BETHEL — Sara Johnson signed up for her first yoga class in college, and it was love at first pose.
“The connection it gave me with my mind-body-breath was unlike anything I had ever experienced before,” she said.
She quickly recognized many benefits, both physical and emotional, that could be achieved through the regular practice of yoga and meditation.
After studying to be a yoga teacher in Pokhara, Nepal last fall, Johnson, from Bethel, now shares her love of yoga with students ranging in age from toddlers to seniors.
She offers introductory yoga classes through Telstar Adult and Community Education and the Methodist Church Annex, as well as Saturday morning classes for children ages 2-5 (with their caregivers) at Crescent Park School.
In addition to increasing strength, flexibility and balance, Johnson said, yoga poses work to simultaneously calm and energize the brain, while providing the body and brain with fresh oxygen to relax and unwind. empty the mind.
She said yoga and meditation also help synchronize the wave patterns between the left and right sides of the brain, allowing them to communicate more effectively and function with greater clarity and focus. This, in turn, improves decision-making, attention and creativity.
Complementary practices can also help balance and regulate emotions.
“When we know how to calm the mind and recognize our emotions, as we do in yoga, we know how to react to situations where our emotions would otherwise have provoked a reaction,” she said.
This regulatory effect on emotions may have particular benefits for children.
Johnson, who majored in elementary and special education, taught second grade at Woodstock Primary School before her decision to travel to Nepal and pursue yoga as a way of life rather than just a hobby.
During this time, she earned a certification as a children’s yoga instructor, introducing the practice of yoga to her classroom.
“Yoga for kids is beneficial for many reasons,” she said.
“In addition to improving strength and flexibility, yoga offers children a healthy way to balance emotions, brings them into the present, and gives them the opportunity to practice patience and reflection,” she said. declared.
“Yoga reduces impulsiveness and anxiety, improves listening skills and mindfulness and mind/body connection. It also improves their confidence, self-esteem, and social and emotional learning,” she said.
Johnson teaches yoga classes to students at Crescent Park and Woodstock Elementary, Bethel Early Learning Center, and Boxberry School in Harrison.
She plans to take at least four more trainings specific to teaching yoga to children and hopes to eventually earn her 500-hour yoga teaching certification.
Although her own first experience with yoga turned her into a dedicated practitioner, it didn’t always come naturally to her, and she admits that “at first I was very hard on myself”.
“I was never ‘naturally’ flexible, and I wanted so badly to be good at it and have my body bend in all these complex directions,” she said.
“When I started, it was very disheartening.”
But with the help of more classes, which she supplemented with books, videos, and practicing on her own, she found that her initial focus on what she couldn’t yet accomplish went against the purpose and philosophy of yoga.
“If through yoga you are able to accept where you are now, then through practice you are slowly opening up to the opportunity to change not only the body but also the mind,” Johnson said.
Having learned from her own experience, she encourages her students to adapt their yoga practice to their own abilities. When needed, she makes modifications that make most traditional yoga poses accessible to almost anyone, no matter their flexibility or fitness level.
In Nepal, Johnson was trained in both Ashtanga and Hatha styles of yoga. She adopted the Hatha form for most of her practice, although, she says, “I like to stray off the tracks and incorporate a lot of my own sequences as well.”
She incorporates meditation and breathwork into a gentle class that provides a relaxing experience while building muscle tone and flexibility.
“Ashtanga is a very fast-paced, regimented style of yoga that is practiced in set sequences, (while) Hatha is about using opposing forces and energies in the body to find balance,” she said.
Johnson grew up in Connecticut and attended Salve Regina University in Newport, RI, where he graduated in 2013.
During her college studies, she worked for two summers as a leader of sea kayaking and whitewater kayaking trips for teenagers.
With a taste for adventure and service, during her first year, she was accepted into the Peace Corps. She was set to leave after graduation, but a series of unexpected events derailed her plans.
“They kept pushing back my departure date, so I had to find seasonal work in the meantime,” she said.
She first worked as an outdoor educator in New Hampshire. When her departure was again delayed, she moved to Bethel to take up a winter job as a children’s ski coach at Sunday River.
Six weeks before her scheduled departure, she tore a ligament in her knee. The surgery and his long recovery ended his Peace Corps aspirations, but it turned out that his time in Bethel opened the door to unexpected new adventures.
While working in Sunday River, she met “a wonderful man” who made her stay in the area an easy decision for her.
During her recovery, she worked as a preschool teacher and as an enrichment teacher for the Mahoosuc Kids association.
In the fall of 2014, she became a second grade teacher at Woodstock Elementary School, a position she held for three years while working summers for LLBean as a kayak and paddleboard instructor.
His decision to spend two and a half months studying and traveling in Nepal was the culmination of a lifelong fascination with Eastern religions and culture.
“Nepal is one of those places I always wanted to go,” she said.
“For some reason I was just drawn to it. The mountains, the culture, the people, the food, it all felt surreal and otherworldly, almost like Shangri La,” she said .
She spent the first month in Pokhara, a modern city of nearly half a million people. It is considered the tourist capital of Nepal and where she did her 200 hour yoga teacher training course.
“It was an amazing experience, one that made me feel like every decision in my life has led me to be in this place at this time with my instructors and my peers,” she said.
After completing the training, she hired a guide and trekked for 10 days to Annapurna Base Camp in the Himalayas, spending the night in teahouses along the trail.
“Every day I woke up and said, ‘This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life,’ and the next day I was saying the same thing,” she said. .
After the trek, she spent two weeks working on a farm in a small mountainside village near Gorkha, where she stayed in a bamboo and straw hut “with giant spiders and a hole in the ground. for the toilet,” she said. “It was an experience, to say the least!”
During her stay in Nepal, she met a friend and went to Chitwan National Park for an excursion in the jungle, then to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, to visit monasteries and other sites.
Johnson traveled to Kathmandu alone and spent nearly a week at the Pullahari Buddhist monastery on the outskirts of the city.
There she took courses in Tibetan and Buddhist philosophy, as well as a ceremony and a chanting session for young monks in training.
“During my stay (in Nepal), I experienced the highest moments and also some of the most terror-filled moments of my life,” Johnson said.
Before leaving on the trip, she says, she questioned her decision to leave a stable job to take a leap of faith and travel alone, with the intention of trying something completely new when she returned.
“I learned more than can be put into words, but an attempt would have something to do with me learning to worry less and fear less,” she said. “There are so many things in life that we have no control over, but there are some that we do, including our reactions to circumstances.”
“So far, looking back on my trip and my return, everything has gone well, in fact much better than I imagined,” she said.
“I now pursue what makes me happy,” Johnson said. “Being scared hasn’t changed any outcome here or in Nepal and it never will. Being scared only makes you worry or be scared twice.
Classes at Bethel
A three-week session of introductory yoga classes through Adult Education is underway, and Johnson is offering a one-session meditation class on April 25. Contact the Adult Education Office at 207-824-2136, ext. 1340, or visit sad44.coursestorm.com to register.
Adult classes are Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. in the Annex of the Methodist Church. These courses are offered without registration, without the need to register in advance, and the fees are based on donations.
A full yoga class schedule is available at bendingbirchmaine.com, or by email at [email protected]
Sara Johnson practices yoga in Nepal. (photo sent)