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An Interview with Matt Batton

Come to The Center on any given day and you’ll probably meet Matt. An extremely kind and dedicated student, find out how his journey started and has blossomed into something incredible.

Photo Credit: Brian Ripley Photography

M: It was a few things; I had stopped smoking after 30 years, [and I realized that] I’m in my middle years, I [needed] to do something to take better care of myself.

TC: Was your first yoga class here [at The Center]?
M: Sometime ago I had taken a short series that was offered at [a community college]. I did that for a couple of years before I came here, and from that [previous experience] I actually practiced at home for a while. I discovered, though, after being here that I wasn’t necessarily doing a lot of things correctly, as far as alignment [was concerned] so coming here was an eye opener. It was almost like my first class.

TC: In those early times, if it seemed a bit bizarre, why stick with it?

M: The reason that I wanted to do [yoga] was I felt like it would be something that would be accessible for me. I don’t see myself going to a gym or doing anything like that. I’m not into sports so as far as something physical I can do. I started to say, “the easiest” but… (laughs) I guess maybe I thought it was going to be easy but….

TC:. How did that shift happen for you, going to taking a yoga class at [a community college] to becoming a regular student here?

M: It started with an at home practice and then I had this minor procedure done on my shoulder, it was just superficial but I couldn’t really do a lot of stretching and that was my excuse to get lazy and forget about it. And then just a couple years later…. The Center was offering one of its free weeks and I [thought] , “Ok, I’ll go check it out!” And then I decided to register for once a week, and I went once a week for a while, and then I went twice a week for a while, and now I come every chance I get.

TC: You typically take yoga classes, have you ever taken a pilates class or a nia class here?

M: I did one pilates class and… I don’t think I was doing it right (laughs). Now that I’ve done more yoga I would be curious to try one to see what I would get it out of it now.

TC: There’s a lot of yoga in Harrisonburg, why [practice] here?

M: I live right downtown and The Center [is an] easy walk for me, but what I like about The Center is the variety of instruction, the different instructors and the different types of classes that are offered here… I see more of a range in age here than some of the other places I’ve been in town.

TC: There’s a pretty wide variety here, which is pretty cool.

M: I mean at first I felt sort of the old fart in the Power Yoga class, but I’m over that now. (laughs)

TC: (laughs) Good! How has your yoga practice influenced your life? I mean, there [must be] a reason you went from coming once a week to 4 times a week. 

M: I feel much better. I feel better now than I did ten years ago; and I look better! I’m learning, it’s the whole “process” thing; it’s putting me [in] the process of just being calmer. I tend towards [being] high strung, that’s my nature… and yoga is helping just to pull back, respond not react. That’s a tough one for me. Action and re-action, phew! That is hard for me. One thing that comes up [in yoga] is to try easy, don’t try hard. I’m trying to latch on to that. I’m a perfectionist and [I’m] trying to [work with that] too.  

TC: Do you see this translating wider? How is this working in your life? Do you feel yoga has influenced the way you interact with others and others interact with you?  

M: I’m probably more open [because of yoga]…. It’s hard to put into words…  

TC: We’re curious as to why [The Center is so important to you].  

M: It just feels good to be here. and what I [learn] here I can take out of here [into my life] as well. I definitely get in touch with that unknown “whatever it is here… Whatever it is, it’s working and it seems to be working for a lot of people.
TC: Anything else you’d like to add?

M: I feel at home here. I have been to [other places] in town where the practice was fine the teacher was fine…. I just… It’s that indefinable thing… I feel at home here. The teachers and the community of students just go [together]. I can’t overstate that aspect of it.

An Interview with Becca Howes-Mischel

Off her mat, Becca is an Anthropology professor at JMU and a world traveler. On her mat, she’s an avid and dedicated yogi. Read on to hear how her relationship with yoga has blossomed over the years.

The Center: So how long have you been practicing at The Center in one of it’s various [incarnations]?

Becca: Since I moved here a year and a half ago, so August of 2012

TC: How long have you been practicing yoga?

Becca: I think I started taking classes in the fall of 2006 and then I dabbled for awhile and then started a serious practice when I got back from Mexico in 2010.

TC: Cool, you moved from New York, correct?

Becca: Yes.

TC: How do you think Harrisonburg compares, yoga-wise?

Becca: What brings me back to The Center all the time is that it’s a welcoming practice that’s about where [you are] now. I loved a lot of my New York practice [but] yoga in New York was often anxiety producing for me.

