Yoga and lots of it
Photo by Randi Baird
An estimated 20 million Americans practice yoga today and, by summer, it can feel as if half of them are here on Martha's Vineyard. Though only 100 square miles in land mass, the Island in season is home to more than a dozen year-round yoga venues and at least twice that number of daily group yoga classes. From Zen-like studios to comfortable group fitness rooms in larger gyms, the Vineyard can deliver the yoga goods for everyone, from beginners to advanced students of all ages.
New instructors, studios and types of classes emerge regularly, leaving one to wonder how much yoga might be too much for a speck of land surrounded by the sea. Vinyasa, Hot Hatha, Anusara, Kripalu, Senior, Broga, Hot Barkan, Power, Pre-Natal — the list goes on and on.
Andy Estrella, founder/owner of Vineyard Yoga (also known as Martha's Vineyard Hot Yoga) in West Tisbury, was the Island's first teacher of Bikram yoga a dozen years ago. Bikram is derived from the Hatha yoga tradition and is practiced in 90-minute sessions in a room heated to a maximum of 105 degrees. Hot yoga is hot in another way; it's one of the most popular forms of yoga today, with upwards of 5,000 specialized studios like Mr. Estrella's worldwide. And, in spite of its popularity, Mr. Estrella does ponder the explosion of yoga in general on the Island.
"I never imagined this when I started teaching here," he says. "In a major city you'd expect it. The Island is like a mini-city with all the options you'd find in New York or Boston. It's a plus for students, and we'll see how it plays out for the businesses. Will there be enough to go around?"
Megan Grennan, a former New York City-based professional dancer, has been teaching her own adaptation of Iyengar-based classes with an emphasis on alignment and individual adjustment, for more than 20 years. She's a moving target, praising her loyal students for their precise postures as she leads her group classes in at least five locations across the Island. She acknowledges that there is an abundance of yoga here, and she's unconcerned.
"It's a reflection of how popular yoga is everywhere," Ms. Grennan comments. "More people seem to take classes than not. Most teachers here are really busy, and the seasonal influx definitely helps."
The Island's yoga boom has elevated some instructors to cult-like status. Andy, Megan, Bonnie, Josh, Primo, and Sian, to name a few, don't require surnames — just mention their forenames and worshipful oohs and aahs follow.
Sian Williams, an instructor known for her challenging, energetic Vinyasa flow classes, is lauded by Vineyard residents Leslie Clapp and Lani Goldthorpe, both of whom plot their yoga attendance around Ms. Williams's peripatetic schedule. Roving among up to five venues, Ms. Williams is also one of the founders of the Yoga Collective in West Tisbury.
Ms. Clapp, an Edgartown resident for more than 30 years, tried yoga after the 2010 opening of the YMCA in Oak Bluffs. Her first instructor was Ms. Williams. Practicing twice a week under her guidance, Ms. Clapp reaped surprising benefits. In addition to enhancing her fitness and easing stress, she found that the migraines that had plagued her for many years became less frequent and severe.
"I like Sian's attention to detail," Ms. Clapp says. "She keeps me focused on what's best for me."
Lani Goldthorpe, a resident of Oak Bluffs for nine months of the year and co-owner of a fast-paced travel agency, has practiced yoga for six years. An enthusiastic proponent of Ms. Williams's style, as well as that of other Island instructors, she urges visitors and yoga newbies to refer to marthasvineyardyoga.com for a full range of class options.
"It's the bible," Ms. Goldthorpe says. "They post everything about classes — location, time, instructor, even cancellations and instructor changes."
Linked to studio, gym, and instructor websites, the site also includes up-to-the-minute Twitter posts for even more timely information. Organized by town name and day of week, the site provides class names (e.g., Core Yoga) and maps to each location.
Whether yoga studio or gym, most facilities offer equipment for use or for rent if participants don't bring their own. As for cost, most studio classes are offered a la carte or at discounts when purchased in advance in multiples. And, while studios do charge per class, they are typically included at no charge with gym memberships. But along with the per-class fee comes the rarefied air of the peaceful private studio.
Scarlet Jarrell, co-owner of the Yoga Barn with her husband, Rex Jarrell, has created a unique and tranquil setting in the middle of a pastoral field in West Tisbury. "We wanted to create a space to share our love of yoga with others," she explains. Her advice to newcomers searching for the right class: "Read class descriptions and instructor bios. Check out any photos. Look at their eyes to read their energy."
Claire Parkhurst, owner of Tapas Hot Yoga in Vineyard Haven, urges visitors to "listen to your body and what you need." While she and Mr. Estrella advocate the benefits of a warm (or hot) studio, she recommends a mixture of classes from different yoga lineages combined with other physical activities to avoid reaching a plateau.
