Valerie Sonnenthal is a curious soul, a deep thinker, and a creative artist. She’s explored movement, music, theater, photography, and yoga for years.
Active in the New York City arts scene before moving to the Island, Sonnenthal describes a life-changing event while she was attending NYC’s distinguished School of Visual Arts. Always interested in multiple art forms, Sonnenthal attended a 1979 movement workshop given by early Twyla Tharp dancer Kenneth Rinker at Dance Theater Workshop. She’d recently seen his choreography, and thought it was the most interesting work of art she’d seen in any genre. Sonnenthal didn’t attend the workshop because she’s a dancer, but rather because she was drawn to Rinker’s work. They both acknowledged a connection, which led to Sonnenthal developing a relationship with Rinker’s company, drawing, painting, and photographing his work.
Marriage, two kids, programming at a busy Rockland County library, along with a library degree, went along with Sonnenthal’s work, making art based on dance during a time when the NYC dance scene was particularly vibrant.
An Island wash-ashore, Sonnenthal moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 2006 after a weekend visiting a friend. She was separating from her husband at the time, and had two kids in middle school. She felt “immediately at home” on the Island, saw that being on the Island relaxed her kids, looked at two homes, bought one and moved in.
Sonnenthal immediately became part of the active arts scene on the Island. Along the way she began studying restorative sound journeys and a new form of yoga, developed by Brazilian Francisco Kaiut, eponymously named Kaiut Yoga.
Sonnenthal’s combined knowledge of arts and bodywork and her ongoing desire to share led to opening Peaked Hill Studio in Vineyard Haven, in the Woodland Center on State Road. The studio recently celebrated its first anniversary.
Sonnenthal is devoted to offering opportunities for guest teachers from around the globe and students on the Island to experience wellness activities at Peaked Hill. Her “Restorative Sound Journeys” use Himalayan and crystal singing bowls, monochord, chimes, and other instruments. The sounds create an environment where one can activate healing by alleviating pain or discomfort and inviting deep relaxation. She began studying sound journeys five years ago, and offers them, aside from Peaked Hill, at various locations around the Island, including Featherstone, Pathways, Windermere, and Camp Jabberwocky.
Sonnenthal’s exploration of the relatively new form of Kaiut Yoga illustrates her deep commitment to meaningful physical and spiritual practices. Both she and the founder, Francisco Kaiut, came to the practice based on the need to address chronic pain.
In 2005 Kaiut opened his first Kaiut Yoga Studio in Curitiba, Brazil. Today there are 10 studios in Brazil, and a growing number of studios in the U.S. as well. There are approximately 500 teachers teaching Kaiut Yoga worldwide. The word is spreading, with Francisco and his work featured in the likes of Yoga Journal and Huffington Post.
“This yoga is for people who hate yoga,” Sonnenthal says. “It’s not fitness, not that you won’t strengthen and build and get really strong. It’s based on joints, not muscles, and the individual figuring out their own body, which can significantly help with chronic pain. And it’s not about copying extreme positions.” Kaiut Yoga removes any feeling of intimidation, modifying positions so that a shape can work for any practitioner, regardless of flexibility or injuries.
Sonnenthal is a dedicated practitioner and teacher. She’s able to bring her various studies to her teaching method, which is highlighted by her quiet, generous, thoughtful manner. Along with her artistic experience and her work as a librarian, she was interested in creating a healthier body. “I’m not a science person, but I studied two years of biomechanics in order to understand my desire to both solve my own chronic pain and help others do the same,” she said.
The Kaiut website says the method “places value on function and effects,” and that they are not “concerned with forcing our body into any particular aesthetic shape.” If you’ve ever felt inadequate looking around a room full of people in astonishing positions and balances, Kaiut might be something to try. And if you’re after some peace created by quiet, lovely sounds, a Restorative Sound Journey is for you. Sonnenthal will make sure you are welcome.
Peaked Hill Studio is located at 7 Woodland Center, 455 State Rd., Vineyard Haven, between Rise Dance Studio and Carpet Care. Find information and class schedules at peakedhillstudio.com or at 508-645-9692 or 774-563-8282, firstname.lastname@example.org.=