TC: How so?

Becca: I practiced in a studio in Soho, which was awesome because they had amazing student discounts and I could practice many, many times a week… but it was often [that] I didn’t know any of the teachers. Pros….  I took a class with Elena Brower in the marble atrium of the Brooklyn Museum with live cello playing and it was amazing, [but] there were also a hundred people and it was a little bit of, “show me” yoga…. I really like The Center for giving me challenging and enriching yoga but also being at the human level.

TC: What started your relationship with yoga? Why yoga?

Becca: I used to be an athlete; I was an awesome, and injured, athlete so I have an ambivalent relationship to pain and coaching. I like being active and I danced for a while but that [didn’t suit] me. Dabbled in Pilates, dabbled in spinning, and I have a friend who is a professor of religion at Smith College who has spent large parts of his time in Benares and is just an amazing human being. He told me, “you should do yoga” and I was like, “ I’m not going to do yoga. I like to be challenged, I need cardio, I’m stretchy anyways, and this isn’t for me.” Then, I got hit by a car and could no longer take my body for granted. [I had] rehab on my back [and] sort of lost whatever sort of core strength [I had]…and so I was like, “maybe I’ll try yoga” as a way of trying to get my back to stop hurting me all the time and maybe get a little bit of centering…. And I was like “wow, this is amazing and does amazing things in my life.”

TC: So what classes do you typically take at The Center?

Becca: I take [power yoga], I take Suzanne’s classes when I can, and I loved [the] core-centered class when I could make it. And I take Veronica’s classes.

TC: So more towards to flowy-esque side of things?

Becca: Yes, but I like the alignment focus…. I’m a nerd about those things

TC: How has [yoga] influenced things off the [mat]?

Becca: Oh God, it makes my life better, it makes my teaching better. My TA asked me, “how are you always so calm? I’ve never seen you flustered.” And I was like, “it’s because I do a lot of yoga and, also, I’m flustered far away from you”…. It quiets the manic monkeys a bit… I feel like it makes me a better person. Loving-kindness [and] mindfulness I find is like therapy.

TC: Do you practice at other studios in town?

Becca: No I haven’t, I keep meaning to but [The Center] is so close and I love all of the classes I go to… I cheat on [The Center] when I leave town [though] (laughs).

TC: We hope that you do! So what is it that has kept that consistency going? Why us?

Becca: I took a job at JMU… and then I moved and was a giant twisted up stress ball. The Center was four blocks away from my house, so when I saw that there was a class there one afternoon… I went and everyone was so nice and talked to me… The class was good and, you know, it’s the combination of the fact that I can walk and that it feels like it’s a part of my community… I think it’s that sort of openness that [says] “we’ll be where you are, and that’s ok.’ And that’s somewhat of a thread that I see across the classes that I’ve taken, to just “do you” and that’s supported. The Center gives off the feeling of “Be the Best You”.

TC: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Becca: No, I’m really glad that you guys do this. It seems like people at The Center are [really] committed at doing something together whether or not that’s articulated. It’s really appreciated.

An Interview with Debbie Phillips

The Center: You’re in an interesting position because you work here.

Debbie: And I’ve also been with Suzanne since the very beginning.

TC: Right, about seven years?

D: See I’ve known her since they moved here and I knew her pre-Pilates studio… I think 11 years ago she got her Pilates [certification] and I thought, “Great!”. It doesn’t take long to know how smart she is, how dedicated she is, and what a great teacher she is.

TC: So you’ve been practicing from the very beginning?

D: Yes. But I was forty-five-ish, so it’s interesting that that was my beginning

TC: And was that your first experience with yoga and Pilates was with Suzanne?

D: Yep.

TC: Cool!

D: Up until that point, physically things were ok, [but] as with most people you get into your forties and the natural effects of your aging machine start to happen. When she started bringing yoga into it and doing yoga teacher training I was very disappointed, I was like “oh no, oh no!” because I was loving pilates and it was great. [But my] life is full of those experiences where initially I say “Ugh” but if [eventually] I say “Ok” [the surprises are lovely]. What I didn’t realize that I needed and craved was the benefits of yoga aside from the physical.

TC: Could you give a few examples?

D: Well yeah! The ability to calm myself, the tools that I have to handle anxiety, stress, depression, insomnia. You know, those things. I didn’t realize too that these difference aspects of me needed knitting together. The physical, the spiritual, the psychological, and the for lack of a better word, my breath. That part of me. Those things needed knitting together.

