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Training bodies and minds at yoga class

From left, teacher Ellen Smith and sisters Evelyn, Isabel and Lillian Bushway stretch against the wall.
Photographer: Rebecca Isenhart
From left, teacher Ellen Smith and sisters Evelyn, Isabel and Lillian Bushway stretch against the wall.
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— The Bushway sisters are always together, and they’re always moving. This summer, they chose to try something new: yoga.

Isabel Bushway, 13, and 12-year-old twins Evelyn and Lillian, already swim together and take a weekly class in modern dance.

“I thought, why not get stronger and more flexible?” Isabel said.

So their mom signed them up for the Yoga for Athletes class, a new offering this year from the town of Niskayuna’s Recreation and Parks department.

On July 28, in synch, the three lined up their mats before the second-to-last class in a series of eight.

“They have really, really progressed from the beginning,” said the girls’ instructor, Ellen Smith.

During each session, she leads eight students through breathing exercises and teaches them to hold poses that challenge them in different ways. Smith tailored the class to be especially useful for young athletes by building a combination of strength, flexibility and inner calm.

“I’m not a flexible person,” Isabel said as she and her sisters limbered up before class. “We need to get better at it, and I thought it would be good for me because I swim a lot.”

Standing, sitting and reclining poses increase the students’ range of motion, stretch muscles and build strength. Smith pairs these benefits with anatomy lessons, such as describing the ways oxygen affects muscles. The rewards can be great, but the unusual positions can feel difficult and even silly at times.

Lillian is glad to have her sisters around “when we have to put our legs up in the air with our feet facing the ceiling,” she said. They often end up laughing at themselves.

Isabel Bushway takes a moment to focus on her breath.
PHOTO: Rebecca Isenhart
Isabel Bushway takes a moment to focus on her breath.

Not just for athletes

Smith tailored the class not just for athletes, but specifically for the young people who’d be enrolled. The meditative aspect of yoga is important to Smith, who is certified in a style called Kripalu.

To achieve her goal of making the girls feel comfortable, she asked her nieces and nephews what kind of music she should play to help the girls relax and focus. Instead of silence or instrumental music, often used for yoga classes, she plays Colbie Caillat, Jack Johnson and John Mayer.

At the end of each class, the students meditate and focus in savasana, or “corpse pose.”

Morbid as it sounds, they really enjoy it. In fact, they sometimes become so relaxed, they fall asleep. Some teachers might take offense at that, but Smith is delighted. “It’s a sign they need to rest, and that it’s working,” she said.

Evelyn said the meditative portions of class make her feel prepared for her athletic pursuits later on.

“Sometimes, if I’m nervous, I get all tense,” she said. “After the class I feel ready, like, ‘I got this.’ ”

This story originally appeared in Your Niskayuna.



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