After two difficult pregnancies, Sheila Magalhaes, owner of Heartsong Yoga, turned to yoga - a mind and body practice with a 5,000-year history that encourages you to relax, slow your breath, and focus on the present - to return her body to harmony and balance.
“Both of my children were preemies. When my second child, Libby, was born in 1990 she was 11 weeks early and spent three months in the hospital.
When she finally came home, Nicholas was two-and-a-half years old and I found myself stressed and anxious from the inevitable challenges of being a new mother, health concerns, the classic challenge of balancing work and home life, and caring for others while neglecting to care for myself,” said Magalhaes.
Fortunately, today both are healthy, thriving adults, noted Magalhaes, adding that a friend suggested yoga to her back then to help deal with the challenges she was facing.
“I had tried yoga before and didn’t like it. It seemed too hard. But my friend suggested the Kripalu style of yoga, known as the Yoga of Compassion, which she said would help to calm my nervous system, quiet my mind, reduce my anxiety and worry, and just make me feel better. And, immediately from the first class, it did,” said Magalhaes.
“I found it to be for me a restful, accessible form of yoga. Even more importantly, yoga helped me to recognize and savor the goodness in my life, learning to do my best and to find gratitude,” she added.
Magalhaes, now beginning to feel more ease in her life once again, continued to practice weekly and began to “love it so much” that she wanted to share yoga with others who could benefit from it.
“People travel all over the world to study Kripalu Yoga, yet here I was lucky enough to have a school practically in my own backyard in the Berkshires, where I could learn and become certified to teach this style of yoga to others. So, in 1993, I was accepted to the Kripalu School of Yoga & Health in Lenox, MA, and lived and studied there for a month. My husband Tony and children came up to visit with me every Sunday. He was very supportive, but other people thought I was crazy. You have to remember that yoga wasn’t as mainstream back then and people didn’t understand or know much about it…..how wonderful it is,” she said.
After becoming certified, Magalhaes made what she called “another bold move” and months later opened her own small studio in East Longmeadow.
“It was a bold move because back then beginning a small business for a relatively unknown practice at the time was risky. The question was whether people would embrace yoga enough to support my studio,” she said.
They did. So much so that Magalhaes and her husband eventually moved into, and now own, a much larger space that accommodates two practice rooms, has plenty of parking, and is walking distance from their home.
“My husband was right by my side cheering me on as we broke down walls and constructed a beautiful, spacious, welcoming new studio to accommodate our growing student base,” she said.
“I told my mom she was going to need to get certified to help me teach at the studio. My mom, Beth Wadden, was a special education teacher at the time and spent a month in the summer of 1995 at the Kripalu Center just as I had done. Now newly retired, she is 80 years young and still teaching alongside me,” Magalhaes added.
And, to make it truly a family affair, Tony also spent a month training at Kripalu in 1999.
Today, Magalhaes offers Kripalu Yoga and Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga classes for beginners to more advanced students. Ashtanga Yoga is a hot, vigorous, flowing practice for those looking for a more physically challenging pace. Ashtanga combines breath and movement in a specific sequence to create an intense internal heat and purifying sweat, and the result is improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm and quiet mind, or as she is fond of saying, “something for ‘every-body’” Everything was going along smoothly, then earlier this year COVID-19 hit.
“At first I thought that we would need to stay open to support people in what was going to become a stressful and panicky time for all. I soon realized that wasn’t going to be an easy proposition to do, so on March 11 I decided to close, then four days later Governor Charlie Baker closed the state down anyway,” Magalhaes said.
Not wanting to leave her students behind during these troubling times, Magalhaes searched for a quick and relatively easy answer. In a matter of days, she created their free Heartsong Yoga YouTube Channel, uploading classes for students to access while sheltering at home. Taking it to the next step when realizing that COVID-19 was here to stay for a while, she developed a way to deliver classes to students with a Zoom livestream format, slowly bringing their teachers back to teach from their own homes.
“When Governor Baker determined that fitness centers like ours could re-open on July 6, I wasn’t ready to open the doors until we could do it right and provide a safe environment for everyone. However, I was determined to not let the virus beat us. If there is one thing that yoga teaches you it is that it may not always be easy, but you can get to the other side of things,” Magalhaes said.
Along with her husband, Magalhaes put together a hybrid plan that would combine Zoom classes with live in-studio students, albeit only seven of them along with the teacher since guidelines only allowed eight people in the studio.
“With the fall season now upon us and the new challenges that families are facing for back-to-school and those returning to the office, Heartsong Yoga is poised to be of support to help folks self-regulate in times of stress and anxiety, while keeping the body fit and healthy and the immune system strong,” Magalhaes said.
Magalhaes has a message for those who think they are not fit for yoga.
“If you can breathe, then you can do yoga. If for some physical reason you cannot sit on the floor and cross your legs, then we will pull up a chair for you. The benefits of yoga are too good to let anything get in your way,” Magalhaes said.
Yoga can help those who suffer anxiety, depression, trauma, or insomnia. It helps with strength, flexibility and balance for people of all ages. It is good for pain reduction, heart rate and blood pressure. And for chronic diseases, these practices may not cure them, but they can help you cope. Of special note, every research study reports stress reduction from these practices.
To learn more about enrolling in Zoom classes or becoming part of a small, live socially-distanced class,Ncall 413-525-0720 or visit heartsongyoga.com
Heartsong Yoga is located at 264 North Main St. in East Longmeadow
413-525-0720 or visit heartsongyoga.com