TC: And you’ve found that? I mean I can tell (laughs)

D: Well I found it. When one [of those things] is not in sync with the others, feeling how those aspects of me kind of start to come loose and unravel.

TC: Have you practiced at any of the other studios in Harrisonburg?

D: No.

TC: And…. why might that be? (laughs)

D: I’m in here so much because I find exactly what I feel like I need here. I’m not averse to going other places, and I have experienced other instructors outside of this studio and the experiences have been wonderful but I feel that this is my church. This is my congregation, and there always seems to be something either today or on the horizon that suits me.

TC: [The words] I’ve heard most from people [is that they] come here because they don’t need to go anywhere else. There’s just not a need, and it’s not that there’s not other options, people just feel at home here

D: All of the instructors that I are encounter are basically on the same page, which is a “community building” page. There’s humor and there’s intimacy and a welcoming vibe that I don’t think you find everyplace else. And I do thinks it’s something that [the instructors] all have in common. You want to know people and they know you want to know them and that works. Feeling comfortable and trusting.

TC: So what classes do you typically take here? Are you doing a mix of yoga and Pilates?

D: Yes, way more yoga now, very little Pilates. And I had been progressing as far as getting more into some level 3 classes and more difficult poses and then I had a shoulder injury and it took me back to [yoga 1 and gentle yoga], which was a real gift, and that’s f where I’ve been for the past couple months. My hope is to feel powerful enough in my chatarungas soon to incorporate power yoga into my practice.

TC: So you spoke a little bit about what your practice has done for your life, knitting everything together, is there anything else you’d like to add to that?

D: Everything is better. I’ve completely found my groove, Debbie found her groove in The Center…. My relationships, everything that I enjoy is better. Things that I don’t enjoy are more tolerable.

TC: Hey you know, sign me up!

D: To be able to say that at this point in life is a pretty amazing thing. I wish I had stronger or bigger words to convey the importance of being able to say something like that at this point in life. And it’s not that my life has been without the pain and sorrow and all of the things that are part of everybody’s life sooner or later. But I feel so great and I have such great tools for being in my groove, being present in everyway.

TC: So let’s play a game; imagine tomorrow The Center closed down. What would be missing in your life and in this community?

D: Can you imagine how many sad people there would be? I mean I have an idea maybe more than anybody else because I see the every person that comes through here in an electronic way. We’d be losing a church – a place where people come to be a community and heal together and find God together. Absolutely…

TC: About how many people would you say, form the core community of the Center? This is estimation, by the way.

D: Oh, I’m not very good at this kind of thing.

TC: That’s ok, you can just spitball or say a number and we can pretend that it’s true (laughs).

D: I mean, ok, let’s say two or three dozen from the ardent to the truly serious. I’ll give it that, with many more who are…. let’s say 3 or 4-dozen.

TC: There are a lot of people who flow through here, and I think that’s only going to go up. Is there anything else that you’d like to add for posterity?

D: Let’s talk about the great benefits to one’s sex life! Of yoga and Pilates and nia….

*Interview mysteriously ends*





An Interview with Bruce Wallinger

January 2014

How did a busy trial lawyer find a new way of life through yoga? Read an interview with long-time yogi and student of The Center, Bruce Wallinger. Does this resonate with you?

Taylor: How long have you been practicing at The Center?

Bruce: Since it started… Part of the fun of it for my wife and me was (that) I think Suzanne was just starting to teach at that point and watching her progress has really been awesome.

Taylor: That’s really cool, what kind of classes do you typically take here?

Bruce: I’ve been doing Yoga I and II primarily, and the flow series. [Primarily with Suzanne, Devon, and Veronica].

Taylor: Do you practice at any other studios in Harrisonburg?

Bruce: No I don’t. I started practicing yoga about 15 years ago and at that time I was riding the road bike more than 1,000 miles a year and doing a century ride every year. And what attracted me to yoga was the stretching exercise to counter the fixed position on a bicycle. The combination of that and, [at the time] I was a trial lawyer so there’s a lot of stress, [and] a lot of sitting at a computer and all of those things together caused a lot of shoulder stiffness. So I was just looking for a way to stretch things out and to have a better rounded exercise routine.

Taylor: So it was your other hobbies that pulled you into yoga?

