Lora Ksieniewicz and Charlie Giordano have been training in one another’s disciplines for about five years now. Giordano, a boxing teacher of 15 years, turned to yoga as an antidote to the tightness caused by his sport. Ksieniewicz, a seasoned yoga teacher, took up boxing in search of a next-level physical challenge. While working together, the two found a remarkable harmony, not only in their teaching philosophies and methodologies, but in the practices of boxing and yoga themselves.
The result is a partnership between Ksieniewicz’s Edgartown studio, Yoga on the Vine, and Giordano’s new up-Island boxing gym, Strong Martha. Giordano will continue to offer boxing classes at Yoga on the Vine, while Ksieniewicz and her team will be the exclusive teachers of yoga at Strong Martha’s West Tisbury location.
“Charlie and I found that we had this incredibly similar approach to our philosophy,” Ksieniewicz told The Local. “I think both of us are really intent on — not so much creating a professional boxer or a professional yogi — but facilitating people to live fuller, richer, happier lives through these practices and modalities we teach.”
Whether you’re sweating through a boxing round or trying to hold a challenging yoga posture, the basic premise is the same. Boxing and yoga “are really just two different ways to the same path,” Giordano said. “Both disciplines help you find a lot of the same principles.”
Those who have not studied the disciplines in depth may be surprised to learn that they have so much in common. That’s because both practices have been steeped in pop-culture stereotypes. Boxing, for instance, is typically portrayed as a “blood sport,” a battle of the egos fueled by violence and aggression. Giordano says the sport “lives in two different worlds,” the flashy, egotistical showmanship of prizefighters, and the refined physical and mental skill that boxing actually requires.
“In mindful practice, you try to reject the things that are no good for you,” Giordano said. “Ego is one of them. You have to check your ego in the ring.”
Likewise, perception of yoga is often misguided, thanks in part to social media platforms representing yoga with dramatic, complicated poses. “You see all these extreme poses on Instagram, and people think of it as something they can’t achieve,” Ksieniewicz said. “That’s really not what the practice is about.” Nor is yoga about a deep and enduring blanket of peace that magically shrouds all yogis. “It’s about appropriate engagement,” Ksieniewicz said. “You drop back when you need to drop back and you get active when you need to get active.”
Both yoga and boxing thrive when participants cultivate this mindfulness of the present moment. “You’re responding to the moment and what shows up,” Ksieniewicz said. And just as muscles can be trained to perform certain physical maneuvers, our minds can be trained to focus on the present moment. “It’s all about practice, practice, practice,” Giordano said. “Not just physically, but keeping your mind where it needs to be.”
These skills are not just valuable inside the ring or on the yoga mat, they’re important tools we can carry into our everyday lives. When met with a physical challenge, “you come up against your own obstacles, your own struggles,” Ksieniewicz said. “When you have this practice, this forum to work through that, it translates into how you walk out into your family dynamic, your work dynamic, the rest of your life.”
And in a chaotic world, we all could use some time and space to work through life’s complications. The short, intense bursts of boxing can help release pent-up emotions, while the slow, deep flow of yoga can shed some of our psychological weight. “As much as our bodies and our muscles need a workout, our emotions need a release,” Ksieniewicz said. “We hold this space for people to come into, and it’s no judgment, no questions asked. You come in and work out what you need to work out, and it’s all welcome. That’s what it’s there for.”
Giordano and Ksieniewicz stress that their space is inclusive for all participants. For instance, their Yoga for Athletes classes, although highly beneficial for boxers to relieve soreness and improve mobility, can be appreciated by newcomers and advanced yogis alike. “If you have a body, you’re an athlete,” Ksieniewicz said. “We all have physical bodies we’re responsible for taking care of and moving.” To athletes who feel like they can’t do yoga because they lack flexibility, Ksieniewicz argues, “That’s like saying ‘I’m too dirty to take a shower.’ It’s exactly what you need. I hope that’s an invitation for everyone to feel like they can come into the class.”
And because the space — and subsequently the class sizes — at Strong Martha are so small, participants are guaranteed an intimate, personalized experience. “We don’t want to just mill people in and mill them out, we want to feel like we’re really hearing each person, connecting with them, and giving them a real, valuable experience,” Ksieniewicz said.
When you leave, the hope is that you’ll be ready for whatever comes your way. And that you’ll be back for more. Now that the doors have opened at Strong Martha, Giordano said, “everyone is welcome, all the time.”
Strong Martha is located at 505 State Rd., West Tisbury. For more information, visit strongmartha.com. Yoga on the Vine is located at 243 Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Rd., Edgartown. For more information, visit yogaonthevine.com.