Yoga on and off the mat with Mel Thomas

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Mel Thomas [Photo: Victoria Morgan]

Never too frigid to be on the Town, this weekend at Manhattan Square Park I fulfilled a plan to revisit my childhood pastime of ice skating. Sparkling memories of brilliant winter afternoons whizzing about a frozen pond in Brighton, often including makeshift hockey games. Alas, as Lac de Ville and Loehmann’s Plaza encroached upon the pond, the boys of winter have long ago disappeared.

Skills eroded decades later, struggling round and round the rink, I found myself in a crumpled heap on the unforgiving ice much more often than I reminisced from days gone by. Each time straightening up to try once again, I couldn’t help noticing a fellow skater glide by me with effortless ease and grace seemingly beyond my reach.

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Mel to the rescue. Amazingly, not one drop of coffee was spilled. Manhattan Square Park, 2/13/16 [Photo: Veronica Morgan of Sterling Photography] Scarf crocheted by my Aunt Janet just for the occasion.

Recovering in the shelter dejectedly unlacing my skates, I observed the earlier woman seated next to me with an infectious smile and confident aplomb. Engaging in casual conversation, I learned she was a yoga instructor named Mel Thomas who is about to open a yoga and wellness studio in the Park Avenue neighborhood. Always curious about yoga, I wondered if actually practicing it might produce more of the balance and agility my present ice escapades painfully revealed were woefully lacking.

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Channeling my inner yang or is it my outer yin? Yoga works! [Photo: Veronica Morgan of Sterling Photography] 2/13/16

So I arranged to meet Mel at H.O.W. Yoga and Wellness Studio. Asking a local yoga instructor friend with years of experience if he knew of this Ms. Thomas, I was heartened by his glowing recommendation. Mel is a highly intuitive and talented yogi who received her training and internship at the highly respected and oldest-running yoga school in this area, Open Sky Yoga Center, under the mentorship of Francois Raoult.

Anticipation mounting, I ran out to purchase all the yoga gear and accompanying props I could think of, from BPA free water bottle to eco-friendly yoga mat!  Prepared, I walked into Mel’s studio space housed in the historic Immanuel Baptist Church on the corner of Park Avenue and Brunswick Street.  The church, interestingly, is also the home to White Lotus Buddhist Center.

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Veronica taking photos at the studio

Even though my new lycra yoga pants were already pulling at me in a variety of awkward ways, I felt a warm and welcoming presence at once.  Rolling out my mat on the red oak floor as though it were a magic carpet about to take me for a mindful ride.  I obediently followed Mel’s ever-present guidance and instruction even as my body clumsily moved around in ways unfamiliar and a bit strange.  However, I felt more alert and refreshed by the session’s end. Not frustrated or discouraged, I was motivated and inspired.  Yes, even to a novice such as myself, Mel’s talents as a compassionate guide and informed instructor were quite apparent.

After the session, we went to The Red Fern—a healthy Café (of course)—featuring vegan and gluten-free recipes.  We talked about the importance of taking yoga “off the mat.”

As Mel said:

Yoga has a lot more to do with compassion and community spirit than with strong abs or ripped biceps.  The physical practice of yoga is how we begin to allow the mind to quiet long enough to realize a more connected spiritual awareness.

Mel detailed her hopes to bring yoga to those who wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to the practice such as, urban youth, addicts and those incarcerated in jails and prisons.  She explained:

I’m a recovering alcoholic and PTSD survivor and I’ve benefitted immensely from the physical practice of yoga that, in turn, accommodates spiritual growth. I strongly believe that it’s not only my passion but, my duty, to assist others in discovering their own strengths and right direction for their lives. I know if I’d been introduced to yoga as an inner city teen plagued with so many seemingly insurmountable obstacles, my life would’ve been a lot different.  At the same time, if I hadn’t gone through some of the challenges I’ve experienced, I probably wouldn’t feel called to help others go through theirs.

And to further her mission, Mel recently completed a grant application to bring yoga into local incarceration facilities.

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Veronica Morgan of Sterling Photography

I went to see Mel at H.O.W. Yoga and Wellness Studio to improve my athleticism and got the added bonus of an inspired sense of altruism.  Mel says that her calling is to enrich our community through the practice of yoga. My hope is that our community answers that calling with open arms.  Namaste 

(Actually, the day was so energizing we continued at Luna Gallery in the Anderson Arts Building)

The wonderful photos are from chief photographer and portraiture specialist Veronica Morgan of Sterling Photography

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