Written by: Hayley Swinson
It was still drizzling when I arrived at the gazebo in front of Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. Encircled by large crepe myrtles and hydrangea bushes bursting with pink and blue blossoms, the gazebo was partially obscured. But as I approached, a figure emerged, back lit, cast in shadow. This was Aron Lanie, short in stature but straight-backed and strong, she greeted me with a handshake and a big smile as I climbed the steps.
Her class for veterans normally met at the local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), but the air conditioning was out and fixing it wasn’t a priority in the budget. Luckily, the thunderstorm had cooled off the area, tamped down the mosquito population, and brought with it a silky breeze that swept through the gazebo, like the breath of a god. There was magic in this place.
As a lifelong athlete and army veteran, Lanie started yoga to manage her injuries and become a better runner. When she first started her practice, some of the yoga classes she had taken were too “out there” and she wanted to create something different. She wanted to lead a class that used simple language, welcomed feedback from students and where teachers understood that each student’s body has different capabilities and that not everybody wants to be touched.
She is trained to teach adaptive yoga and is halfway through a certification with iRest – a guided meditation technique meant to help people suffering from considerable stress and trauma, including PTSD. “Everybody has experienced trauma on some level,” she tells me. We’re seated across from each other, cross-legged on foam yoga blocks. Lanie leans slightly forward, gesturing occasionally with her hands. “I want to help them forge a connection with their bodies—that’s where healing begins.”
Aron’s veterans class, which is free for veterans, active service members, and their family is supported by a few different organizations, including Team Red, White, and Blue; Warriors at Ease; and Yoga Village. Through Yoga Village and its partners, she also teaches at-risk youth.
Yoga Village itself is an immense community resource. It was conceived as a way to bridge the gap between yoga teachers and their community outreach, helping teachers make ends meet while still making their services accessible to the community. Much of their funding comes from local yoga studios such as Wilmington Yoga Center, Longwave Yoga, and Terra Sol Sanctuary, and they hold annual fundraising events like the Yoga Ball, Om Brew, and the Yoga Village Festival.
“It’s remarkable how deep and wide the yoga community is in a town of this size,” says Sylvia Jabaley, one of the co-founders of Yoga Village. She encourages those interested in yoga to reach out to their existing networks. Yoga teachers and classes come in all varieties, and it’s likely that you already know an instructor or two. “If a new yoga practitioner needs help,” she says, “they are welcome to reach out to Yoga Village to help them find where they might fit in.”
A good way to start with yoga is to take a beginner class. Wilmington Yoga Center offers a free newcomers workshop once a month as well as a yoga 101 three-week series. You can find beginner classes at Salty Dog Yoga, Surf (Carolina Beach), Longwave Yoga and Terra Sol Sanctuary. If you are feeling nervous about your first class, it may help to arrive early and talk to the instructor about any concerns or specific physical problems you may be experiencing.
There are many different systems and styles of yoga practice, and it can feel overwhelming trying to understand them all. First, evaluate your preferences: are you looking for relaxation, meditation, stretching, or dynamic fast-paced movement? If you want something slower moving, you might consider a Yin class, whereas a Vinyasa Flow would be better for those looking to move. If you want to incorporate weights and more workout-style movement, some gyms offer a hybrid form of yoga, or you can try Prana Pump with Addie Jo Bannerman.
Are you interested in practicing yoga in a warm or hot room? Local studios BE Unlimited and Bikram Yoga specialize in hot yoga, but several other studios also offer hot and warm classes.
If you are thinking about a specialty yoga class, such as Stand-Up Paddle Board Yoga (SUPY) or Acro-Yoga, it is important to consider all the factors: Do you like practicing with a partner? Do you prefer a community-based practice or a solitary one? “I’m always most concerned with the safety of my students,” said Carolyn Royce, a local instructor at Longwave Yoga who teaches both SUPY and Acro-Yoga. “I want every person who takes float or flight to feel supported, secure, and uplifted so they can step outside of their comfort zone and potentially surprise themselves.”
For those looking for a more rigorous and disciplined practice, you might consider Ashtanga yoga. “A person who likes structure will usually be drawn to Ashtanga as you do the same practice each day,” explained Larry G. Hobbs. He is one of only a couple Ashtanga instructors in our area. “This practice will teach you a lot about yourself not just physically but internally. You will find your breaking points and move beyond them or you will quit.”
“Yoga is not a religion, although [some] Eastern religions have adopted it as part of their religious practice,” Holy Yoga instructor Melanie Romano said. “In particular, Hindu religion relies heavily on the ancient practice.” Holy Yoga was founded by Brooke Boon and incorporated into her Christian worship. She considers yoga to be a form of prayer applicable to any religious practice. The classes open and close with prayer, and scripture are often referred to throughout. “Prayer and yoga are gifts from God,” Melanie said. “[Yoga] is a precious gift, a tool that God has given us for our benefit and to deepen our relationship with him.”
For those who are looking to dig deeper into the yoga community in the Cape Fear region and beyond, White Rabbit Trips offer events and retreats for groups. Jenny Yarborough, the group’s founder, explained, “Yoga is about connection and introspection. It’s about finding your truth. Some people get there running the loop or surfing at Masonboro or by traveling and exploring a new place and thus experiencing themselves in a new light. There are no limits to what and where we go so long as at the end of the day the WHO we are working with is ourselves. It’s all about coming back to the self.”
Sitting in the gazebo at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater, dazed and happy from Aron Lanie’s guided meditation at the end of her class for veterans, I listened to her converse with her students Steve and George like they were old friends. For me, this is the way it should be, not only connecting with your inner self through yoga but also building a supportive community. In the end, it doesn’t really matter how you practice, just why you’re here and what you get out of it.
Aron Lanie, Team Red, White, and Blue: email@example.com
Yoga Village: YogaVillagers@gmail.com, www.yogavillagers.org
Carolyn Royce Yoga: facebook.com/carolynroyceyoga
Larry G. Hobbs, Hanuman Ashtanga Yoga: hanumanashtangayoga.com
Melanie Romano, Holy Yoga: facebook.com/betransformedyoga/
Wilmington Yoga Center: wilmingtonyogacenter.com
Longwave Yoga: longwaveyoga.com
Terra Sol Sanctuary: terrasolsanctuary.com
Bikram Yoga Wilmington: bikramyogawilmington.com
BE Unlimited Yoga: http://beunlimitedyoga.com/
Salty Dog Yoga and Surf: saltydogyogasurf.com
Prana Pump: pranapump.com
White Rabbit Trips: http://whiterabbittrips.com/
Side box: Looking for an affordable way to practice yoga in Wilmington? Yoga Downtown (facebook.com/YogaDowntown) offers $5 donation classes, and many studios offer some pay-what-you-can classes. For first-timers, many studios have 30-day unlimited deals costing as little as $30.00.