Yoga. To some this is a lifestyle, to some it is an extracurricular activity and to some it is just too intimidating. I have had the recent pleasure of interviewing a local yoga instructor, Helene Gibbens. I have met and spoken with her many times, but this time it was her turn to educate me about her business and life. Helene is a very talented, patient and compassionate instructor. Take a moment to read all about her here and then take a look on our events calendar for some of her upcoming events!
When did you start practicing yoga and why?
“I started to practice yoga in 1980, before it was popular. It was back in the days when we did not tell people you did yoga because they thought you were weird! I was interested in all types of movement classes and healing modalities. So curiosity is what drew me to yoga in the first place.”
At what point did you decide that you wanted to teach?
“I took classes and practiced a variety of yoga styles - Iyengar, Shivananda, Hatha mainly - as a student for many years while I practiced massage therapy and energy work modalities. Then I worked in the corporate world for 10 years wishing I could find some way to bring together all that I knew and loved from both worlds to get greater fulfillment from making a living. In 2002 I took a weekend workshop in Svaroopa yoga and it felt like coming home....a deeper sense of contentment and peace with myself arose in me during that weekend. I felt there was another way to live. I wanted to experience more of it, and wanted to share it with as many people as I could.”
Where did you do your training?
“Master Yoga Foundation trains Svaroopa yoga teachers and so I went to Delaware, California and Pennsylvania to complete my certification as a Svaroopa yoga teacher, a yoga therapist and workshop leader. I have also taken weekend programs and longer retreats in meditation and yoga philosophy at KripaluYogaCenter in MA and Esalen Institute in CA.”
What exactly is Sammati yoga?
“Sammati yoga reflects my integration of what I find most beneficial from different yoga practices and from working with my students over the last 12 years. It includes Vinyasa - sequences of poses that are done in a flowing way combined with mindful breathing - which provides strength, balance, concentration and clarity of mind. It is a profoundly restful practice that brings the mind into the present. A lot of stress comes from our attachment to the past and the outcome of the future.
Vinyasa is followed by individual poses that release chronic muscle tension in the core muscles of the body, creating spinal decompression which relieves aches and pains, improves range of movement and provides a deep sense of relaxation.
Each class includes some breath work (Pranayama) and guided awareness (Shavasana).”
Who is your typical clientele?
“Everyone is welcome, no experience or flexibility required. Most of our students are in their 40s and up. One class often has more men than women! While young people may prefer more vigorous styles, Sammati yoga is ageless and genderless as our full classes at the Malone campus of North Country Community College illustrate. Anyone who wants to move better, live better and feel better about themselves and their life is welcome, because that is what yoga gives us when we practice regularly.”
Now I know many people think you have to be a pretzel to practice yoga and people might not try it because they think they're not flexible enough. How do you deal with this/what is your advice?
“What you see in movies and on magazine covers can be intimidating. Yoga meets every one of us where we are. Yoga is a mindful practice where we all learn to respect our own bodies and our own limitations. It is not a competitive practice and yoga poses can always be adapted or substituted to meet each one of our needs. There are still many pretzel poses I do not do! Flexibility is not a pre-requisite, improving flexibility is a benefit of regular practice. Try different classes, see what works best for your body and your needs. Call the teacher and have a chat first!”
Tell me about your studio.
“Sammati Yoga Center is in my home. The studio is calming, peaceful and cozy. Classes are small and everyone gets personal attention. Maximum class size is 9 students. It is very quiet, on Branch Farm Road, yet only 3 minutes from downtown.”
What's your favorite pose and why?
”I learned from one of my teachers early on that the poses you want to avoid are the ones you usually need to do the most! So I try to get beyond favorites. That being said I have been sitting in Virasana (Hero) almost daily to relieve tight and achy hip joints and IT bands (down the outside of the thigh). It opens the sacrum and the heart area as well leading to a sense of peace and stillness. Delicious!”
What is your vision of the future of yoga?
“Great question! I think that yoga will continue to grow because it can play in major role in self-care and helping to prevent chronic conditions and diseases. We have an increasing body of research that documents its benefits from relieving anxiety and depression to lowering blood pressure, from boosting the immune system to restoring the balance of the nervous system. We cannot afford the escalating costs of our healthcare system and yoga has an important role to play in reducing these costs.”
“Life is becoming more stressful and faster-paced all the time. To find peace of mind and quality of life we have to look inside ourselves and yoga helps us do just that. It helps us tap into the well of wellbeing and joy that is within each of us so we can flow through life's challenges with more grace and ease, so we can make decisions and choices from a place where we are connected to our deeper values.”