A small group of Adel residents gets together once a week to stretch, breathe and silently meditate.
They gather for something that was once an unlikely activity for a rural community but is becoming more and more popular throughout central Iowa: yoga.
“Some days this is all our yoga needs to be — to come back to the breath, when the mind starts to spin out of control,” says teacher Stephie Clemens, who travels from Des Moines weekly to teach yoga.
It was learning to use her breath to calm her mind and body and to focus on the present that keeps Michelle Sommer of Adel returning to the class, which takes place weekly at the Raccoon Valley Community House.
“You’re always learning something new about your body,” she says.
Sommer has practiced yoga off and on for about 20 years. She started to help increase her flexibility, but it was the way yoga made her feel and taught her how to better handle stress that kept her coming back to her mat.
“It’s that ability that if you’re in a stressful situation to come back to your breath,” she says.
Jacque Johnson of Adel also attends a weekly yoga class. She began practicing to regain strength, flexibility and balance, all of which tend to decline as a person ages.
Since she began, Johnson says her arms and legs are stronger — she is now strong enough to hold her ever-growing grandchildren — and she’s regained joint movement.
She also found yoga to be helpful in focusing on the present instead of worrying about the future, which was the case last year when her husband became very ill.
“Being in the present” can be hard for others to comprehend, but it’s something that comes with a yoga practice, instructors say.
“It’s hard to worry about something else when you’re trying to hold a pose,” Clemens, the teacher, says.
She guides the group through restorative yoga postures that are designed to increase strength and flexibility, all with a gentle, compassionate and encouraging voice and a little bit of humor.
Clemens gives students ways they can incorporate yoga poses — specifically balancing poses — into activities at home such as using the kitchen counter to practice balance while washing the dishes or preparing dinner.
But for Johnson it’s more than the physical and mental aspects of yoga; it’s the community of friends that has developed within the group she practices with.
“You don’t want to miss because you don’t want to let them down,” she says.
Adel woman decides she needs a change, brings yoga to community
Mary Lea Holcomb first took a yoga class about 40 years ago. She had participated in numerous other physical activities such as walking, biking and kayaking but found she needed something else.
“I knew I was getting less flexible and losing some strength, and I wanted to get that back,” Holcomb says.
In addition, she had shrunk in height by two inches during the course of several years and was looking for a way to maintain strength and flexibility while increasing mental focus.
She met Clemens about five years ago and asked her to come to Adel to teach weekly class sessions for six weeks.
“I had been looking for quite a while for someone to come to Adel to teach,” Holcomb says.
Through the stretching of her spine with yoga, she has been able to gain back an inch in height.
“That was a little distressing to be shrinking that much,” Holcomb says. “It’s very good to have gained that back. It’s a matter of just allowing my body to be more flexible and allowing some stretching in my spine.”
She practices once a week with a group and 5 to 15 minutes a day at her home.
Jenny Cisar moved to Adel a year ago. She was driving down Main Street one day when she saw a group of yogis walking with their mats. She stopped her vehicle and immediately inquired about where they were going.
Cisar has practiced yoga for about a decade. She has found it to bring calmness to her life.
“When I leave here, I feel like I’ve meditated for an hour,” she says.
At the same time, yoga leaves her sweaty and her muscles shaky.
“It’s a workout, but at the same time, you feel calm mentally when you’re all done,” Cisar says.
The weekly class is also in a comfortable environment where beginner students don’t feel pressured or judged for falling out of a position or bending their body in an unfamiliar position.
“I think there is fear in trying something new,” Cisar says.
Holcomb says yoga is relaxing and noncompetitive.
“You’re working within your own self to do what you can without pain,” she says. “Always it’s to go into a position without pain, unlike some other activities.”
Those interested in the class can call Holcomb at 993-4691. The next six-week session starts Sept. 10.
Adel couple finds perceptions of yoga untrue, discovers true workout
Mark and Anne Miller of Adel both admit they didn’t think yoga was for them.
Anne heard about “hot yoga” and thought the couple should give it a try.
“I had never been a big yoga person,” she says. “I thought it was a waste of time because I still had to do weights and cardio, but after doing (hot yoga) for a few months, I got hooked. It’s a great workout.”
Hot yoga combines higher temperatures (usually 85 degrees or higher depending on the class level) with a more intense physical practice of yoga postures.
Anne says she wanted to start yoga because she was losing flexibility. She’s found that yoga has helped repair years of wear and tear on the body.
“I wish I would have started years ago,” she says. “My strength is a lot better.”
Her favorite classes are those where the teacher mixes in new sequences and yoga poses so she doesn’t know what is coming next. She and Mark have been practicing for about two years and attend class four or five times a week.
“It’s something that couples can do together and both enjoy,” Mark says, adding that he was pleasantly surprised with how the yoga classes turned out at the studio the couple attends.
“I wanted to feel better, and I wanted to have more mobility,” says Mark, 57, who has a job that requires him to sit in front of a computer. “Honestly, you see so many people who are all stoved up, and their back hurts, and their legs hurt. I couldn’t bend over and touch my toes, and I didn’t realize it, but my legs were tight and my shoulders were tight. I’m just a heck of a lot more flexible than I was back then. I’m just in general better physical condition.”
Mark’s first class was a stretching class. Then he started to go to other classes that worked with his schedule. He admits he ended up in a few classes that were over his head in intensity and ability level. He jokes that people used to ask him why he wore a watch in class. He says at first it was because he would count down the minutes until the class was over. He still occasionally checks the time but doesn’t look at the watch quite as often now.
“I’m better at (yoga now), and I also think my balance is a lot better,” Mark says. “Because of my age, that’s one of the first things that starts to go besides flexibility. Because I feel like I’m in better physical condition, I’ve done activities I wouldn’t have dreamed of trying. Some of these yoga boot camps, they’re tough. I kind of feel like my focus and perseverance are a lot better, particularly in a physical nature and mentally.”