What Makes ACK go OM? -July 2014
by: Christy Bassett Baker
photography by: Jim Powers
Yoga seems to be taking over the world.
Nantucket too has seen yoga surge, gaining prominence 13 years ago at The Yoga Room and now highlighted annually by the Nantucket Yoga Festival. To some, yoga is a workout to maintain physical fitness and a slim waistline. To others it is an escape, 60 minutes of peace where all the world can be tuned out.
It turns out yoga is not just about stretching one’s body into positions only previously attainable by Gumby. Yoga offers much more, from neurological benefits to weight loss to rebooting the willpower muscle and discipline. It’s no coincidence that in this day and age, when social media and stress consume our daily lives and the threat of a terror attack overshadows our world, yoga and mindfulness have emerged as ever-expanding practices. Whether you’re looking to finally touch your toes, continue to work on your New Year’s resolution or spend some time disconnected, yoga provides an outlet for every member at any age in the community. Shannah Green, Sheri Perlman, Caitlin Marcoux, Joann Burnham and Clay Twombly are just a few of Nantucket’s numerous prominent yoga practitioners and instructors. Their practices and lifestyles give insight into some of what makes so many Nantucketers go OM.
Green, Perlman, Marcoux, Burnham and Twombly have collectively practiced yoga for decades and each has witnessed its popularity rise on the island. Each yogi started at different points and places in their lives, but for many the same reason: To reap the physical benefits of a workout. This reason alone isn’t what held the five; rather it opened the door to a deeper realm in their lives, one that cultivated mindfulness, wellbeing and strength. Without knowing one another at the beginning of their metamorphism, their worlds collided on Nantucket, as the island began to foster an organic yoga culture. Yoga has subtly subsisted onisland for decades, individuals practicing with friends in garage apartments and private homes. Green bought a home on-island back in 1990, where she began practicing yoga in her back yard. Green first came to Nantucket to find solace and healing, which she immediately found in the tranquil environment and beauty. She began teaching classes at the high school, Theatre Workshop and a small downtown hat-shop space, lent to her by a friend. Eventually she looked to her back yard, a large beautiful garden space, which her husband suggested she turn into a yoga studio.
“This island brought me to yoga, so I wanted to give back to the island. Yoga became my life and I wanted to provide the island with a year-round haven through the study of yoga. It became a wonderful opportunity to share and give back to the Nantucket community,” Green said.
Green opened The Yoga Room in 2001, but it wasn’t until 2011 that the studio transformed into a year-round haven for many island and transient yogis alike. The Yoga Room offers a range of hybrid styles and traditions, all with the same goal of sharing a passion for yoga.
“I came to the island to seek refuge and find my own practice. Sheri Perlman was doing it a little at the time and I found Nantucket presented a tremendous amount of healing, so it had particular meaning for me. This was my home, where I was nurtured and I wanted to provide a practice to give back to the island,” Green said.
Green teaches on-island during the summers and currently lives in New York during the winter. The Yoga Room remains open nearly 365 days a year, however, through the dedication and nourishment of island teachers and dedicated yoga mentors.
Perlman, much like Green, has been practicing yoga as long as anyone on Nantucket. Like so many, Perlman, who has been practicing yoga since age 18, first tried yoga to lose a few pounds. She picked up a book with 12 poses, which she practiced ritually. When her children were born, Perlman decided to set aside her practice for a few years. She soon realized it wasn’t just her exercise regime she had set aside; there was something much more profound missing from her life.
“I realized there was more to yoga than exercise. I saw a massage therapist, who suggested I visit the Kripalu Yoga and Health Center for a weekend. I felt like I had come home after one class there,” Perlman said.
Perlman quickly earned her instructor’s certificate and began teaching in January of 1990. She held her first classes at St. Paul’s Church in the parish house and later moved to the second floor of the Fader-Brock Insurance Company building on Main Street. After being diagnosed with a life-threatening autoimmune disease, Perlman sought medicine to supplement her yoga practice. Rather than take the traditional route of Western medicine, she began studying Ayurvedic health, a science that prescribes yoga, diet and herbs to create a healthy lifestyle. Yoga became Perlman’s catalyst, promoting her well-being and changing her entire life. Through cleansing her body both physically and emotionally with the help of yoga and Ayurvedic health, Perlman beat the disease and has been happy and healthy ever since.
“Yoga helps you ask what’s important in life. Our Western lifestyle is very stressful. Yoga gives us a place to feel stress, but deal with it differently. We don’t have to have something catastrophic happen to ask ourselves what’s important in life. I feel like anybody can do yoga and I feel like our community on Nantucket offers that, which is really important,” Perlman said.
