August 27, 2014

Yoga for mind, body and neighbor

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Williston resident Leo Leach (facing right) and a group of locals get into warrior 1 pose during a yoga class at Williston Woods last year. Leach teaches a free class the third Sunday of every month to benefit the Williston Community Food Shelf. (Courtesy photo by Bernhard Wunder)

Observer staff

As bright sunlight from a crisp fall morning streamed through the windows of the activity center at Williston Woods, the room was quiet except for the steady breathing of yoga practitioners.

Yoga instructor Leo Leach weaved through the group’s multi-colored yoga mats, making slight adjustments to poses and guiding the group through a fluid stream of movement in a relaxing voice.

Sunday’s yoga session marked the return of free monthly yoga classes held at Williston Woods to benefit the Williston Community Food Shelf, resuming after a summer hiatus.

Leach said supporting the food shelf and raising awareness of the need in the community is only part of the benefit yoga class’s goal.

“The true objective is to really make it known to the public that there is a local yoga community who are putting their own needs aside to help others,” he said. “That’s the real value in this. It’s not how much food we collect and how much money we raise. The real value, as I see it, is the community coming together to help each other.”

The classes began in February 2011, after Leach stopped teaching Sunday classes at the Edge in Williston. There was a lot of disappointment among his regulars, he said, so he decided to start leading Sunday lessons once a month—this time, to benefit a community resource.

The classes—held the third Sunday of every month—are put on hold during the summer, when Leach leads Yoga on Church Street, a by-donation event that benefits Prevent Child Abuse Vermont.

Since the classes began last year, Leach said participants have raised approximately $1,500 for the food shelf, plus a large amount of food donations—though he noted that the figures weren’t the important part of the effort.

“The real focus isn’t on how much food or how much money, the value is in helping the community,” Leach noted.

Williston resident Harry Riendel—who has been taking yoga classes with Leach for years and tries to attend all the Williston Woods classes—said he felt “great” after the session.

“I’ve got a sweat on, I’m relaxed,” he said. “I find it to be very helpful for treating the body, and Leo’s been helping me understand how helpful it is for my mind.”

Willistonian Addie Hall also tries to attend all the Williston Woods classes, and has helped spread the word through Front Porch Forum postings.

“I always feel great after yoga, ready to take on whatever comes my way,” she said after Sunday’s class, yoga mat under her arm.

Leach began teaching yoga more than seven years ago.

“The biggest joy I get at the end of class is looking up and seeing all the beaming faces,” he said. “It touches my heart from the day I started teaching.”

Though many people practice yoga to take time for themselves and escape from the distractions and stresses of everyday life, a benefit yoga class incorporates another major aspect of yogic philosophy—putting aside one’s own personal desires, Leach said.

“We come to realize that we aren’t that different, we are the same,” Leach said. “That leads to compassion, where we place the needs of others before our own desires.”

At the end of Sunday’s class, with participants feeling relaxed and energized, he urged them to apply that feeling to their lives outside the studio.

“Take this feeling of peace and contentment with you, share a little love,” he said.

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