Yoga for you
“Our studio is based on the belief that yoga is for everyone,” explained Alison Leinbach, the owner of Serenity Yoga Studio, the only yoga facility in Middletown. “Yoga is suitable for anyone—from the athlete to the couch potato—because everyone can practice at their own level and can be empowered.”
During her 15 years practicing yoga and 8 years as a certified yoga instructor, Leinbach has become well-versed on its benefits, of which there are many.
“It is through the yoga postures, known as asanas, that the body undergoes a type of 'healing massage' which stimulates blood flow, flushes out toxins, giving the body and brain a much needed sense of clarity and rejuvenation,” she said.
Yoga is also known to stimulate critical feel-good neurotransmitters such as GABA, serotonin and endorphins. These key neurotransmitters, when triggered by the movements of yoga, help to establish a better mood-enhancing outlook and aid in the treatment of depressive states. For example, yoga provides the body with an increase in GABA, the body's own natural tranquilizers, which provide us with a sense of calm, relaxation and stress tolerance.
“Yoga also stimulates the release of Serotonin, the body’s own natural anti-depressants, which provide a positive outlook, emotional stability, self-confidence and sense of humor. And yoga helps to stimulate endorphins, the body’s own natural painkillers which provide a sense of pleasure, reward and psychological/physical pain relief and tolerance,” she explained.
Leinbach got her start teaching yoga in Middletown by working with youngsters in schools and at daycare centers. In some larger cities, there are yoga studios on every block, but she found that in the Middletown area, the 5,000-year-old discipline did not yet have a strong following.
“I started to think about trying to bring yoga to Middletown,” she explained. “In the beginning, it took a lot of educating people about yoga. When I started this studio, I was dealing more with teens and kids. From there, it evolved and I started teaching more adults.”
Word quickly spread about the health benefits. There were about 25 students in the early days of the studio, but now there are approximately 250. Since opening the facility in 2009, Leinbach has already expanded the business at 5244 Summit Bridge Road three times. The most recent addition is currently in its final stages.
“Right now, we’re expanding to 2,500 square feet. We’ll have two studios, retail space, and a lounge area,” Leinbach said, adding that a therapeutic massage room and a changing area are also part of the plans.
The main focus at Serenity is Vinyasa Flow, which links breathing with movement. The word Vinyasa means “breath-synchronized movement.” Participants learn how to move from one pose to the next on an inhale or an exhale, like a dance, and each pose is connected to the next.
“Vinyasa Flow is one of the most beloved styles of yoga,” Leinbach explained. “This is a challenging form of yoga that works for everyone because it is simple and right in line with how your body is designed to move and operate. It builds functional, intrinsic strength rather than superficial strength. It empowers you to purposefully use and train your body the way you do in real life—bending, stretching, lifting, reaching, twisting—so you can move through your everyday motions with more ease, more agility, and more power. I have taught all types, from athletes, corporate executives, doctors, politicians, stay-at-home moms and kids. It has become increasingly popular in the last five years because it is physical and mental and, most of all, it is healing.”
Vinyasa Flow is especially popular with professional athletes and celebrities. Some professional sports teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles and Philadelphia Flyers, encourage the entire squad to practice yoga.
Leinbach said that a fair number of people who’ve signed up for classes at Serenity do so because they have been suffering from an injury and have been told by their doctor to try yoga. Others turn to yoga as a way to manage the stresses in their lives.
“There’s no outlet for a lot business people or moms who are always so busy,” Leinbach explained.
A majority of the classes at Serenity take place in a studio heated to between 85 and 90 degrees. Leinbach explained why heat is favored.
“Try bending glass and it will shatter. Add heat and you can mold it into any desired shape,” she explained. “The human body responds to heat in much the same way. Heat it and it becomes pliable.”
Muscular motion creates heat that softens your tissue and makes you malleable. In a heated yoga class, you’ll experience deeper levels of stretching, and torch calories. The heat also helps you sweat. Sweating is one of the most important mechanisms of natural healing, since it enables the body to release toxins, metabolic debris, and excess fluids. It also gives the liver and kidneys some much needed rest, because their usual burden of detoxifying and purifying the blood is lessened.
“The skin is the largest elimination organ of the human body, and the more you sweat, the more toxins you release,” Leinbach explained.
She added that if heat is not your thing, Serenity offers non-heated classes as well.
The whole system of yoga is built on three main structures: exercise, breathing, and meditation. The exercises of yoga are designed to put pressure on the glandular systems of the body, thereby increasing its efficiency and total health. The breath increases oxygen, improves lung functions and keeps you in the present moment. Meditation brings greater awareness about oneself.