Through one-on-one and group classes, Perlman shares her yoga practice and Ayurvedic lifestyle, reaching every corner of the community, including some of the island’s oldest residents at the Saltmarsh Senior Center. From the oldest to the youngest, Perlman is quick to point out the Nantucket yoga community offers something for everyone.
And While Perlman guides some of the community’s oldest members, Caitlin Marcoux leads some of its youngest. Marcoux, a yoga teacher, mother, writer and clinical massage therapist, teaches a range of classes, from her popular Vinyasa flow
to prenatal yoga to the “Strong Girls” yoga classes held weekly at The Yoga Room. Marcoux began practicing yoga 15 years ago while living in New York City in the wake of a serious knee injury she suffered while dancing. She sought to find something to express herself physically and creatively and like Perlman, initially appreciated the corporal attributes of yoga.
“First I liked the physical practice, but then I began to reap the subtle benefits. I found it to be calming, it lowered my stress level,” Marcoux said.
By the time she moved home to Nantucket, yoga had consumed her life and she had found her niche. Her background in massage therapy helped her to understand the physical body and continues to make her in-class adjustments confident and healing.
“Yoga has moved from exercise to a lifestyle. It’s infiltrated every aspect of my life. It teaches you to be mindful, be it doing the laundry or navigating relationships or interacting with your child, to be grounded and communicate better. It’s an extension of your work on the mat into everyday life. Yoga is part of what I do every day, from the moment I wake up to the moment I sleep.”
Marcoux began the Mini Strong Girls Yoga and Strong Girls Yoga for Teens classes at The Yoga Room in 2011. The classes are designed for young girls to focus on building self-esteem and confidence. Open to ages 5 through 16, Strong Girls Yoga teaches some of the community’s youngest members the basics of yoga poses, mindfulness and breathing. More important, though, Marcoux’s Strong Girls Yoga teaches the island’s youth how to support one another with feelings of love and kindness, and how to express oneself and trust one another in a room full of peers.
“Strong Girls has exposed kids to yoga at a much earlier age, so I assume they will grow up practicing and using the vocabulary. It’s fun and a privilege to teach.
Yoga can be used as a tool to cultivate a deeper relationship within you. It teaches you kindness and compassion. If you can do that on the mat, you’re so much more likely to be able to hold yourself out in the world,” Marcoux said.
Marcoux is always seeking new ways to share her practice, and this summer she will take to the water with her “SUP” yoga classes, yoga practiced on stand-up paddleboards. Practicing on the island’s waters will give students the opportunity to combine a spiritual and physical experience with the island's natural beauty as the backdrop.
Like Marcoux, it was the chaos of living in New York City that presented Joann Burnham with the impetus to do yoga. While she was studying and bartending in the city, a friend invited her to her first class, where she found much more than a barroom break.
“For me, in that first class, it wasn’t about the physical postures. It was about feeling calmer, settled and focused. That’s why I was there, and I was home,” said Burnham. Burnham took classes for years without the intent of teaching. After multiple short-term careers she found herself at the Dharma Yoga Center, where she decided
to completely immerse herself in her practice and a future career.
“Everything comes full circle in life. After practicing Dharma for years and looking for a teacher, I found myself at the Dharma Center. I wanted to do it all at
once and immerse myself,” Burnham said.
Through yoga Burnham found a healthy accompaniment to yoga while studying
with Dharma Mittra. Burnham learned the benefits of raw-food consumption and vegetarianism. Always passionate about cooking, she again dove in headfirst and took an intense chef ’s training program to become certified.
“I thought if I’m going to do this, I’ll learn to do it well,” Burnham said. “People asked me to share it, and it grew from there.”
Today, Burnham and her husband teach Dharma Yoga at Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm, where Burnham also often conducts lectures on the benefits of a raw-food diet.
Clay Twombly also started his yoga practice with the help of a friend, who took him to his first class at The Yoga Room in 2004. Twombly got the yoga buzz immediately and began studying physiology, neuroscience and Buddhism on a journey to cultivate his own practice.
“I was never an active person. I did some ballroom and swing dance in college.
I tried yoga and something clicked. I began going through a personal transformation. I found the meditation, mindfulness and practice offered me something I hadn’t experienced before,” Twombly said.
