The riff of the Rolling Stones’ Emotional Rescue had segued into more mystical rhythms by the time the students in Sherry Sidoti’s — and Martha’s Vineyard’s — first yoga teacher training course were wrapping themselves into lotus position on the wooden floor of a Chilmark barn last Friday. Without pretense or pressure, Mrs. Sidoti gently showed several variations on the cross-legged pose, most not requiring the flexibility of an unbaked pretzel. These 13 students had been doing a physically, mentally, emotionally and otherwise demanding, intensive study of yoga for the past 11 days, most beginning at 7 a.m. with a two-hour class. Presumably not all of those classes involved an impromptu dance party halfway through for emotional release (if not rescue) as this morning did, and some of the student’s bodies were tired.
“It doesn’t matter which way you do the pose, do what’s comfortable for you today,” Mrs. Sidoti said as she took her own, gentle version of the lotus. “The yoga meets you where you are.”
The yoga meets you where you are. It’s a phrase Mrs. Sidoti uses a lot, and one that she has found true in her own life. About a decade ago, yoga met her while she was pregnant and began practicing prenatal yoga, and it transformed her life from one as a corporate executive in southern California to one as a prenatal yoga teacher on the Vineyard, where previously yoga was not offered to pregnant mothers. As those babies grew, and her own son was a toddler, she learned to teach yoga incorporating children and offered Mommy and Me classes. She studied more, practiced more and began to offer Vinyasa yoga classes, through her business Fly Yoga, where her husband, Rob Sidoti, has developed a practice he calls Broga, aimed at men.
Sherry Sidoti has been a force in the tremendous growth of yoga practice on the Island, which next weekend will be the destination for a yoga festival. Despite its small population, the Vineyard is home to more than 30 yoga teachers, she said, begging the question she’s heard many times: Why train more? It is sometimes put fearfully, as teachers already struggle to earn a living. “There can be that tightness,” Mrs. Sidoti acknowledged. “Is that person going to have more business than me?”
She sees it differently, though, through the concept the yogis call sangha.
“Sangha is really community, not a community that excludes but an all-inclusive community.
“If you create strength around a group of people — camaraderie, and real, intense love and compassion among people who are also cheering for one another within a small group — ultimately that really ripples out way beyond that group . . . everyone gets pulled into that field.
“And I felt that the Island could really use that, [including] within the yoga community.
“I think because of the way it’s been set up, there’s not one central yoga studio . . . everyone’s just on their own and doing what they can to stay connected to the teachings. But ultimately what we need is to be connected to one another deeply, to support that process,” she said.
A few years ago Mrs. Sidoti was growing frustrated herself at the expense, time and family disconnect that was involved every time she wanted to further her own study of yoga. It was then that she began thinking about a yoga school on the Vineyard, both for teachers who wanted continuing education credits and for those wanting to become teachers. She had been an assistant for teacher trainings elsewhere, and she began to assist in more. “So I was just opening myself up for the teaching, holding space for that,” she said.
About the same time, the Martha’s Vineyard Women’s Network for the first time offered a grant to help an Island business to grow. Mrs. Sidoti learned of it the day before applications were due. Already clear in her purpose, though, she found her application flowed onto the paper, and she was awarded the grant to develop a teacher training program.
More than a year later, in May of this year, Sherry Sidoti put out her mat in that Chilmark barn for the first 11 days in her two-part teacher training immersion, which concluded its second 11-day session last Saturday.
“I felt so honored that people wanted to take it,” she said, reflecting on the response. “I thought maybe three people would, and I would have been happy to do that, it was my first time; even one-on-one I would have done it.” Twelve people completed the program, three more have completed half the training.
With the help of Island yoga teacher Bennett Coffey, she put together a thick manual incorporating not only what is essential but what is meaningful to her. There are anatomy charts, nutrition primers and reflections on yoga as a business as well as sections on mudras, banhas, the history and philosophy of yoga, goddesses and the meaning of om.
Beyond that manual, and a general overview of what she wanted to share, Mrs. Sidoti challenged herself not to over-plan the program.
“Other than some of the decisions I’ve made as a mother, it’s the most trusting I’ve been of just opening myself up and knowing that the teaching that needs to happen will move through me,” she said. “I am a very organized person and really could have the tendency to really map things out, which would have been nice . . . but would not have been the experience that it was.”
After the early morning practice on Friday, the student teachers broke for bowls of cereal and fruit before the next session. Each training day, which could stretch to as long as 14 hours, also involved discussions and guest teachers (Amanda Cohen on yoga and trauma, and Jane Norton teaching about therapeutic yoga).
After lunch were clinics on specific yoga asanas, or poses. “We talk about what we’re observing, how you assist people getting into fuller expression of it,” said Geoff Parkhurst, one of the students. Ms. Coffey and Elena de Lalla, from Florida, assisted during the trainings.
“There is a lot of feedback, a lot of opportunity to learn,” Mr. Parkhurst said. “We have such a range of abilities, some people who are not very experienced, or feeling old and beaten up, and others who are deep in the practice.”
Mr. Parkhurst, who lives in Chilmark, said he thinks now he will teach yoga, but that was not what drew him to the training. “Some of us came here for other reasons, just to open a door,” he said.
A clinical social worker with a psychotherapy practice in Sudbury, Holly Friedman Glick initially thought she would integrate yoga into her therapy. “But I have shifted my intention and I actually would like to teach, perhaps integrating psychotherapy into the yoga. It’s one and the same . . . I am excited about that unfolding,” she said.
Margo Kellar, a neonatal intensive care nurse from Portland, Me., had practiced yoga casually for decades and more deeply in recent years when she felt she needed to move, physically, through the grief of her mother’s death. “But I wanted more history of yoga, to learn about the mudras, the path. Sherry has given us an absolutely amazing education.
“She really walks the path. She lives it, she breathes it. I like to sweat but she keeps its sacred and devotional, and that’s what yoga is to me,” Ms. Kellar said.
Friday afternoon saw the students become the teachers, demonstrating sample classes. Mrs. Sidoti said she was overwhelmed as she watched them. “I couldn’t contain myself, I was laughing and crying the whole time. This group of teachers, they are so ready.
“I felt there was deep potential for healing. It gave me so much faith that we could change — I know this sounds dramatic — that we could heal this planet really quickly if we wanted to,” she said.
“The universe has enough abundance for all of us. Each of us [teachers] will reach some people others would not, people who would never know about yoga from me will discover it through one of them,” Mrs. Sidoti said. “More begets more.”