re-enter the life of teaching in New York City for the winter, this email received yesterday reminds me that Sewall House is present in my heart and mind even when not there..DSCF2135 gratefully also in the heart and mind of guests who have shared the experience with us. Though I have never read the book Eat Pray Love I know that women who come to Sewall House are often on their own journey of searching and the challenge of change. Even though Penny’s story did not make it into the book she submitted it for, she gave permission to share her story here-

First, this is what she said in her email- secondly I have made bold the part about how yoga helped her overcome her fear and feel empowered….

Hi, Donna! This is Penny from NJ. I visited Sewall back in 2007. I wanted to share something i wrote about my experience, but first I’ll tell you a bit of backstory: Liz Gilbert, author of “Eat Pray Love” ran a contest this summer asking people to share a life moment inspired by her book. The 50 winners would be published in an Anthology called “Eat Pray Love Saved My Life” or some such title. Needless to say, I didn’t win, but since my “life changing experience” was all about my stay with you, I thought you might enjoy the read!
All the best,


The year I quietly told friends, family, and co-workers about my out-of-the-blue impending break up, I received no less than 3 copies of “Eat, Pray, Love”: a hostess gift at a get-together, a copy anonymously left in my office mailbox, a package in the mail from a friend. Hmm…this means something, I thought. The first copy I read became my “best friend”: dog eared pages I wanted to refer back to, notes in the margins, underlined quotes and entire paragraphs. Oddly, the things that resonated weren’t what seemed to be the Public’s favorite; no “Attraversiamo” for me. My “underlines” included phrases I connected with like “Learn your way around loneliness”, “I thought I was old and divorced”, and “…a cross between a golden retriever and a barnacle”. Still, I couldn’t put it down, and understood why other women felt it would help me. (I eventually passed the other 2 copies onto “friends in need”.)
Two long embattled years later, it was the first summer after what I liked to call my “surprise” divorce (Him:” I don’t love you anymore. Surprise!”) and my 25th anniversary would have been approaching. The divorce and the 2 years leading up to it had been brutal and debilitating, both psychologically and financially. The thought of being in the house that held so many memories of a once-great relationship depressed me. Pulling on my big-girl panties, I decided to get away for just a few days, all by myself. No loving sister, no helpful buddies, just me. So I wouldn’t be tempted to pull out my wedding album and consume an entire bottle of champagne (that was last year’s anniversary.) I wasn’t really sure where or what I wanted, other than “anywhere but here”. A B&B in Cape May? Too expensive. Plus I had done that with “him” many times in the past, and could see it degenerating into a weep-fest and the aforementioned bottle of champagne. I needed something I had NEVER done as a “wife”…. The next day a flyer arrived in the mail advertising a yoga retreat in upstate New York. I read it over and decided that it was too expensive and too challenging (I was relatively new to yoga then, plus it seemed to involve shared cabins and latrines…ew). But the idea stayed with me, so I Googled “yoga retreats” and came upon Sewell House, a beautiful Yoga bed and breakfast, housed in a home from the 1860’s and the preferred hang out of Teddy Roosevelt. PLUS it offered nothing but vegetarian food. The triumvirate of appeal: Yoga/Historical/Vegetarian! The only drawback was the location: a tiny town waaaaay up near the Canadian border in Maine. A 9+ hour drive! By myself. Not really knowing where it was or what I’d find. If that wasn’t an “Eat Pray Love” moment, nothing is. I called the following day and booked 3 nights, the second of which was my anniversary date. I only experienced a few pangs of remorse as I looked at driving directions and realized I would have to pump my own gas (Jersey girls don’t pump gas). But, for better or worse I set out at 4:30 a.m. (beat the traffic!) on a Tuesday morning in August. Scared and nervous. Here I was, 50 years old, and completely alone. Did I feel empowered? Not yet. More regretful for all that had gone down. But even more determined to prove to myself that I could succeed. So after a relatively uneventful drive (enjoyed the early morning beauty surrounding the Tappanzee bridge; found a helpful truck driver who showed me how to make the gas pump work; stopped in an artsy little town in New Hampshire to have lunch and bought a pair of paisley yoga pants at a boutique there), I arrived in Island Falls, Maine around 4:00 p.m. and checked into the beautiful place called Sewell House. The owner, Amrita, greeted me like an old friend, and I felt an overwhelming sense of relief about my decision. Perhaps I WOULD get through my first summer as a single woman.
