Community Falls In Love with Yoga
Nancy LaNasa remembers how hard it was to find yoga classes when she moved to Pensacola in 1996. There was one class, twice a week, in the basement of a church. And the teacher wanted to stop teaching one of the two sessions, a task LaNasa gladly took over.
Now, 20 years later, people flock to yoga classes across Northwest Florida.
“Yoga has changed exponentially in Pensacola,” says LaNasa, a classically trained yoga teacher who studied in India. “There’s yoga all over the place.”
At Navarre Living Yoga and Health Center, owner Kathy Tabb agrees.
“It’s been growing for a while,” Tabb says. “People get into it for physical reasons and see the connections with mind and spirit. People are definitely happier and healthier.”
At URU yoga studio in Pensacola, cofounder Beckie Sathre says she’s delighted to see the many forms of yoga capturing the attention of people seeking physical, emotional or mental betterment.
“It has been beautiful to watch the community fall in love with the spectrum of yoga from the more exciting, intense forms such as hot yoga, aerial yoga, vinyasa yoga, Power Yoga and AcroYoga to the more calming forms, which are yin yoga, restorative yoga and meditation,” says Sathre, who has been practicing and teaching yoga since 1998.
Along with physical benefits, yoga can bring other advantages as well—including the ability to find peace in a media-saturated, multi-tasking, high-pressure world, she says. “Once people have practiced for a while, they start to realize that yoga has a way of calming their mind and reducing stress. Students start to notice shifts in the quality of their life and their relationships. Students will often notice that trauma is clearing from their body.”
Good for mind
Yoga helps people calm the chatter in their minds and make them more aware, says Nicole Trboyevich of Bikram Yoga in Pensacola.
“The more you practice yoga asana [physical posture], the more you are able to calm what’s going on, on the inside. Once you can get your body under control—healthy, strong and flexible—the mind will silence and become strong and flexible as well. This creates a mind-body connection, or self-realization to notice yourself, your actions. You learn to slow down and breathe, take a moment before you react.”
Sathre agrees. “Yoga means union. Yoga unites us with our center. All of the yoga practices are by nature practiced to clear away the chatter of the world and mind and bring us back to our center, our inner stillness, our inner peace.”
Good for body
For many people, yoga offers relief from physical problems such as pain or loss of mobility, or help dealing with weight loss.
“Others may have lost sight of themselves, their purpose in life, or they’re generally looking for a spiritual awareness to enrich their life,” Trboyevich says. The payoffs run the gamut.
She has seen students lose weight; become healthy enough to stop taking diabetes, blood pressure and heart medicines; avoid surgery on shoulders and knees; improve spinal alignment; and develop a stronger sense of well-being and self-realization.
She knows the benefits firsthand. She was a graphic designer who sat at work 10 hours a day when she was involved in a serious car wreck. “By the time I was in my late 20s, my body was beat up, inflexible, and I had chronic pain in my back and neck,” she says.
Fortunately, a friend invited her to try yoga, and soon the pain began to recede.
The S word
“Stress is a main contributor to pain, so pain and stress tend to be linked together,” Trboyevich says. “We hold stress in the body, and that stress can cause physical and emotional pain in the body.”
Yoga practice produces stress-reducing hormones, gets the blood moving and increases joint movements, which in turn boost flexibility and ease of mind and reduces physical pain.
“When we can relieve the physical body of pain and gain strength and flexibility, we then can steady the mind,” Trboyevich says. “The mind becomes still, you learn to breathe in stillness and notice yourself. No judgment. The mental chatter slows.”
Yoga classes begin with simple breathing exercises, which set the stage for stress relief.
“The breathing exercises calm us and brings us to the present moment,” Sathre says. “Our minds stop running in circles and become calm.”
Meditation is important, she adds. “During these practices, we peel away the layers of emotions and chaos to tap into the deep stillness within us. The more we practice yoga through the physical practice, the breathing, the chanting, the meditation and/or studying yogic philosophy, the more we can connect deeper to this inner peace and open ourselves spiritually.”
Good for spirit
Yoga is much better understood and appreciated by the mainstream today. People realize it’s not a religion, although some religions incorporate yoga into their practices.
In 1996, LaNasa says, members of a conservative church handed out flyers warning about cults. “The number three sign your child was in a cult: he or she practiced yoga,” she recalls.
Fast forward to 2016, when Sathre reports, “In teacher training this year we had a Hindu student, a Christian student and a Buddhist student happily studying yoga together.”
Tips for new students
Don’t be dismayed if you struggle in your first yoga classes.
“The main hurdle a new student faces is learning how to be patient and build confidence,” Trboyevich says. “When we don’t have instant results, we have a tendency to be very hard on ourselves and quit when the going gets tough. When the going gets tough, the yoga is working! Trust the process—keep at it and be patient.”
With so many different types of yoga available in Pensacola, people can stay busy sampling studios and instructors to find the right match.
“I love that the Pensacola-area yoga community is so diverse, with so many studios and offerings,” Sathre says. “I highly suggest trying all the different classes, teachers and studios that the area has to offer, and to also do this when traveling to other areas.“
Mark O’Brien, a longtime journalist, author and editor, lives in Pensacola.