Leinbach said that newcomers are welcome to drop by for a class any time. There are no sign-up fees and the classes are priced very reasonably. There are courses for beginners to the advanced student.
“It’s awesome in here because it’s a community,” she explained. “My goal in creating Serenity was to make it affordable to everyone. Our prices range from $50 per month with a new-student special to $90. If you are a member at Serenity you receive special discounts on clothing, and workshops. Classes are typically 60 to 90 minutes long, and Leinbach recommends that participants attend three classes per week to get the full benefits.
“It’s never the same session twice,” Leinbach explained. “One day we focus on strength. The next time, we’ll work on lengthening. It’s always different. The only thing that stays the same is linking the breathing to movement.”
An accomplished gymnast growing up, Leinbach’s mother introduced her to yoga and she immediately liked the activity.
“When I started yoga, I felt alive,” she said. “I love how the body moves and works.”
Leinbach still goes into schools in the area frequently. “I’ll go in and talk about the benefits of the breath and how it can be used to eliminate stress from test-taking, peer pressure and other everyday situations. Our children today are under a lot of stress, and giving them the tools now will benefit them for life.”
She has assembled a team of talented instructors to help her train the 250 students at Serenity. The staff includes Joy Holloway, Meghan Mahoney, Jenny Borgwardt, Sarah Whenchak, Caitlin Reilly, Stacy Kelly, Heather Patricco, and Rebecca Dawson. All are certified registered yoga instructors with the Yoga Alliance.
“I have top of the line instructors,” Leinbach explained. “Our instructors do not do the poses when they are leading a class because I want them to be involved with the students.”
Leinbach said that there are some misconceptions—that yoga is a religion because of some of the chanting that is involved, and that a person must be tremendously flexible in order to even give yoga a try. She emphasized what Yoga is not.
“Yoga is not a religion. People of many different faiths — Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews — as well as agnostics and atheists, practice yoga because of its numerous benefits and life-enrichment,” she explained. “You do not need to be flexible in order to do yoga. In fact, if you have tight muscles, yoga is just the right thing for you. Yoga is all about connecting with yourself. Yoga is the one place where you have no judgment.”
When Leinbach says that yoga is for everyone, she means it: You’re never too young or too old to enjoy its benefits. Plenty of the participants are old enough to be eligible for an AARP card, while the classes for children that Serenity offers are tremendously popular.
“We moo like cows and dance around in those classes,” Leinbach said with a laugh. “The kids can be themselves. It’s not calm at all. You have to connect on their level and allow them to be just what they are—kids.”
There have been several occasions when yoga has made a significant difference in the lives of some of Leinbach’s students.
Rosanna Gee is one of them. She was an avid cyclist who routinely went out for long training rides—up to 75 miles at a time—with friends. Then, one day, she was almost finished with a long ride when the front wheel of her bicycle hit a divot in the pavement. She landed hard on the blacktop.
“Within an instant of hitting the road,” Gee explained, “I realized that I was struggling to breathe. I kept saying to my riding buddy, ‘I can’t breathe.’ Immediately, I heard Alison’s voice coaching me to control the breath, breathe, feel the breath. I knew it would be up to me to stay calm and to control my breath until I could get the medical attention I needed. Panicking would only make things worse.”
With the assistance of several passersby, Gee made it to a nearby medical center where an X-ray revealed that she had a broken rib that punctured and collapsed her right lung. A chest tube was inserted to assist with the inflation of the lung, and during a four-day hospital stay Gee relied on her yoga training to control her breathing. She returned to the yoga studio just seven days after the accident, and credits what she learned there with helping her stay mentally calm.
Leinbach said that she was pleased that the yoga training helped one of her students during such a critical situation.
“There she was laying there injured and all she remembered under those conditions was yoga and how to breathe,” she explained.
Another student found yoga to be helpful after she was diagnosed with cancer. Once she completed her treatments she wrote an emotional letter to Leinbach telling her that yoga played an important role in getting her through it because it was yoga that gave her the necessary connection to her own body to work her way through the healing process.
For most people, it’s the fundamental physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of yoga that make the most difference in their lives.
One student, Aminah Finney, wrote of Leinbach, “Over the past year, I have appreciated the way you combine mindful breathing and posture into each class. I am so glad that I found this community. I only wish I could visit more than one day per week. As I continue on my eight-year yoga journey, each day I become more mindful and appreciative of what matters in life. Coming to your studio has become an important part of my journey.”