“Slow, long, breath,” intones Kanta Lipsky, her voice smooth as honey, warm as chamomile tea. “Feel your feet on the floor, let go of all those other thoughts, let yourself drop into the stillness.”
Meditative solo flute music enhances the serene atmosphere.
All eyes are fixed on Kanta as she stands in a shaft of sunlight pouring through a window in the West Tisbury Library Community Room, leading her popular ‘Balance’ class. The 30 or so students, mostly women, gathered around Kanta, sigh audibly, visibly relax, and smile. The weekly hour-long sessions center on T’ai Chi Chih, simple sequences of graceful, flowing movement, incorporating moments of peaceful silence, focused breathing, and mindfulness meditation. The room takes on a soundless undersea feel, bodies rocking, arms reaching languid. The group becomes cohesive, breathing entrained, undulating like a sea anemone.
Kanta herself always has a palpable air of joyful, effervescent serenity about her. A calm and peaceful center within, sparkling eyes, a glowing smile, and a hearty laugh. She is an inspiring and reassuring teacher, long immersed in the disciplines, a careful and precise guide.
But for all her wisdom and experience, she is not daunting, but completely approachable. Kanta is a longtime Vineyard woman, active in the community. She enjoys her friends and is proud of her grown children. She’s fun, spontaneous, and supportive to talk with — students often stop to chat before leaving.
Balance began at the library in 2017, part of a short “Explorations in Healthy Living” series. Participants flocked to the weekly sessions, and urged the library to keep them going. The program has continued ever since. “[The class] brings me peace,” one student reported. “I can breathe easier,” “it makes me happy,” “I feel stronger,” “It clears my mind,” and “I feel less anxious afterward,” are common among participant testimonials.
The library walls are abloom with paintings created by Kanta herself. The happy coincidence is not lost on her — she beams as she shares it with the students. They beam back. The ‘Trees of West Tisbury’ paintings were hanging for an early summer show. They chronicle the seasons, from dark branches against a grey winter sky, to the pink burst of springtime cherry blossoms, summer’s lush green, autumn’s rust and gold.
Equally inspiring as a yoga teacher, Kanta leads two classes each week: Gentle Yoga at the Howes House Senior Center in West Tisbury, and Gentle/Moderate Yoga at Chilmark’s Yoga Barn.
Like the Balance series, Kanta conducts yoga with intentional serenity and mindfulness. The focus is on breathing, centering in the present moment, whether doing a simple stretch, using a chair as a prop, or holding a more challenging, advanced posture.
Kanta also leads Kirtan groups in devotional Yogic call-and-response chanting. She began on her own, and now shares leadership with four women who accompany the chants on traditional instruments.
“The core of all the practices is stilling the mind,” she explained. “By getting out of the constant chatter that we all have, we can hear the whispers of our own hearts. “
Sitting at a round table on the lawn beside the library on a sunny afternoon, Kanta relates how it all began. Growing up in Ohio, Kanta graduated from Ohio State University, and came to the Vineyard in 1972. She joined that familiar round of waitressing, house painting, working on ‘Jaws,’ and taking classes at Vineyard Dance. After a few years, on a lark, she headed to California, and in brief time, her life turned in a new direction. She discovered yoga, meditation, natural foods, massage, and an array of self-healing disciplines.
Kanta met Guruji, an eastern teacher, then 100 years old. Drawn by his teachings, intrigued by the practices, she lived in his Dhyanyoga Center ashram where she practiced yoga, chanted, took massage classes, and became a massage and T’ai Chi Chih teacher. She remains connected to the ashram community and returns regularly for retreats.
She returned to the Vineyard in 1982, and opened a massage practice where she offered Tai Chi Chih classes.
Here, her life would change once again when she met Jon Lipsky. He was a dashing, gentle man, a talented playwright, a Boston University acting teacher, and a bright light in the Vineyard theatre community. They married in 1987, lived in Cambridge, and had two sons, Adam and Jonah. Kanta delved deeper into healing, receiving her Master of Arts degree in Holistic Studies and Expressive Therapies from Lesley College. She taught massage, studied Reiki, Pranic healing, and deep tissue work.
Every summer, the family returned to the Vineyard with its embracing community they knew and loved. In 1996, the Lipskys moved here year-round and purchased a home in West Tisbury.
They raised their sons, became more involved in Vineyard life, and Kanta’s work blossomed. She completed Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training and began teaching. In 1998, she joined Bonnie Menton and Roxanne Kapitan to establish M.V. Yoga, the Island’s first dedicated yoga studio in Tisbury Marketplace.
Sadly, Jon died in 2011, after 10 years of living with a rare, slow growing, untreatable cancer. “I worked the whole time,” Kanta recalls. “He had been sick for so long. We couldn’t just stop everything and wait.” Kanta said her practice was a “real anchor.” “It is surely a blessing when your life is, in a way, falling apart,” she said.
During Jon’s illness, Kanta took up plein air painting, reviving a lifelong interest in art. She studied at Featherstone and rented a studio. Painting is among Kanta’s favorite activities, imbued by the same joyful spirituality and reverence as the others.
Music has been another constant for Kanta ever since she sang in a Catholic Church choir growing up. She sings with the Island Community Chorus and Hebrew Center choir, which she calls especially challenging since the words are in Hebrew. Dance, includiong tap, is another enduring pleasure which she has studied. She has performed with several other enthusiasts.
While savoring these creative pursuits, Kanta’s main focus is healing and teaching, the practices she shares with students. “I teach to help bring people to peace and happiness, and help relieve their suffering,” she reflects.
We wondered if Kanta had a message for her students, something that would buoy them up, encourage them to continue the practices, and reassure them in rocky times. “The Buddhists talk about Buddha Nature,” she mused. “We all have it, it’s our innate wisdom.” Kanta says her teaching is about letting students engage with innate wisdom. “You’ve already got it,” Kanta said. “All these practices do is help you uncover it and surrender into universal energies.”
Not committed to any single religion, Kanta, who was raised Catholic, studies Judaism and is active at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center. She embraces Eastern practices, and participates with the Celtic Circle, a pagan group. She sees no conflict in combining spiritual traditions.
“It’s all-embracing,” she said. “To me it’s a blessing.”
Which of her many activities brings Kanta most joy and satisfaction? “I’ve been really enjoying the Balance class, because it’s so fresh and everybody is engaged,” she said. “I feel fresh as a teacher. Every week I come at it from a new angle.”
She concludes, “It’s available to everyone — this way of going inside and finding peace. Sometimes folks forget to even look.”