I was introduced to several other guests, most of whom were spending their last day there, but there was one young woman (from Texas!!!) who had also just arrived. I connected immediately with “Dana”, probably 20+ years my junior and a newlywed, but friendly and welcoming. The next morning the other women checked out, and Dana and I were the only guests for the next 2 days. We enjoyed our first yoga class together, had fun exploring the tiny town and finding the one souvenir shop, did an amazing yoga session on a volcanic outcropping in the lake surrounded by mountains and the call of loons, and ate communal veggie meals with our lively and lovely staff. The second day, Amrita, our hostess and yogini, announced that the class would end with headstands. To which I replied, “Oh, no. I don’t do headstands” (due to a lifelong fear of tumbling upside-down). To which she replied, ”Oh, yes you do. We’ll take it slow.” I. Was. Terrified. Amrita had a special bench that supported my shoulders while letting head hang through, just to get prepared for the ultimate sensation of “standing” with my legs up the wall. I felt nauseous. Dizzy. Disoriented. All at the same time. Needless to say, no real headstand happened, but Amrita was undeterred; “We’ll try again tomorrow!”. Going to bed that night, I journaled of my “impending failure” in tomorrow’s class: a headstand for me was NEVER going to happen and this was all a big mistake and I was too old and a big loser for even THINKING I could be successful at yoga and no WONDER my “husband” left me for a woman 16 years younger than I….”; sweet dreams are made of these.
After a distracted meditation session and a homecooked breakfast that I hardly tasted, it was time for yoga. Again, cold sweats and light headedness notwithstanding, Amrita had me try the headstand bench. Amazingly, I realized I was, indeed, NOT as paralyzed with fear as the previous attempt, and could actually begin to straighten my legs up the wall a little. But “a little” was more than I could do yesterday, so I felt a tiny sense of accomplishment. By the afternoon class, I was not as terrified when Amrita suggested I try it “for real”: upside-down on the rug with hands clasped behind my head and elbows bent for stability. With a huge sense of skepticism, I tightened my core as directed, took a deep breath, and began to slowly raise my legs. Within seconds I was aware of the sound of clapping and cheering. Amrita had stepped away from me and I was perfectly fine, all on my own, doing the headstand like a boss. Dana ran for her camera and took pictures of my first “salamba sirasana”. I felt amazing; successful, empowered, capable, strong, brave… all those things I thought I had lost of myself in the divorce. Later that afternoon, I was up in my guest room, journaling my accomplishment, when there was a knock on my door. Dana, my pal from Texas, came in and sat on my bed, and we both rejoiced in my little victory over gravity. Then she said ,” On the first day at my new job, I was terrified. My boss called me in to her office to give me a pep talk. She handed me a gift and when I opened it I saw it was a small pendant with a Sanskrit word engraved on the front. She explained it translated into English as the word “Fearlessness” and told me to wear it until I felt brave enough to pass it on.” Dana reached up and took off the necklace and gave it to me. “Now it’s your turn to wear it. It will remind you of this fearless moment, when you thought you ‘couldn’t’ but you did!” We both were crying by then. It was probably the most meaningful piece of jewelry I had ever received, and stayed around my neck for the next 5 years, until the true man of my dreams put a diamond on my finger. I became a bride at age 54 and have never been happier. And I did “pay it forward”: when my best friend announced that, at age 46, she was going back to grad school to become an art therapist but was feeling rather nervous about that big step, I passed my “Fearlessness” pendant on to her, as I truly felt I didn’t need it anymore. She earned her Masters degree with High Honors last January, and I’m about to celebrate my 4th anniversary. Oh, and my husband and I have started our own business together. Strong, brave, fearless women rock. Wouldn’t you agree, Liz? Couldn’t have done it all without you.




summer healing

evening swims and yoga

The season has flown by! We are now on Instagram and still OPEN until OCT 18!!

