Soothing instrumental music plays in the background as women shed their shoes, roll out small mats and sit cross-legged on the floor. It’s yoga night, time to drop worldly cares and go into a simple place where all that exists is movement, controlled breathing and relaxation.
“It’s like a little vacation,” said Sharon Ellsworth, co-teacher of the twice weekly yoga classes taught in the Grantsville tae kwon do building on Main Street.
Ellsworth and her fellow instructor Linda Ward have been teaching yoga for three years. They are working on their yoga alliance certification through Yogafit. The program allows them to teach while continuing their training.
But Ellsworth’s interest in the discipline goes back 25 years. A long-distance runner, she started yoga to help her develop strength and flexibility and quickly became hooked on the emotional benefits of practicing yoga.
“It’s a peaceful, calm, nurturing place. It helps focus in the internal self, emotionally, spiritually and physically.”
It seems a tall order for an exercise program, but as the women run through their stretches and into the vinyasa — or sets of poses — for sun salutation their faces visibly relax. Four women go through the poses together.
While they are obviously performing the same moves, each woman’s body and pose is different.
“It’s not a competition, there is no perfect way to do a pose,” Ellsworth says.
Part of the charm of yoga is you “start wherever you are.”
The “anyone can do it” approach to yoga may account for its growing popularity. It is an exercise regime the cuts across all ages. Ellsworth said they have 80-year-old women and high school boys participating in yoga.
Ellsworth and Ward do not charge for the class. Instead they provide a donation box where people can give whatever they wish to support the program. Money collected goes toward paying the modest rent on the building. Yoga seeks to improve the body in three areas, balance, strength and flexibility, she said. But practitioners of yoga find this balance, strength and flexibility spills over into daily life.
“The poses are difficult, but we breathe through it (instead of getting tense), she said. As a result, when someone trained in yoga encounters difficult situations in their daily life, they automatically go into the yoga breathing to calm themselves and better handle stress.
Nanette Minchey said her children sometimes ask her “are you going to yoga today,” because the exercises calm her down and make her a better mother. Ellsworth, a high school teacher at Grantsville elementary, says her avocation is a perfect match for her job as a teacher.
“Yoga breaks that cycle,” she said. “Sometimes when I have a rotten day at school I don’t want to go (to yoga). But when the music goes on and the mats roll out I find myself relaxing.”
Most people who start a yoga class end up practicing at home.
Perhaps the most popular vinyasa, sun salutation, lends itself well to private morning exercises. Others began yoga with commercial videotapes and move on to exercise in a group because the dynamics of the shared experience is hard to replicate.
Yoga comes to the United States from India and the tradition of Hindi holy men sitting for hours meditating. They started using different asanasi — or poses — to stretch their muscles and discovered the poses “enabled them to move to a higher state of consciousness.”
One set of movements opens the body, which energizes and prepares for the day. The twisting poses are designed to release toxins. A third set of poses closes the body, calms the nervous system and prepares the body and mind for evening, Ellsworth said. The mystic history of yoga can be unsettling for some people who fear it will conflict with their religious beliefs, Ellsworth said. But “whatever your religion, yoga opens the connection between the physical and spiritual.”
Ellsworth and Ward focus on two of the eight limbs of yoga, breathing and poses. However as people become interested in yoga as an exercise they find themselves being drawn to the other aspects including dietary changes, Ellsworth said.
Since yoga is such an intuitive exercise, each day’s regime is unique.
“I don’t know where the class is going to go when I start,” she said.
Sometimes she focuses on strength, other times the group works on flexibility.
New members are expected to just join in and follow the lead of the instructors, other class members and most importantly their own body. As they run through the poses, Ellsworth offers verbal prompts to correct pose misalignments as the class progresses.
“Advanced yoga is being present and being with the breathing,” Ellsworth said. If the breathing and being present is correct, the rest will fall into place.
“Nobody ever has a bad yoga session,” she said. “You are left with just the essence of you.”
As the session winds down the women lay prone, limbs relaxed while their instructor reads from Zen master Dogen.
“What is it to wake up to the truth about reality?
Is it to realize that we’re made of the same subatomic particles as a starfish or the stars?
Is it to drop our preoccupation with ourselves and watch the walls between me and you, mine and yours disappear?
As our suspicious gaze softens, a clear view of the universe emerges. When we can see past superficial differences, we feel at home wherever we are.
The world is no longer a room full of wary strangers but a vast cosmic block party to which everyone – and everything – is invited.”