Art museums make for inspired yogic spaces

Ben Spellman — Photo courtesy of the Des Moines Art Center

Throughout Iowa, both beginner and experienced yogis find that classes held in an art museum offer a unique way to generate community and promote engagement with others.

Yoga in the Gallery

Grinnell College’s Faulconer Gallery

Grinnell College offers a free 30-minute yoga practice including warming and invigorating poses as well as a final period of relaxation. Classes are held twice weekly during the school year and once weekly in the summer. Students, faculty, staff and community members all participate. Monica St. Angelo, owner of Locally Grown Yoga in Grinnell, has led the classes for seven years and is the program’s second instructor.

For St. Angelo, connecting with new students in a non-traditional environment has been a chance to become a more creative teacher. “I can and have had attendees ranging from dancer/gymnast college women to folks in wheelchairs in the same class,” she says. “It constantly challenges me to examine the ruts and habits in my own practice and teaching. I can’t be too married to specific expectations for the practice. Instead, I’m reminded that observing art and practicing yoga are shared experiences from which we all take away different meanings.”

Artful Yoga

Iowa State University’s Christian Petersen Art Museum

The Christian Petersen Art Museum in Ames offers a free monthly yoga practice sponsored by University Museums and Recreation Services. There are roughly 20 to 30 people in each class. Participants include beginners as well as experienced yogis seeking new ways to expand their practice.

Artful Yoga sessions begin with a short discussion about something in the exhibition. “As the educator, I connect the work of art to the practice of yoga,” says Nancy Gebhart, educator of visual literacy and learning. “It is not that the artwork has specific connections to yoga, but we connect the two through our emotions, our environments, our mind and sometimes through the formal elements of art, specifically color and line.”

Yoga + Gallery Dialogue

Des Moines Art Center

The Des Moines Art Center has offered free public yoga classes for four years, with this being the second full year of monthly yoga classes held in the lobby. Reservations are capped at 50 participants per class. After an hour of yoga led by Ben Spellman of Good Vibes Yoga, participants are treated to a 30-minute tour of exhibits by Jill Featherstone, the museum’s director of education. “What I love the most about our yoga classes is the chance to do something physical in a space typically met for cognitive and creative development,” Featherstone says.

The content of the tour varies according to the type of art currently on display in the museum, but Featherstone often looks for ways to encourage participants to creatively think about what they’re seeing. “On one tour, I took a cue from the meaning of namaste — the light in me honors the light in you,” she says. “As we went through the exhibit, we looked at how different artists used light to convey emotion and meaning.”

This article was originally published in YogaIowa’s Summer 2017 issue.


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