Finally, an introduction to yoga on the Island wouldn't be complete without a caution about safety. While the benefits of practicing are legion — increases in strength, flexibility, serenity, focus, and libido, along with decreases in blood pressure and depression — the risks have also been well documented in prestigious medical journals since the 1940s.
Larry Greenberg, a physical therapist for 35 years and co-founder of a private outpatient physical and occupational therapy office in West Tisbury, reports that he's seen a rise in the incidence of yoga-related injuries in the last several years.
"Low back pain, neck strains, shoulder strains and hip tears are the most common results of overzealous practice," he says. While yoga is wonderful for increasing flexibility, according to Mr. Greenberg, he strongly warns yoga students about exerting past the normal range of motion. "Never allow anyone to push you forward from behind," he advises, "and never weight-bear on your head or neck."
Though we've tried to include a broad range of options, this is by no means exhaustive. Last summer the rumor was that someone was teaching yoga on stand-up paddleboards in the water, so keep your eyes peeled for classes where you least expect them! Namaste.
The ABC's of Yoga (abridged)
If the terms used in yoga classes are all Greek to you, it's little wonder. Most of them are derived from the ancient Sanskrit language, the primary language of Hindu and Buddhism, and have been connected to yoga since the practice's origins in India 5,000 or more years ago.
Anusara yoga: A modern school of Hatha yoga that emphasizes principles of alignment, with poses expressed from the "inside out" and originating from a deep creative and devotional feeling, yet with a sense of lightness and acceptance of individual differences.
Ashtanga yoga: Translated as "eight-limbed yoga," Ashtanga is a modern and athletic form of classical Indian yoga, based on synchronizing the breath through a progressive and flowing series of postures.
Barkan hot yoga: A style of Hatha yoga that integrates other postures to create variations and greater range of motion. Classes are practiced in a heated room.
Bikram yoga: Known as the original form of "hot yoga," Bikram was founded by Indian yoga master Bikram Choudhary and consists of a series of 26 poses performed in two sets in a room heated to a maximum of 105 degrees.
Broga®: An energetic and challenging yoga class geared for men combining core-strengthening, cardiovascular and stress-reducing postures with functional fitness exercises. Broga® was co-founded by Vineyard resident Robert Sidoti, co-owner of Yoga Haven in Vineyard Haven.
Hatha yoga: The most popular form of yoga practice in the U.S., Hatha yoga uses nearly 200 postures, along with breathing techniques and meditation, to help practitioners achieve a healthy body and a clear mind.
Iyengar yoga: Developed by B.K.S. Iyengar, a yoga master from India for more than 75 years, this Hatha yoga-derived practice underscores detail, precision and alignment, along with breath control. Props such as blocks and straps are used to make the more than 200 classical poses accessible to practitioners of all ages and levels.
Kripalu yoga: A form of Hatha yoga that emphasizes inner focus, meditation, standard and spontaneous postures, breathwork, and relaxation, while encouraging self-acceptance throughout its practice.
Vinyasa yoga: Also known as "flow yoga," Vinyasa is one of the most commonly practiced styles of yoga in the U.S., focusing on breathing and movement, with poses arranged into varying sequences.
Island Yoga, by town
Chilmark Community Center (seasonal classes)
520 South Road, Chilmark
The Yard (seasonal classes)
Chilmark Center, Middle Road, near Beetlebung
Edgartown Council on Aging, The Anchors
10 Daggett St., Edgartown
Guiding Light Yoga (classes also taught at Grace
Church in Vineyard Haven)
#3 Laura's Way, Oak Bluffs
Martha's Vineyard Yoga Center
73 Circuit Ave., Oak Bluffs
YMCA of Martha's Vineyard
111R Edgartown Vineyard Haven Rd., Oak Bluffs
(across from the regional high
Mansion House Inn, Health Club, Spa
9 Main St., Vineyard Haven
Peacegate Way Studio
40 Peacegate Way, Vineyard Haven
Sacred Circle of Yoga Studio
157 Clover Hill Dr., Vineyard Haven
Tapas Hot Yoga
24 Union St., Vineyard Haven, MA
Tisbury Senior Center
34 Pine Tree Rd., Vineyard Haven
FLY Yoga School and Broga® (yoga for men)
5 Village Ct. at 517 State Rd., Vineyard Haven
Martha's Vineyard Hot Yoga (also known as Vineyard
24 Cournoyer Rd., Middletown Village, West Tisbury
The Workout and Tennis Center
22 Airport Rd., West Tisbury
The Yoga Barn
1 Red Barn Rd., West Tisbury
The Yoga Collective of Martha's Vineyard (TYC)
The Common House at Island Cohousing
17 Rock Pond Rd., West Tisbury
774-259-7272 (Instructor Sian Williams)
508-776-9428 (Instructor Jane Norton)