Yoga practices on the Key Peninsula take many shapes. Some people practice at home and some attend classes. Some are brand-new to yoga and some have been practicing for decades. Some see it as a form of exercise and some see it as a way of life.
Denise Carrico, the resident yoga and art facilitator at Harmony Hill, a cancer retreat center on Hood Canal, suggests finding the right teacher. “Go to classes, see if the teacher speaks your language. Yoga studios can sometimes be intimidating for beginners or for those who are no longer lean and limber,” she said. Community center programs often have a more diverse level of abilities in their classes.
At the KP Civic Center, yoga classes in the Whitmore room fill with women and men (mostly women) between 35 and 70 years old. Participants come in all shapes and sizes, and options to adjust for flexibility, arthritis and other variables are offered for each position—an option called “yogi’s choice.”
Katie Malik was instrumental in getting the program going. She has roots in the area. “I’m an Olson, so the Key Peninsula has a special place in my heart,” she said. When her cousin, Claudia Loy (who until recently owned Sunnycrest Nursery with her husband, Dale), found out that she was a certified yoga instructor, she asked if Malik could help start a yoga class at the civic center. “We didn’t know who would walk in the door—new moms, retirees or anyone in between,” Malik said.
Malik started taking yoga eight years ago when she was recovering from a serious illness and needed to get back in shape, especially with regards to the functioning of her lungs. She tried a number of fitness programs but felt that yoga was the most effective. The physical work of yoga postures was important, but “the philosophy of having gratitude, of leaving judgment and competition at the door, made a big difference,” she said. “After I incorporated those concepts into my life and my work as a singer, I started to be more and more successful. I learned there was a lot more to yoga than just exercise.”
Laure Nichols has been practicing yoga for about a decade. She and her husband recently moved to the Key Peninsula full time. “I was thrilled to find the class at the civic center,” she said. “The room is light and big enough for everyone. It’s a wonderful way to gain stamina, strength and flexibility, and to calm my mind. And you can participate at any level.”
“Both my body and I look forward to our yoga classes at the civic center and we always feel so much better when we leave,” said Janet Stanley, who considers herself a newcomer. “It’s a wonderful way to begin the week and the day.”
Lisa Dunham has taught yoga for 12 years, and recently started a gentle yoga class for elders at The Mustard Seed Project Friday mornings. She took her first yoga class with her husband “because it followed the step aerobics class,” she said. As they considered what fitness activity might carry them through as they aged, they gravitated to yoga. They enrolled in a teaching class in Costa Rica. “We lived and breathed yoga for 18 hours a day,” Dunham said. “My husband really took the course to deepen his practice, and I became a certified teacher.”
Dunham described gentle yoga: “Yoga focuses on the balance of body, breath and mind. If you lose track of your breath, you are no longer doing yoga. Westerners tend to focus on the mind. With gentle yoga, you look for that balance. The premise is that you must be present in your own body, that you are your own best teacher and that yoga really can’t be taught but is revealed from within.”
In her class at TMSP, Dunham has students move slower than in other classes and she emphasizes moving with awareness.
Diane Shamsher Bunting practices and teaches Kundalini yoga and meditation on the KP and elsewhere. She has studied yoga for more than 40 years and has taught full-time since 1994. After 14 years studying Hatha yoga (primarily physical postures), she fell in love with Kundalini yoga, which includes physical practice for flexibility and strength, breathing techniques for emotional balance and meditation/mantra to focus the mind and ease mental stress.
The approach to poses in Kundalini yoga focuses on strengthening the underlying energy rather than emphasizing the form of the pose, Bunting said. For instance, instead of teaching standing poses to develop core strength, she will guide students to do floor work lying down, creating more stability for those who are rebuilding a weakened core.
Bunting said working with people who are in the midst of profound challenges—cancer diagnosis, new motherhood, career changes—provides special satisfaction for her. “Yoga creates unity of body, mind, heart and soul,” she said. “It is an incredible grace to have a career where my contribution to the world furthers the kind of world I want to live in.”
See also Yoga: A Brief Primer in this month’s issue.