Bruce: Yeah; and it’s gone from an exercise to a way of life. The deeper you get into it the more you get out of it.

Taylor: Totally. I guess the big question is, “Why The Center?”

Bruce: Well in all fairness, I haven’t been to the other [studios] so I can’t compare them… When I first become interested in yoga I got some VHS tapes, I think one of them was Ganga White, and Tracy Rich and followed them on TV. [At that time] there wasn’t much that I was aware of being offered in Harrisonburg in the way of yoga… From the very beginning, Suzanne’s classes were, to me, more focused. They were more like the experiences that I had enjoyed going to yoga retreats and I was really surprised to find that quality of instruction in Harrisonburg, so that’s the #1 reason. The #2 [reason]… is that there are a lot of people that come here that have been coming for years… but there is a feeling of community of coming back and practicing with the same people. Keeps you motivated.

Taylor: Yeah, because they’ll check up on you, you know.

Bruce: Right, “where’ve you been?” (laughs).

Taylor: What place does yoga have in your life, or how has it influenced your life? And what place does The Center have in your life?

Bruce: Yoga has become an integral part of my life; not just something that I do a couple times a week at a yoga class. Hardly an hour goes by that I don’t think of yoga in some fashion. Whether I’m just checking in and thinking about, “am I breathing? Am I relaxed?” The first thing I do after I take a shower in the morning [are] some forward folds because it just feels good. I’m not disciplined enough that I can claim to say that I put in some mat time everyday; [but] I practice yoga in some form several times every day… The reason I come to The Center is because it adds the motivation that I have a hard time generating by myself. The group participation in a class, I think, takes your mind off of how tired you are or whether you really feel like doing yoga today and I think you tend to keep up a pace for a longer period than most people probably are able to do at home; it takes some encouragement. It’s kind of a way to recharge my battery once a week…

Taylor: Is there anything else you’d like to say? You’ve been practicing for a long time, and there’s a lot of insight that comes with that.

Bruce: Again, I can’t compare the classes here to others because I haven’t had any reason to go anywhere else. I found what I was looking for here. But I like the fact that the classes here are not confined just to doing exercises or doing asana… the class begins and ends with some thoughtful time, some centering… I would recommend yoga to anyone and for any number of reasons. I feel like it has changed the way I think about life. I notice things that I didn’t used to notice. I’m more focused; I more focused on my work, I’m more focused on my relaxation time. It’s just an increased awareness that’s hard to describe.

I don’t think that there’s any question that I’m healthier. I used to have chronic sinus infections every spring and every fall; I pretty much planned on going to the doctor and getting an antibiotic… The practice of conscious breathing exercises and yoga and some of the Ayurvedic cleansing practices have gotten me to a point where its been years since I’ve had a sinus infection… There’s no question that I’m more flexible; and I’m talking [physically], I think I’m more flexible in other ways as well, but I feel like I’ve got more energy and more focus than I had even when I was younger. I attribute it more to yoga than anything else.

An Interview with Ed Dingman

August, 2011

After a few celebrations of my 39th birthday, I was spiraling into sedentary, and I could feel old-fartdom lurking. My shoulders and hips ached. My middle was expanding. I couldn’t touch my toes and I was beginning to worry that I would soon lose sight of them. Being past the need for any type A form of exercise, I was looking for something to keep me supple and strong.

In September of 2009 my wife’s job brought me to Harrsionburg. Serendipity brought me to Anusara Yoga at The Center. Soon after starting yoga, my shoulder and hip pain disappeared. Although not a Gumby doll by any st-r-e-t-ch of the imagination, I can now stretch in places where I didn’t even know I had places!

Much to my delight, I feel muscle mass building up and fat mass fading away. Even better, I have found Anusara to be self-regulating, so on those high energy days I can make my practice as extreme as I like. Anusara’s emphasis on alignment and the non-competitive, yet rigorous attitude of fulfilling ones own potential is my cup of (Chai?) tea.

While I have benefited greatly from the stretching and asanas of yoga, I also enjoy the idea of community (kula), the nurturing atmosphere, and the spiritual seeking that Suzanne brings to her classes at The Center. I love Suzanne’s non-provincial and generous attitude; she embraces different schools of thought and welcomes other accomplished practitioners to the studio.

Between my struggles to develop a daily yoga practice, I do photography, ballroom dancing, and keep my wife’s computer going. Oh yeah, and I’m retired