Tucked into the corner of the Woodland Business Center in Vineyard Haven, between the bakeries and offices in this off-the-beaten-path part of town, is an office door. On a recent Monday, just shy of 9 a.m., workers passed right by it in their beeline pursuit of morning coffee. Not one paused to look in.
Had they done so, an empty hallway is all they would have seen.
But, down the hallway, behind a sliding glass door, pumped the thump, thump, thump of a steady bass. And, behind that door, nearly 20 yoga students warmed up on mats so crammed together their edges almost kissed. At the front of the room stood yoga instructor Sherry Sidoti. As one last student scurried in, Mrs. Sidoti laughed, and threw up her hands. “Well,” she said, “I guess it’s time for a bigger classroom.”
Mrs. Sidoti has spent the past two decades practicing yoga and has been teaching for the past five years. Yoga was never part of her life plan — “I’m not naturally of that state,” she has said, “I’m more of a doer.” But now, her classes have become a game of sardines as she struggles to squeeze all of her students into one classroom. To begin class, Mrs. Sidoti, who talks the talk and walks the walk of a born and raised New Yorker, cranks up the heat until her students sweat and plays from her iPod everything from Marvin Gaye to Hindu chants. Her students have become addicted to her inspirational pep talks — Zen without being wishy-washy — and her style of instruction, a style somewhere between that of a sage and a drill sergeant.
Mrs. Sidoti embraced yoga the way she has embraced many things in her life. She was not looking for it, but when it found her she welcomed it with open arms. A self-described mover and a shaker who thrives on activity both physical and mental, Mrs. Sidoti took her first yoga class nearly 20 years ago, but found it a little too slow. Yet something, perhaps the challenge to quiet her active mind and let herself relax into an inner calm, made her keep at it. She practiced sporadically at first and then, after moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in museum education, more regularly. “If you let yourself experience yoga, you can’t deny the draw,” she said. “You have to be ready for it to pull you through, though.”
It was not until she became pregnant six years ago that Mrs. Sidoti, runner and walker and constant thinker, finally let yoga take hold. For help preparing for motherhood, she turned to a woman named Rocky who taught a prenatal yoga class out of her Los Angeles home. “Fortunately, pregnancy is a time when women let themselves be intuitive about their bodies,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for women to really indulge in our bodies and in ourselves.”
After giving birth, Mrs. Sidoti continued her practice, finding time to take a class at least once a week during her maternity leave. “It’s a really interesting time after you have a baby. Especially if you’re at home with the baby,” she said. The inner calm and self-reflection she practiced helped her to cherish the little moments she shared with her son and to trust herself to transition gracefully into motherhood. When her maternity leave ended, Mrs. Sidoti dutifully dug out her briefcase and returned to work, but, after only three hours in the office, she gave her two weeks’ notice. “I knew I needed time to explore motherhood,” she explained. “I knew it was going to take awhile to adjust to that lifestyle.” Turned out, it would take more than just time.
Soon after leaving the nine-to-five world behind, Mrs. Sidoti and her husband decided to give up their urban life as well and move to the small town in Southern California where Mr. Sidoti was raised. With three days left before the move, the two made a change of plans. They picked up the phone and called Mrs. Sidoti’s sister, a natural chef living on the Vineyard, almost 3,000 miles away.
The couple arrived just as winter settled in, having visited the Island only a handful of times before. “I was so immersed in motherhood,” Mrs. Sidoti recalled. “I really just wanted to spend time with my son and my husband.” But, as so often happens, the Vineyard opened its arms to the young mother. And, Mrs. Sidoti let herself be embraced. She met a group of young mothers through story hour at the West Tisbury library. “All I did that first year was hang out with that group of women and their babies, nurse, eat, laugh and occasionally go out for a run or took a yoga class,” she said. “It was a huge entry into motherhood. It helped me settle into being a mom.”
One day, while roller blading in the state forest, Mrs. Sidoti had an epiphany. It dawned on her that there were no prenatal yoga classes offered on Island. She decided then and there to become certified in order to offer to other women the experience which had helped ease her into motherhood. She contacted obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Jason Lew at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and midwife Kathy Chase. “There are benefits to staying physical and connected to the body during pregnancy, and it will certainly help with the labor,” she explained. Both supported Mrs. Sidoti, sending her students when she began teaching.
Almost immediately, the classes filled with expectant mothers. Sensing a demand, Mrs. Sidoti expanded her services. She held workshops for nurses, worked with couples-to-be at the hospital and taught yoga through the Family Network, a program run through Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. “I filled a need,” she said. After the first expectant mother went into labor during a prenatal yoga class — more have done so since — Mrs. Sidoti decided to add a mommy-and-me yoga class. While the prenatal classes focus on breath work and posturing, the class for new mothers allows new mothers to connect with each other and bring their babies along. “It’s a sharing experience,” Mrs. Sidoti said. “It’s community building. There are women there who are on their second, third, fifth baby. They’re an amazing resource for the women.”
Mrs. Sidoti taught where she could — the Mansion House, the Y, the Wellness Center, Vineyard Yoga, the Workout at the Airport, even Island Cohousing. “Wherever I could find the space, I would teach,” she said. She added to her roster a traditional yoga class — men invited — and tried teaching aerobics and spinning as well. She also took on private clients.
Last spring, when Island dancers Jil Matrisciano and Sandra Stone opened a new dance studio in the Woodland Business Center in Vineyard Haven, they offered Mrs. Sidoti the opportunity to partner with them. “I was terrified to make the move,” she said. But, fans of Mrs. Sidoti, hooked on her energetic and practical approach to fitness, followed her. The move to a permanent space inspired Mrs. Sidoti to brand her offering and she took on the name Fitness Life Yoga (FLY to her fans).
From her post at the front of the classroom, clad in a tank top and cropped yoga pants, her curly black hair pulled into pigtails, it is hard to believe that five years ago, Mrs. Sidoti was living in Los Angels, working a desk job and was apprehensive about coming into her own as a mother. Now, on a small Island off the coast of Massachusetts, Mrs. Sidoti teaches eight weekly yoga classes, all ending in time for family dinner. With a roomful of students, including her husband, waiting for her to begin teaching, she raises her hands and joins them in front of her heart. “Namaste.”
“It made such an impact on who I am and who I’ve become,” Mrs. Sidoti said of the yoga which has calmed her life and inspired her to start her own business. “I am more open to receive life than make life happen,” she continued. “I’m a better mother, a better partner to my husband.” Always humble, she gave the rest of the credit to her clients who stuck with her during her growth as a teacher. “I haven’t given anything, they’ve given it to me,” she said. “All I’m doing is putting on some good music and making a few suggestions. They’re the ones walking in that door with that energy.”