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Ithaca Week

Ithacans keep minds and bodies fit through yoga

Yoga School Director Lennessa Shantaya teaches the class a pose.
By Erica Dischino and Miranda Materazzo

Five students stand on purple and black yoga mats waiting for their instructor, Yoga School Director Lennessa Shantaya, to give them their next movement.

“Inhale. Lift your arms. Palms touch as the breath ends and exhale forward,” Shantaya says.

Meditation music plays softly in the background as the smell of incense and burning candles fill the room. Leafy potted plants rest on the window, sedentary, while Shantaya and her students shift their position in synchrony.

The Yoga School is one of the many yoga studios that can be found in the Ithaca Commons. At least five are located in the two-block pedestrian mall according to the Downtown Ithaca Alliance website. Despite the large existing presence, yoga studios continue to exist harmoniously in the Ithaca area.

“There’s a sense of enlightenment in this town where people want to maintain a spiritual connection and a healthy connection,” Shantaya said.

Gary Ferguson, Executive Director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, said that yoga studios have been a part of the Ithaca community for a long time. Cornell University and Ithaca College draw student interest, resulting in the local popularity of the practice.

“A lot of people come from places where yoga was an important part of their culture or lifestyle,” Ferguson said. “When they come to Ithaca, I think they’re excited to find studios of people practicing their particular type of yoga.”

Nicole Stumpf, an instructor at Sunrise Yoga and an Ithaca College alumna, began practicing yoga when she was 15 years old. She continued yoga classes at Sunrise Yoga when she came to Ithaca in 2004 for her undergraduate degree. Stumpf said the yoga population is not just limited to students.

“In Ithaca, there are so many people that have been practicing for a long time,” Stumpf said. “When I teach at Ithaca, I can teach more advanced postures and more advanced concepts.”

Yoga’s health benefits add to its popularity, especially in the health-conscious city of Ithaca. Now, the constant use of technology causes individuals to remain sedentary, which can change with yoga she said.

“We need to move and it’s a way of moving that’s not competitive. It can be fine-tuned to meet where you’re at with your body,” she said. “If you’re already fit or if you’re just starting to move, it’s very adaptable and the need exists now.”

Sunrise Yoga was founded in 1993 and is one of the oldest studios in the Commons. Other studios, such as Mighty Yoga and The Yoga School, opened within the past ten years.

One of Mighty Yoga’s studio directors and instructors Zainab Zakari said their studio, which opened in August 2009, was created to create a sense of community and accommodate yoga students with various schedules.

[Mighty Yoga] was filling a need for a place where a community can come together [to explore] and enjoy yoga.”

Although there are so many yoga studios present, Zakari said that having a lot in the same area can actually be beneficial despite the inherent financial competition.  

“We all want everybody to survive and everybody to flourish because yoga is such a broad category,” Zakari said. “It would be wonderful if we could just get more people interested in yoga.”

Each studio provides varying experiences for the yoga students in the area, Zakari said, which gives them the ability to co-exist.

“We’re offering different styles and then even within those styles you have different teachers who put a different spin on it,” she said. “There’s plenty of room for everything to be offered.”

Ithaca College student Gillian Wenzel is a yoga teacher at the college’s fitness center and takes classes at Mighty Yoga and formerly at The Yoga School. Wenzel said the studios have different atmospheres and overall styles.

“I like to mix it up and learn from each style to help build my practice,” Wenzel said.

Her commitment to yoga became more serious over the the past two years. Practicing yoga provides her with more than just physical well-being.

“It’s a really beautiful and accepting practice. It allows me to be the happiest person and the most authentic person that I can be.”

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