IMG_2639Another busy happy season at Sewall House passing quickly- our 19th! New friends and old finding our historic homestead in northern Maine..from United States to Canada our guests travel to experience the simplicity of a small retreat away from the crowds and scenes of life to the healing scenes of nature among supportive new and old friends..sharing yoga, rehabilitating physically, mentally and emotionally – receiving the benefits of FRESH AIR, FRESH FOOD and yoga/meditation techniques for all of you- beginners to experienced! Hikes- kayaks- swimming- walking – porch sitting- hammocking and simply sipping tea, we are here to serve as we look ahead with gratitude to our 20th season in 2016! THANK YOU ALL SO SO MUCH!

Join our newsletter on our website and keep abreast of our writing workshop every summer, our ongoing retreats and our tiny teacher trainings offered spring and/or fall.

summer healing

evening swims and yoga

IMG_2620 IMG_2656 IMG_2597 DSCF2135

JDnyEWL04jC-NI4JO4UOJs5LPe6ytNPmcSG72yJbuPU,klO9RWM2SW6NCZywJk-ToOJRKr_afOiUqjGrfJb1ASwNew updated site check it out!

Sewall House Opens May 28- Spring Is In the Air!

There is still snow on the ground but the days are getting longer and the birds are singing a little louder! We are offering our training in JUNE, writing JULY 30- Aug 2 and happily offering ongoing retreats from May 28 to Columbus Day- as usual, personalized with a schedule of nature outings and R & R that we help you create while you are here.

From Our February Newsletter for those who have not yet signed up! Happy February!

F is for February..And Also? For FALL!! (not as in the season!)

In January I had a decade birthday. I turned 60. As a few of you know I went on silence for twenty four hours, a great time to contemplate and slow down the hectic pace that is our life.
I love practicing and teaching yoga. It helps me deal with the changes in life and in our body and self. Because I believe so strongly in the benefits I love sharing it with others. The feedback about backs (and other body parts) helped, hurts (emotional and physical) healed and much more makes it one of the most gratifying jobs I can imagine. It is a great way to meet new people all the time, develop longterm deep relationships with others over time. And it extends, hopefully, into all areas of our life.
I was walking to a client three days after my birthday, on a rainy wet day, which was causing black ice to form. I chose the wrong shoes, thinking an umbrella would keep me dry. My sopping wet thin leather boots went out from under me as I found myself flat on my back, letting it sink in for a moment. A cab driver and man walking nearby both (not rushing because of the slippery conditions) approached and asked me if I was ok. I sat up, a bit not happy with myself, and responded ” I am ok ; I am used to doing stupid things.” ( like jumping out of airplanes and breaking my back and getting hit by cabs on my bike!) I went on my merry way, only to find the client had cancelled and was sick, but glad to be able to get home to dry socks and the right shoes before I ventured to visit my 99 year old father (who turns 100 on feb 15 if you think I am old!).
So what does all this have to do with yoga? Well, before I had these two things happen (the next is coming up) I had already decided I would write to you about this new condition that has been named hypo kinetic disease. Since most of you do yoga (I am assuming!) and may be active in other ways I hope this does not apply to you. We have an epidemic in our society based on jobs where people sit all day, which can easily be remedied by at least standing up and walking a bit, intentional breaks for movement, during the day. Even as I sit at my computer writing this on the “snow day” in New York City, I know I have been at my desk far too long catching up on office work for the past few hours- and I move every day! I attended Loma Linda In Riverside California for my Masters in Nutrition in the late 70’s and have just started to read the magazines they have been sending me for years. It may mean I am slowing down a bit, because being too busy to sit is another issue (!), but it also means that I am realizing how similar their (Public Health) school mission is to the life path I have chosen after leaving my Nutrition career many years ago. It is in one of their publications that I discovered the term hypo kinetic disease. It really made me think! (and be glad I do not have an office job).
Well, the second part of my story has to do with the letter f again! Where my father lives with other seniors the joke is that the F word is FALL! (as one woman puts it – oh those 4 letter words!) The day after my fall I get a text from my dear friend who was on her way in from a retreat out of town, carrying her luggage and also not great shoes. Guess what? She fell too on black ice- only her fall was much worse than my bruised sacro-iliac joint, which did not impair my ability to practice or teach yoga. She has been staying on my sofa (or the floor when she cannot get up) for over a week now. Her badly bruised arm, it turns out, is a hairline fracture.
It has given me such an opportunity to see what I am so blessed to do and teach (yoga) every day. She, on the other hand, has an office job, does not exercise and has developed diabetes as well as being overweight. Her retreat was a sitting one- not a yoga one!
I am looking forward to getting back to the walks (which luckily we can do in NYC but not as pretty!), the hikes, the lakes and the yoga in Maine and especially to share these healthy habits with the great people (you!) who find Sewall House and venture there.
In one of the kundalini manuals Yogi Bhajan says that the cumulative effects of not exercising start to show up around 60- and hard to catch up. When the pharmacist where I went to get arnica asked if my friend was elderly I said that was relative. She is only four years older than me! (and he agreed saying some 40 year olds are old and some 60 somethings are young!)
I am not saying we do not age. We do! (I am doing a workshop on Aging Gracefully at PURE YOGA WEST in NYC FEB 22 2-4! Come if you can!) and I am not saying that i do not have great compassion for how much harder this is for my dear friend, who cannot even get herself off the floor because her whole body is not fit. I am simply saying it is amazing the lessons we are given daily, how we can be grateful for learning from each and every one- and that if we do take care of ourselves there is nothing selfish in taking care of our most important commodity so, when the time comes, we can help others too.
So f is for FEBRUARY ..and it is still winter so please please be careful and do not make it about FALL for you! Hope to see some of you in the Spring and Summer at Sewall House!… where we can FLY with some FUN in the SUN!r22f_LZ_xtivVU3VrBaplZ0v_wnK48ZzPLVm78Wd0J4,hLrsW-8N9c-uzf18cv-5H5Q8m4NH3YhwlZHwz3zKNHc

