By Sharon Palmer
Certified 500-hr Kripalu Yoga Teacher
Certified Let Your Yoga Dance Teacher
My very first Yoga class, with Joan Allen at Hitchcock Free Academy (over 25 years ago) was so relaxing that I fell soundly asleep in the relaxation at the end of the class! I loved it, but thought I was too busy for regular Yoga classes. Years later, with three young children at home, I signed up for a 6-week session with Jane Anable, who was then the Yoga teacher at HFA. I remember the evening of the first class: for some reason (can’t imagine why!) supper was delayed, the kids were making a stink because we were having broccoli, I got out of the house later than I’d planned, and as I opened the door to the Yoga room at Hitchcock, class had already started. I was about to turn around and leave when Jane said to me, “Come on in! There’s a place for you right here!” And that was it. Yoga has been part of my life ever since.
What drew me to Yoga was wanting something for myself, and how I felt welcomed, accepted and OK just the way I was in our class -- our Yoga community. And as a Yoga teacher, that’s the environment that I do my best to cultivate for everyone. In a comfortable, safe, and welcoming space, we feel more free to settle, to quiet, to see what’s present for us in body, mind, and spirit, to explore and allow what’s present to be present. All this doesn't always happen the way we might imagine or prefer (does anything, really?), nor does it happen overnight -- that’s why Yoga is referred to as a practice!
It seems that in our goal- and success-oriented culture here in the west, Yoga is frequently thought of as a means of improving oneself, becoming “better” somehow: thinner, stronger, more flexible, more focused, calmer, better at balancing, breathing or...whatever. If those are things that draw people to Yoga, that’s great, and I do find that those qualities are often wonderful by-products of a regular Yoga practice. (I’m still waiting for the “thinner” to happen for me, but eating less might help, too…?)
Oftentimes one’s Yoga path does begin at the physical level. Then, if we stay with it, and if we choose, the practice becomes deeper, as deep as we are willing to go into other areas of our life. Yoga starts on the mat, and then becomes a part of our life as a whole, which is where the expression “Yoga on and off the mat” comes from. It’s inexhaustible, a practice that one could explore for a lifetime and still keep discovering and learning - a truly amazing journey.
I chose to do my Yoga teacher training at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in western Mass, which is where Jane was trained as well. I knew it was the place for me because Kripalu Yoga always felt like home, the Yoga of self-awareness and compassion. I’ve completed my 200-hour training there, as well as my 500-hour training and other advanced modules. A 1,000-hour certification may be in my future at some time, although my intention is to explore what calls to me rather than to attain a certain level of training.
The Yoga classes I offer tend to be gentle-ish to moderate, with options for those who want more challenge or less because the focus is on self-awareness and compassion, not achievement. The classes generally contain the components of centering, breathing practice, warm-ups, a variety of postures, balance practice, relaxation, and meditation. There is never any “right” or “wrong” way to do Yoga, although safety is emphasized, and we all begin wherever we are at -- we all have our own starting point. It’s not a competitive practice in any way; one’s own experience is the most valid.
I love offering classes to different populations because everyone deserves to have Yoga be a part of their life if they choose -- it’s for everybody, not just the young, the thin, the flexible, the mainstream, etc. It’s also really fun to try different things within the practice; some experiences resonate with some of us, others don’t, and the exploration can be really interesting.
Along with ongoing Kripalu Yoga classes, “Yoga Nidra” is something I offer every so often; it’s an experience of very deep relaxation through guided meditations. One can approach Yoga Nidra with the intention of simply relaxing (much needed in our culture); it can also be a practice of transformation by bringing to mind a “resolve” or intention to cultivate something in one’s life, such as connection, health, well-being, patience, or whatever one may choose. It’s like planting a seed, and the seed takes root during the practice of relaxation.
Recently I completed a certification in “Let Your Yoga Dance” at Kripalu. The LYYD classes I’ve participated in at Kripalu’s Noon Dance sessions have always been really fun, satisfying, and exhilarating (and believe me, I had never before thought of myself as a dancer!); I realized that it would be a wonderfully energizing and uplifting experience to offer for those who enjoy music and movement, who are curious, and who may or may not be so drawn to a classic Yoga class.
We are all natural dancers even though we may not always think that of ourselves. It is incredibly rewarding to see participants smiling, moving, maybe going just outside their comfort zone at times, connecting with themselves and others -- simply having a great time.
There may not be a lot of “regular” Yoga poses in these LYYD classes; Yoga is about more than the pose, and Let Your Yoga Dance classes are designed to open energy channels in the body and encourage the free flow of energy, just like “traditional” Yoga. Dancing your Yoga is a great way to enhance body health, brain health, heart health and soul health.
It’s important to remember that there is not any one “correct” journey that everyone should try to follow -- on or off the mat. Every person has their own path, and it can be really fun, challenging, and interesting to explore different classes, practices, and traditions to find out what is authentic and fulfilling for oneself -- which may change over time. There are, fortunately, many different Yoga / mindfulness / movement practices available, so listen to your inner adventurer and discover for yourself!
Hitchcock Academy is offering Yoga with Sharon in 6 class sessions on March 2 and again on April 13. Single sessions of Let your Yoga Dance will be held on March 13 and again on April 10.