We begin with dead bug pose — or, to be exact, half- dead bug pose.
(It’s also known in yoga as happy baby.) You lie on your back with both legs raised, knees bent and your hands on the balls of your feet, drawing your knees toward your chest in a great stretch for the quads. (In half dead bug, you do one leg at a time.)
As instructor Laurie Jordan talks, sometimes joking about yogis’ inability to tell right from left, we move through a series of asanas that feature variations on the sun salutation and include downward dog, a powerful pose in which the body is in an inverted V.
Yoga is about being in the moment, and the moment occurs in the Wainwright House’s Breath of Spring Room. You notice the burnished wood floor, the diaphanous white curtains that grace the large windows, never impeding the moody view of skeletal trees, Milton Harbor and a misty Manhattan skyline beyond. And you think, What would it be like to be as straight and still as those trees, as calm as that bay?
Such thoughts are natural at Wainwright House, a Rye center dedicated to mind, body and spirit and “all creatures great and small” in a 17th century-style stone château on Milton Point. It was once the home of Fonrose Wainwright Condict, whose Wainwright forebears — direct descendants of Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch director general of New Netherland, which became New York — built summer homes along Stuyvesant Avenue that include Wainwright House, La Panetière restaurant and Coveleigh Club.
“She wrote a book called ‘Those Who Went Before,’” says Annie Gaillard, a board member and Pelham-based landscaper who did the center’s grounds. “That should tell you a lot about Fonrose. She was interested in family and tradition, and the church fell into that interest.”
Indeed, Condict was a member of Christ Church in Rye and a friend of the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, author of “The Power of Positive Thinking,” who once stayed at Wainwright House. (A room is dedicated to him on the second floor.) In 1951, she donated the 5-acre site, including the sculpture gardens, to be a center for her humanitarian goals. In the early years, the Laymen’s Movement — which included such leaders as John D. Rockefeller Jr. and President Dwight D. Eisenhower — hosted United Nations’ conferences at Wainwright House. (Former U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, whose marvelous book “Markings” can be summed up with his credo “Not I, but God in me,” donated the furnishings to Wainwright House’s Meditation Room.)
The center was incorporated in 1981. Today, it is the oldest nonprofit, nonsectarian holistic learning center in the United States. “We have become inspired by our legacy, a milieu of service and a celebration of different faiths,” says Lexy Tomaino, a board member and Rye resident. “We look to go back to our roots.”
The center does so with a five-prong focus on:
1. PHYSICAL HEALTH. There are classes in yoga, tai chi, qigong and ballroom dancing, including Jordan’s introductory yoga class and a monthly “Vino and Vinyasa” series for yogis who want to socialize afterward.
2. EMOTIONAL HEALTH. This includes a continuing series of discussions with parents and experts on Thursday evenings and/or Friday mornings on “Raising Boys,” a timely subject given the number of school shootings by young men.
3. CONNECTING TO THE ARTS. There are music brunches slated for April 15 (with Stamford-born drummer Joe Corsello) and Mother’s Day and a five-week “Creativity and Mindfulness” workshop with Michelle Levy (April 14 through May 19).
4. ENVIRONMENTAL APPRECIATION. The organic landscaping is home to a variety of animals, including birds of prey, foxes and possums, as well as the Meditation Garden, the Rose Garden and the Labyrinth, a seven-cycle creation that is the only green, blooming labyrinth in Westchester County. There’s also a biannual “Paws on Pillows” project, creating toys for animals in shelters.
5. SPIRITUALISM. Wainwright House welcomes people of all faiths.
And all persuasions and walks of life, Tomaino says. The center is looking to start an Encircle program for LGBTQ youth similar to the one begun in Utah. Wainwright House is also hoping to find an underwriter for a community garden, because, in the end, it is a community place.
“I’ve taught yoga in a lot of places, but this is one place where people say, ‘Why haven’t I come here before?’” Jordan says. “It’s called Wainwright House, and they feel they’ve come home.”
Wainwright House also hosts weddings and retreats. For more, visit wainwright.org.