Al, Loon Ledge

Al, Loon Ledge

DEC 10 Deadline for the Holiday retreat!

If you want to come spend a quiet introspective time in Maine with us WED is the deadline to let us know! Otherwise we look forward to our full season starting in May! (teacher training in June)

Columbus day Week Oct 5-13 – JOIN us for Fall Foliage Yoga- Walks and More!/ Dec 26- Jan 3 for Winter Wonderland Holiday Retreat

Fall is a beautiful time to experience the colors of New England while doing yoga, taking a sauna or booking a massage with healing healthy meals in between! Come experience this time of transition..as the seasons change…

OR step away from the crowds and into the quiet solitude and comfort of our Winter Holiday Retreat DEC 26- Jan 3IMG_0544IMG_0513

Winter Retreat Snowshoeing at Sewall House

Winter Retreat Snowshoeing at Sewall House

Fall leaf

Fall leaf


Still Time for Summer Fun and Fall Foliage in Maine through Columbus Day!!

We went to the Sewall House for a “girls vacation” and it was a wonderful venue to reconnect and reinvigorate our friendships.  It gave us a wonderful set of shared memories (and even a new vocabulary with which to talk about them).

The food was a big, amazing part of our experience. Not only was it delicious, plentiful, and healthy, but it was also educational and even inspiring. The chefs sat and ate with us at every meal and many of our conversations ended up being about what we were eating, how it was made, what flavors compliment each other, etc… (who knew you could do so much with cashews!?! Turmeric in a fruit smoothie?!? Strangely delicious).  We learned so much and all were inspired to go home and be more creative and healthy with our cooking!

Donna and the other instructors were a delight – so warm and welcoming! We felt like we had joined a family by the time we left.  The yoga is a little different than the standard fare taught at most studios.  The exposure to different types of yoga and their different techniques and perspectives was an enjoyable part of the experience, and we all left intrigued to learn more.

Also, Island Falls is a BEAUTIFUL area! The town has many delightful walks and little special spots. There are many hikes within walkable distance, and several worthwhile day trips within an hour. We had a blast!

Lisa, Rachel, & Beth



We believe food is important to and as part of your practice!


Come Retreat With Us This summer! Recent moments! Writing workshop Aug 8-10 Next training Aug 21- Sept 11!