“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.”
Maureen Carville cited the quote sometimes attributed to Abraham Lincoln. The motto sums up her interest in yoga, and the reason for her attendance at a free yoga class at Mount Airy Public Library on Saturday.
Carville said her back was in such bad shape when she first began attending yoga classes at Surry Community College that she couldn’t make it to the floor to do floor work. Five years later, at the Mount Airy Public Library class, Carville was “down-dogging” with the best of them.
“You can’t say, ‘heal me,’ and not take some initiative on your own,” added Carville.
Her daughter, Erin Pozo, who suffers from arthritis in her back and has also been practicing yoga for five years, added, “You can’t just ask God to fix it when you pray. You need to ask, ‘What am I supposed to do?’”
It comes as no surprise to Heather Elliot, who is teaching the free class at the library that her students have a philosophical take on their yoga practice.
“I think there’s a perception of yoga that it’s exercise. There is exercise in yoga, but it’s a philosophy.” Yoga has eight spokes, as in the spokes of a wheel, added Elliot, and the asanas, or poses, are just one of the eight. “So while you might be exercising, yoga is not just exercise.”
Elliot incorporates some of the other spokes into her classes, so that while her students are practicing the poses, getting some exercise and strengthening their bodies, they are also working on their breath and practicing meditation, two of the other eight spokes. “I try to bring all of those other pieces in,” said Elliot.
“Breath work is important. If you take just 10 deep, conscious breaths a day, you’re practicing yoga.”
Elliot started teaching the classes at the library at the end of 2017 because “I just wanted to have a free class. I’m a firm believer in things that are free.”
Reeves Community Center has great yoga instructors, said Elliot, as does Sacred Space (a yoga studio on Market Street) where she still takes classes herself and is where she took her teacher training under Melody White. She said that if you can pay up front for a series of classes, you can get a great rate at both of those places, adding that the yoga classes at Surry Community College are particularly affordable, but you still need that chunk of cash up front, and some people just don’t have it. Elliot would particularly like to see those people take advantage of the monthly library classes.
“I believe yoga really is for everybody, not just for people who can afford it. At least occasionally, it should be for people who can’t afford it.”
“I get paid everywhere else I teach,” she said. “So, why not?” Elliot hopes at least one other yoga instructor will come forward and volunteer to teach a monthly class at the library so there is a free class available every other week. But that has not happened yet.
Dot Coe, a hairstylist who has taken one semester of classes at Surry with Elliot, said holding her arms up all day cutting hair made her shoulders really tight. “My shoulders are always as hard as that wall,” she said, pointing to the newly painted wall of the library’s multi-purpose room. “They’d crawl up to my ears.”
Coe is happy with the progress she has made since beginning to practice yoga, and added, “You’ve got to take care of you.”
Another student who was making a first appearance at the library yoga classes did not want to be identified, believing her yoga practice was private, and would only say on the record that, “I firmly believe in yoga. You can say that came from the fat lady in the class.” (She was not.)
While discussing their yoga practice, it took Pozo and Carville a few moments to figure out how long they had been practicing and taking classes at Surry. “We’ve gone through three instructors,” laughed Carville, who seemed a little surprised that it has been five years. “All of the instructors were great,” she said, “but Heather is wonderful. She’s been a godsend.”
Elliot’s teaching style is low key and accessible, sometimes ending a class with “Namaste, y’all.” She begins each pose, describing it to the class as she demonstrates, and at a certain point, describes how the pose can be carried further with her signature phrase, “if it’s available to you.” Her students respond to the low pressure atmosphere of her classes.
“It’s never fun if you can’t do it,” she says. “If I sequence the poses so people can be successful, I feel good, they feel good. Everybody wins.”
Elliot is amusingly honest with her students about the things that her body finds challenging during the course of a class. “Being honest about that gives people in the class permission to be honest about that,” she said. “You can’t be in any other body.”
She feels most successful as a teacher when someone in her class doesn’t do something that will hurt them. “It’s your practice,” she said. “It’s your body, on your mat, doing what you need to do.”
“That’s all I got.”
A free yoga classes is taught by Heather Elliot at Mount Airy Public Library, 145 Rockford St., on the second Saturday of each month at 10:30 a.m. The next class will be Feb. 11. Bring a mat or a towel.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.