NEW PORT RICHEY
It's just a few minutes before 5 p.m. when folks start wandering into Peace Hall with mats in hand. There's one newcomer, another who hasn't been for a while. Most are regulars. Some are in the prime of youth, others are older — much. Then there are the in-between. Male and female. All are welcome. They find a spot under the simple chandeliers in the old, white wainscoted room; maybe catch a glimpse of the Pithlachascotee River or the open sky out the windows, before laying their mats down on the polished hardwood floor. Then it's time to get to the business of relaxing.
It starts with deep breaths and a gentle reminder to pay close attention to the rhythm of the breaths; to let go of the day's cares.
Then, Linda Blake, 51, guides her students through a series of beginning poses to build flexibility, strength and balance.
It's a very traditional class. None of that "hot yoga" or new-age stuff mixed with Pilates.
"If you look in the old yoga books," said Blake, "these are the positions you are going to see."
This is hatha yoga — the kind Blake first discovered some 34 years ago when she was a teenager looking for something to calm her frantic mind. It worked. And for 24 years now, Blake, who also works as a math resource teacher at Marlowe Elementary School, has been instructing others in the practice of yoga. The past two years she has taught beginning and intermediate classes in the natural light of Peace Hall, where students offer up a donation that helps pay her salary and also supports the Friends of the New Port Richey Library.
"It's a great room," Blake said. "In the winter we can watch the sunset as we practice our positions."
Blake starts anew at the beginning of each month, with a series of basic stretches and lunges. Mid month she steps it up. "Every exercise has a continuum," she said. "So we build upon them so that by the end of the month they can do some pretty challenging poses."
And maybe be ready to move on to the intermediate class.
You don't have to be a contortionist. Yoga is a practice based on precision that improves over time. "I don't want anyone practicing the wrong poses," she said. And so whether it's a tree or warrior pose or the sun salutation, Blake makes sure to offer continuous instruction that can be heard well over the calming music.
"Thumbs should be 3 inches apart."
"Make sure your feet are firmly planted on the floor."
"Be careful not to drop your shoulders."
"Curl your toes under."
"Enjoy the stretch."
There will be no lost souls in her class, no participants ruining their posture who are craning their necks to watch her or giving up because she's moving too fast.
"Be patient with yourselves."
"Don't push it too hard."
"This is not a competition."
"Only go as far as your body allows."
And it's always okay to hold on to a wall if you want to.
After about an hour and 10 minutes, they end where they started. Lying back on the floor, paying attention to their breathing.
"As always this has been just a wonderful way to spend some time with you all," Blake tells her students. "Thank you very much."
She leaves them with the traditional Sanskrit gesture (hands together and slightly bowing), namaste.