In 2008 Twombly said goodbye to his full-time job at Vis-A-Vis and earned his yoga-teaching certification. Different from traditional practices, Twombly incorporates a combination of yoga postures with mindful articulated movements. His classes are open to all levels and focus more on an individual’s experience and expression, rather than the archetype of a pose. In addition to practicing at The Yoga Room, Twombly teaches classes ranging from guiding a bride-to-be on her wedding day through morning meditation, to small group and private classes, including a summer series on mindfulness in daily life. Twombly is constantly working to create a more balanced year-round lifestyle for himself and those he teaches, through understanding the ebb and flow of Nantucket businesses and the island’s seasonal swing.
“Nantucket can be a very stressful place. How can we keep this year-round energetic quality and what we love about Nantucket all year-round, through a more consistent lifestyle? Maybe it’s a 30-minute mindfulness practice. We don’t have to go anywhere to take a breath. It’s really the foundation for everything,” Twombly said. “Remember your motherly insight when you freaked out as a child – ‘Honey, take a few breaths.’ If we remember it’s always available to us, we don’t have to go anywhere to find it.”
Yoga aside, Twombly also dedicates much of his time to creating prayer beads, a self-taught practice he began while studying Buddhism. He intertwines his love of yoga and passion to create the beads to balance his lifestyle.
“The bilateral use of the brain helps to keep trauma and negative emotions from getting locked into one side. I love it and there’s a great response to it,” he said.
Twombly can be found at the Sustainable Nantucket Farmers & Artisans Market during the summer season selling his prayer beads and annually at the Nantucket Yoga Festival.
All of the work done throughout the year by island yoga teachers converges during the two-day festival held each July and now in its third year. The idea for the festival came to Burnham in 2011 from teaching daily at Bartlett’s Farm. The farm presented itself to her as the ideal location for a festival, as one summer day she watched as a huge tent was erected, then left empty for days.
“I saw it empty on day three, day four. I thought how is it possible in this magnificent setting no one is using this tent? I drove home and told my husband we’re going to create a yoga festival. He said OK. I couldn’t have done it without his support,” Burnham said.
In 2012 the festival was born, as Burnham and her husband provided an alchemic platform for yogis to converge and attend classes and workshops led by nationallyacclaimed yoga teachers and specialists, all on Nantucket. The festival caters to the entire population, bringing something for everyone from restorative classes and slow-paced relaxation classes, to health and wellness and merchant vendors. Twombly and Perlman have both participated in joint teachings at the festival and through attending classes. Marcoux is the workshop producer for the festival, contacting and bringing teachers from all over the country to the island to participate.
“Yoga has moved from small classes in people’s homes to health and private clubs and into the yoga festival. It’s become more accessible to people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. There’s a style or tradition that would resonate with everyone. I think between the festival and The Yoga Room we’ve put Nantucket on the map. You can come to one of the most beautiful places in the world and do yoga,” Marcoux said.
In 2013 the festival hosted attendees from more than 20 states and three countries: Switzerland, Canada and England. This year Burnham hopes to host a yogaflight teacher at the festival, displaying inversions of poses that defy gravity.
“I tell everyone to think of it as a stay-cation. Restore yourself in the middle of summer. There are so many fantastic teachers that come to the island. Instead of going off, we’re bringing them here to the island,” she said.
Since 2011 the growth of yoga festivals nationwide has been on the rise. Yoga Journal magazine reported only 12 festivals in 2011, a number that more than doubled to 26 in 2012 and surged to 63 in 2013. As the momentum of yoga increases and more people begin to wrap yoga into their vacations, the Nantucket Yoga Festival is bound to continue to grow and thrive. A community-oriented celebration, both visitors and islanders alike can reap the benefits of the three-day event celebrating health and wellness.
“It’s a realm of calm, where everyone is on the same plane, which individually is where you are in your own practice. It’s one of the only physical-fitness classes where you’ll find yourself sitting next to last year’s triathlon winner to the left and a good friend’s grandmother to the right,” Burnham said. “They say first year sleeps, second year creeps and third year leaps.” The third annual Nantucket Yoga Festival will be held July 11-13.
As the festival and the practice of yoga continue to grow on Nantucket, may the island continue to reap all the compassion, kindness and countless benefits yoga has to offer. The next time you find yourself searching for a physical outlet or life throws you lemons, remember to breathe and know when it comes to yoga there’s something out there for everyone; and bear in mind that lemon coupled with warm water is vital to your health and well-being, something you can learn while working and listening on the mat. ///
Christy Bassett Baker grew up on Nantucket and still lives on the island, where she is the communications manager for the Nantucket Boat Basin and writes occasionally for Nantucket Today.