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'Every body is a yoga body'

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Several years ago, Deana Peek noticed that she wasn't experiencing injuries nearly as often as her fellow runners. 

"At the time, I was taking a yoga class, and I noticed that I wasn't having those issues. I'm not saying yoga prevents injuries, but it helps," said Peek, who became a licensed yoga instructor about 10 years ago and now teaches yoga clases at Memorial Park Natatorium.

On Thursday, Gov. Kay Ivey signed House Bill 246, which authorized local boards of education to offer yoga to K-12 students. Yoga has been prohibited in public schools since 1993.

In response, Hindu statesman Rajan Zed released a statement praising the decision and pointing out that although yoga was "introduced and nourished" by Hinduism, proselytizing is not the focus of Hinduism and most yoga practitioners are non-Hindus who stick to their respective faith traditions even after years of yoga practice.

Zed also cited a 2018 brief on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website that said yoga is the most commonly used complementary health approach among U.S. adults. More than 35 million adults practiced yoga in 2017, according to the National Health Interview Survey.

"There's always a stigma, especially in the South, around yoga as being a New Age religion or having Hindu roots, but that's not the Western yoga that I present," Peek said.

Peek's yoga classes align closely with the guidelines set down by the new state legislation, which limits instruction to poses, exercises and stretching techniques and specifically prohibits chanting. 

"It's more of a time to destress and relax, more of the physical aspect of yoga than the spiritual. There are no spiritual aspects to it unless you put your own into it during your own practice," she said.

Peek teaches yoga at the Natatorium on Mondays at 4 p.m. and Thursdays at 8 a.m. 

Starting in June, she will be hosting a sunset yoga class at Gamble Park on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. Peek is hopeful that the class will attract some of the individuals and families who come out for the Slow Spokes bike rides through Jasper.

The class is free and open to all ages, including children. Participants can bring their own towel or mat.

"Every body is a yoga body. I don't want anyone to ever think they're too old, too stiff too heavy or too weak to do yoga," Peek said.

Peek has yet to meet a person whom she believes would not get both physical and mental health benefits from yoga. She has instructed men, women, senior citizens and high school athletes. 

The hardest part for most is getting to the first class.

"They wonder why they didn't start earlier because yoga is not a competition with anyone else. When people are on their mat, that's their own private island. I tell people, 'None of our bodies are exactly the same, so our yoga is not going to look like each other's. That's why it's called a practice. We're all practicing," Peek said. 

Part of practicing yoga is learning to listen to one’s body. If someone comes to class and wants to spend the whole time in child’s pose, Peek encourages him or her to do so if that’s what the body needs that day.

Peek’s favorite part of teaching yoga is showing students how to be still and be present in the moment. Before the pandemic, Peek went to a Kiwanis Club of Jasper meeting and led the group in a breathing exercise. 

“I was so thrilled at how they did. They were really into it. I heard a copule of them say, ‘I’m going to have to remember how to do this.’ Anybody can do yoga. All you need is the ability to breathe. If you have breath and a body, you can do beautiful yoga with those two things, she said.