Is Yoga for Everyone? Ask the Expert.

yogi performing headstand on beachI’m always recommending yoga or some type of movement to complement your massage care. But we’ve all seen the photos of the super bendy yogis. That’s pretty intimidating!  One of the reasons I love yoga is that anyone can practice it. Anyone, really. I interviewed one of my favorite yoga instructors, Rachel Bass-Guennewig, to tell us a bit about yoga. She teaches a variety of classes, including gentle yoga and a chair-based yoga class. Plus she’s just an awesome person to be around.

What is the most common reason folks come to your yoga classes?

I think the most common reason people come to Daily Bread Yoga classes is because someone they trust invited them. Many come with little to no experience with yoga and are intimidated by the whole idea. I think they keep coming back because it feels like an accepting, fun, and friendly environment to learn more and practice yoga. We meet in church buildings, people know each other in class, and while I take the practice of yoga really seriously, I don’t take myself too seriously. Each class forms into a little community that is welcoming as people come and go. For better or worse, it’s hard to be anonymous in my class.

Is there a common misconception about yoga that you would like to clear up?

There are so many misconceptions about yoga; where to begin?! One misconception for sure is that it is “just stretching”, so you need to be flexible. While your muscles will definitely be stretched, they will also be strengthened, turned, and allowed to rest. There is so much happening in the body during a yoga class because your body is an amazingly dynamic machine. So, building strength in your back might allow you to stretch and open up across your chest. And then you might find that you breathe better. And then you just feel better. And then you sleep better. And then you digest food better. And because you feel better you make a few better choices about what you eat. There is so much more happening than we know in yoga, even if you think it is “just stretching”.

What are the benefits of yoga for someone in cancer treatment?

There is lots of research and special articles about yoga and people with cancer. I can tell you my thoughts based on the people who have done yoga with me while they are going through cancer treatment, recovering, and sadly right even until the time of their death. A gentler yoga, maybe practiced with a chair, provides some meaningful physical activity to do with your body that isn’t very strenuous or full of big expectations of accomplishing something. Yoga isn’t about “fixing” what’s wrong with you, but being present in the wholeness of your body, even in the midst of cancer. I think it provides a little break, mentally and physically from trying so hard to fight against what is happening inside your body. In every class we start with gratitude for being able to show up at all for class, despite frustrations with your body, anxiety, grief, or loneliness. It takes some serious determination to show up at a yoga class, especially when you are going through or recovering from cancer.

How long have to been in practice here in Champaign, IL?

I have been teaching yoga in Champaign-Urbana since about 2007. Back then I taught at the Living Yoga Center (during the Deb Lister era) and at the Lutheran Campus ministry where I worked on the U of I campus. I lived in Seattle and taught yoga, 2009-2012. I have been leading Saturday Morning Retreats and weekly classes through Daily Bread Yoga since moving back to Champaign-Urbana in 2012. I also teach a class at the Stephens Family YMCA and have two private yoga students. I have been and continue to train in Adaptive Yoga with Mind Body Solutions in Minnesota, working with people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. This fall I will offer two classes at the Disability Resources & Educational Services at the University of Illinois. One class will be for people with physical disabilities, limiting their ability to stand and walk. The other class will be for people with a wide range of other disabilities such as PTSD, Autism, or anxiety disorders. I am so excited to be part of expanding the yoga community in Champaign-Urbana!

What do you love about the community here?

What I love about the Champaign-Urbana community is the incredible concentration of interesting people and places without ever having to get on the highway or pay in large bills for parking.

What’s your favorite local lunch place?

One of my favorite places for lunch is at Common Ground Food Co-Op. I love that roasted squash sandwich. Yum. Yum. And the pizza. yum.

About Rachel

Rachel Bass-Guennewig, Yoga InstructorRachel Bass-Guennewig leads weekly classes and Saturday morning retreats through Daily Bread Yoga, at 6 different church locations (Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Methodist, Disciples of Christ). While Rachel’s background as a Lutheran pastor definitely informs and gives shape to her yoga practice and teaching, she is not a “Christian Yoga” instructor. She welcomes and celebrates having a diverse community of people practicing yoga together. Rachel completed her 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training in Indianapolis with Nikki Meyers, an innovative yoga instructor who has created Y12SR – Yoga 12 Step Recovery; a yoga practice supporting people in addiction recovery. Rachel has also trained with James Fox of Prison Yoga Project, and Off The Mat-Into The World’s Leadership Training of Yoga for Social Change. Most recently Rachel completed Advanced Studies with Mind Body Solutions, in Minnesota, a world renowned center for Adaptive Yoga, founded by Matthew Sanford, an incredible yoga instructor and practitioner who is paralyzed from the chest down. You can learn more about Rachel and Daily Bread Yoga on her blog, Daily Bread Yoga.