Munjoy Hill - Millions of people are stepping onto their yoga mats: some looking for a flexible, strong body, others seeking a more calm and balanced mind. In fact, the types of yoga available today and the benefits they promise seem to be as many and varied as those doing it.
As yoga has grown in popularity so has the number of glossy magazine covers graced by professional models in bendy pretzel positions, emphasizing the extreme physicality of the exercise. However, two local yoga instructors assure those new to yoga that this is not the main intention of the practice, and they offer a more inclusive approach for newcomers and experienced yogis alike.
“It’s a hot topic in the yoga community right now,” says Justine Carlisle, co-founder of the upcoming Maine YogaFest, set to take place Friday, July 8 through Sunday, July 10 at the East End Community School on North Street. “We wonder if we’re getting away from the true meaning of yoga by having so many images of poses that most people can’t do. There are so many different styles of yoga taught here in Maine, and we want the festival to be accessible to everyone. We don’t want it to be intimidating. We just want people to get on their mat.”
Genell Huston, owner of Portland’s Lila East End Yoga, agrees. “It’s important to remember that the practice of Yoga and its healing benefits go way beyond the physical feats we see on magazine covers which can be misleading and discouraging for many people. The path of the yogi is so much more than just touching your toes. Yoga is about learning to authentically listen to yourself and what your body really needs to feel supported and whole.”
In fact, the original meaning of yoga, ‘connection’, is still relevant today. Many in the modern scientific community support what the ancient sages believed centuries ago, that humans’ minds and bodies are connected, and the health of both depend on each other.
According to some research, mindfulness training and a stronger mind-body connection may provide benefits in treating everything from depression to Alzheimer’s, as well as improved physical endurance, strength and alignment and may also lead to reductions in stress hormones.
The practice of Yoga, according to Huston, is also about community and how we’re connected to each other. Huston shared her beliefs and love of the practice during the recent Summer Solstice celebration at Fort Allen Park. 72 people participated in the donation-based class that raised money for the Friends of the Eastern Prom. Nearby, others sat on park benches looking on, meditating and listening to live music also offered as part of the festivities.
“There was something special about this event. We welcomed new people and new faces, and there were people of all different age and abilities,” says Huston. “Our theme was about fullness, the full moon, the full day of light also embodied in ourselves. Being outside was the perfect backdrop.”
Huston is a registered yoga teacher and will teach an inversions clinic on Sunday, July 10, from 10:30 a.m. to noon, at the fourth annual Maine YogaFest. The three-day festival, estimated to attract approximately 650 attendees, offers 50 different classes and workshops for people of all levels, from more challenging standup paddle-board and aerial yoga to guided meditations and body rolling designed to relax and restore.
In addition, the festival’s Vendor Village is free and open to the public. “This year we have more than 40 vendors and lots of activities, including contests, henna tattoos, free chair massages and live music. It’s all about health, wellness and local food,” said Carlisle. “We’re also offering two free community classes,” she says, adding that she hopes people from throughout Munjoy Hill and Portland will stop by and check out the festival.
All levels of practitioners, and those brand new to yoga, are welcome to participate in the festival’s free community classes, including Yoga For All of Us: A Special Class for All Shapes, Sizes and Ability Levels on Saturday, July 9, from 10:30 a.m. to noon, and Yoga for Happiness and Joy Release on Sunday, July 10, from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Both classes will take place at East End Community School, located at 195 North Street on Munjoy Hill. For more information, visit MaineYogaFest.com.