Raleigh, N.C. — On my way to try out Saturday’s yoga class downtown at the City of Raleigh Museum, I found myself facing immense crowds due to the thousands of men, women and children gathered in downtown Raleigh making their voices heard.
The City of Raleigh (COR) Museum is located towards the middle of Fayetteville Street, just two blocks from the Raleigh City Plaza where participants began the Women’s March on Raleigh. The sounds of the rally in Moore Square echoed through downtown but somehow when the museum doors shut, I felt an instant sense of calm. It was a direct result of the meditative atmosphere that instructor Stacy Ingham effortlessly created.
Ingham is the owner of the Ashtanga Yoga School Raleigh (AYS). The museum approached her about teaching classes as a part of the new Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit, Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation.
According to the museum, the idea is to “showcase the ways in which traditional Indian yoga practices have been molded into a cultural phenomenon here in the United States.” From now until April, the COR Museum is collaborating with local studios to offer free classes every first and third Saturday.
Ingham explained that the “Ashtanga” part means that it’s a set, numbered sequence. You are breathing and moving in a synchronized way and in a practiced pattern.
“It’s a pretty intense and dynamic practice but you start off small,” she told me. “The repetition allows you to fall into a meditative state.”
The AYS website recommends having some experience with Ashtanga or Vinyasa yoga before attending. I was a bit nervous reading this considering my background in yoga consisted of the occasional beginner’s class. However, the consistent structure made it easy to follow and Ingham suggested alternative poses for varying skill levels.
She was helpful, kind and made little jokes that had us laughing as we folded our bodies pose to pose. It helped to create a non-judgmental class environment that, in my experience, not all yoga classes can accomplish.
When our time was up, we finished with the Ashtanga Yoga closing chant, based on Hindu mythology:
“May the rulers of the Earth keep to the path of virtue
For protecting the welfare of all generations.
May the religious, and all peoples be forever blessed,
May all beings everywhere be happy and free
Om peace, peace, perfect peace”
For some of us, our frustrations were reflected in the words of other chants that could be heard just outside, but the gallery was our sanctuary. For an hour, we could shut everything out to focus on strengthening our own mental health. You must have peace to spread it.
“It’s a refuge, just to be on your mat moving and breathing, “ Ingham said. “It’s a deep practice, a powerful practice, if you’re looking for a kind of transformation in your life, it can be helpful.”