By Diane Kilivris for The Devil Strip
Yoga is an ancient Indian practice of self-realization that has provided great exercise for many—particularly those among us who are lean and flexible. But for others, it can feel like an exercise in futility.
Intimidating poses with Sanskrit names scare many a beginner away, resigned to the idea that they’re just not built for the practice.
But there’s a new yoga in town. Melissa Lyons of Kenmore was awarded a Rubber City Match Level II Space Award, a grant from the city of Akron that will help her acquire studio space and expand her new venture, All Walks Yoga.
The goal of All Walks is to provide classes that make yoga accessible to everyone, with individualized modifications taught for those with physical limitations or differently-shaped bodies.
Lyons began studying the new concept of “accessible yoga” after her own practice had to change due to major back surgery. After falling in love with yoga in 2016, Lyons needed a spinal fusion, her third surgery due to scoliosis.
“It knocked me out of the yoga game for a while… My spine can’t do the things a normal person can,” she says. When she got back into yoga right before the pandemic, she knew she wanted to not only teach, but to bring accessible yoga to Akron, and specifically Kenmore. She got busy and wrote her business plan while at a yoga training retreat in April.
“I started doing teacher training and I really felt drawn to bringing yoga to people who might not find it very accessible, like people who have differently-shaped bodies or ailments or other things going on. They might need different poses or props or things like that. And I knew that the studios in this area didn’t offer that,” she says.
“Yoga doesn’t have to be 60-minute, 100-degree Vinyasa powering through the poses. You can get the same benefit… It’s movement linked to breath and you can do that in so many different ways,” Lyons says.
According to the Accessible Yoga Association, accessible yoga serves people with disabilities, disease and illnesses, LGBTQ people and ethnic and racial groups.
Accessible Yoga is a concept that began about three years ago. Several books have been written and become popular in the industry, and new certifications are becoming available through the Yoga Alliance.
Currently Lyons teaches a weekly Sunday morning class in borrowed space at the Rialto Theatre in Kenmore. While applying for the Rubber City Space Grant and scouting locations for her own studio, she and her fiancé, Matthew Hirschfelt, have been attending community events, doing chair yoga demonstrations to generate interest.
Observing Lyons at her Sunday class at the Rialto, it becomes apparent that teaching is her passion — her full-time job is teaching third grade at Harris-Jackson CLC in Akron — and she has the kind of patient demeanor that wins the respect of 9-year-olds as well as yoga beginners.
“We’re going to do something a little different this week,” Lyons tells her yogis. “We’re going to hold each pose for 3 minutes, so I want you to hold it at only 75%. If you need to come out of the pose, it’s fine to take a break and come back in,” she adds assuringly.
One of Lyons’s regular Sunday students, Rebecca Rak, said she had dabbled in yoga before but never on a regular basis.
“A lot of the normal yoga classes seem very intimidating. I was always unsure if I was doing the pose right. My body is a little larger than the stereotypical yogi, I would think, so I had issues reaching some of the poses, and then also just feeling comfortable in that space,” Rak says. But she’s been a regular at Lyons’s Sunday morning class since May.
“She (Lyons) very much encourages people to listen to their own bodies and take modifications. She really makes people feel comfortable and still encourages movement in a way that’s going to be healthy for them,” says Rak.
And Rak says the class has made an impact in her daily life. “I play softball and broomball and I’ve noticed that I’m much more flexible and less sore throughout the day because I’m stretching and moving in a focused way.” She has also found that regular yoga has helped in reducing what used to be chronic back pain.
Lyons is back in her third-grade classroom at Jackson-Harris now but dreams of operating her own yoga studio full-time.
“I love teaching, and it’s still a form of giving back to the community. We are very honored to have been chosen by RCM and excited about the road ahead.”
All Walks Yoga can be found online at www.allwalks.yoga.
Diane Kilivris is a freelance writer living in West Akron. When not working, she can be found on the tennis court or obsessively knitting in a cozy chair.