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Seeing Yoga Through the Eyes of a Young Teacher

An Interview with Ashleigh Vale–

In gyms across the nation, New Year’s resolutioners flock to the weight rooms, treadmills and personal trainers, determined to shed the excess pounds they vow to lose this year. An ongoing, popular workout trend that is becoming more accessible in the U.S. is yoga, a Hindu practice that focuses on improving mental and physical health. Designed to slow one’s mind through calming meditation and breathing exercises, yoga is something many Americans benefit from, both mentally and physically.

Receiving her yoga license at age 17 and becoming a registered teacher at 18, Ashleigh Vale is not your typical high school student. College Green was curious about how Vale got her start and what she has to say on the controversies and stereotypes of Western yoga, so we interviewed her to get a different perspective on this ancient exercise.

Ashleigh Vale, yoga instructor

 

Q: Why yoga? What got you so interested in it?

A: “I was going into my freshman year of high school and my mom was taking yoga classes at the YMCA. I started going with her just on Tuesday nights, and it was super casual. Eventually my teacher moved to Yoga Strong and that’s when I realized I loved it…after being in an actual studio. My sophomore year,I was in a really really bad place and practicing yoga was the only time I felt safe. I was involved with a lot of really awful people, and yoga was my time where I could get away from them. Yoga just became my coping mechanism. It was also a way for me and my mom to bond because that’s kind of hard for us…we have our differences.”

 

Q: In your opinion, what are the key elements of yoga, and what are the benefits that come from practicing them?   

A: “In my yoga classes, I always try to have an even balance between movement and stillness. I think both are beneficial for alignment purposes for your body and are stress relieving for your mind and spiritual well-being. I try to make sure that I get all six basic movements of the spine in a class, like standing upright, side twists, back bends and forward bends. Usually, if you get all those angles then it’s a pretty good class. When I joined cross country, I couldn’t run a mile under ten minutes, but towards the end of the season I was running a 6:30 pace for my first mile. People kept asking how I got so fast, and I just told them it was because of my [yoga] practice. Learning how to manipulate and control my breathing definitely helped with running.”

 

Q: What are your opinions on the stereotypes and controversies of Western yoga?

A: “I get really frustrated with studios when they make their classes all about arm strength and balance. They basically make it impossible for people. I think sitting in stillness for 20 minutes is just as challenging and more beneficial than trying to stand on your hands for the first time and pushing yourself into poses you shouldn’t push yourself into. Power yoga is not for someone who is new to yoga, and I think people should know their limits before going to a power yoga class so they don’t push their body out of alignment.”

 

Q: What are your views on religion and yoga?

A: “I know a lot of people who think I am satanic because I practice yoga, which makes no sense to me. Most yoga classes are open to interpretation. So, if a teacher references God or something in that nature, you can interpret it however you want. I feel like most teachers respect people’s beliefs. It can be spiritual if you want it to be spiritual, but it doesn’t have to be. I try really hard not to offend anyone in my classes, especially new students, because I know it can be a problem.”  

 

Q: What are your thoughts on the future of Western yoga?

A: “I think it’s a fad with a lot of people. I’ll get students who come in and I know for a fact that they’re doing this because it’s ‘cool’ right now. They’re on Instagram and they see all these people doing these cool poses and want to do them right away in my class, but  it’s not about doing cool poses. I don’t know if this fad will eventually die down. I hope it does because I’ve watched people push themselves into headstands or crows (a yoga pose) and hurt themselves. However, I think that yoga is becoming more accepted, despite the controversies. I think yoga is a little different out West as well. It just seems a little less… ‘lululemon-y’ than it is here. That’s where I hope to go for college, and hopefully I can find somewhere out there to teach. I’ve been inspired by my teachers to pursue a life of compassion and healing. The goal is to teach through college and eventually open my own studio.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A life full of compassion and healing”–that is what Ashleigh longs for as she dives deeper into her practice. Ashleigh currently teaches teen and community classes at Yoga Central and community classes at Yoga Strong in Canton, Ohio.


Kaitlin is more than ready to put her green thumb, journalistic mind, and quirky artistic self to work here at College Green Magazine. Kaitlin is a freshman in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and is planning on specializing in environmental studies. Having a passion for the arts as well, Kaitlin is a part of The Lost Flamingo Company at Ohio…

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