By Heather Asiyanbi
A few years ago, Linda Messerschmidt was climbing the corporate ladder and enjoying the view, but her high level of stress was starting to take its toll. She started looking for ways to help manage her stress and bring more balance to her life when she discovered yoga. At first, she embraced the practice to find some peace. Embarking on a career as an instructor was spontaneous.
"It was surprising just how much I enjoyed yoga and how my life changed because of it," Messerschmidt recalled. "I decided to go to California to a school accredited through Yoga Alliance and get a more formal education."
What she wants people to know is that yoga is not a religious practice. It actually means "union," and the practice is meant to integrate the mind and body.
"You don't have to be able to twist your body into a pretzel to do yoga, and it isn't some bizarre, freaky practice," Messerschmidt emphasizes. "I have students from every walk of life. Yoga is what you make it, a time to be away from the hectic pace of your life." Yoga is a universal language, she added, and international business guests of local companies and summer visitors who keep their boats in Racine marinas often drop in for class.
Yoga is non-seasonal and so much more than exercise. It takes strength and flexibility, certainly, to hold many of the poses, but Messerschmidt makes a point during each series to demonstrate the different postures to accommodate various levels for students.
"This is non-competitive and non-judgmental so there are no mirrors in the studio," she added. "Your Yoga Lifestyle means just that. Students only do what they can do and they shouldn't have any expectations of themselves. Some are more advanced simply because they practice more often or have been at it for a longer period of time. The point is to make each practice the most it can be for the individual."
There are some studies that show yoga can increase self-esteem, clarity, and immunity while decreasing depression and stress.
After receiving her E-RYT certification, which means she has completed required hours of instruction while also teaching a certain number of hours making her eligible to teach future yoga instructors, Messerschmidt returned to Racine to start her own business. She began by conducting on-site yoga classes for various companies, to help busy executives and their staffs reduce stress and increase their productivity. Messerschmidt enjoyed the work and welcoming more people to yoga, but she spent more time in the car driving to clients than she actually spent with students.
She set up Your Yoga Lifestyle studio at Lake House Center, across from Gateway Technical College, and began teaching there. "Bringing people out of their workplace and away from home reinforces that their yoga practice is really time for themselves, where nothing else can intrude," Messerschmidt said. Enrollment in classes continued to grow.
Then, in December 2005, Messerschmidt was diagnosed with cancer in her right eye. Doctors told her they could try a variety of procedures to try and save her eye with some considerable risks, but Messerschmidt chose to have her eye removed instead. From the moment her eye was removed, she was cancer-free and has remained so. She does get scans every six months to make sure all remains well.
"I know that sounds a little crazy," she said of her decision to lose her eye. "But I made my decision with no fear and with a totally positive outlook. Yoga helped me cope and so did my students."
The yoga studio closed for more than two months while Messerschmidt had her surgery and recuperated. She admits she was afraid she would lose students during her absence.
"Everyone came back when I returned," she remembers. "Family and friends were, of course, wonderful, but my students, many of whom I didn't know very well, were really supportive."
Eventually, Your Yoga Lifestyle outgrew the space at the Lake House and Messerschmidt moved to a storefront in West Racine on Washington Avenue. Now, Your Yoga Lifestyle occupies the second floor above Shogun Restaurant on College Avenue downtown where enrollment continues to grow, especially among corporate clients. Messerschmidt is getting set to conduct four lunchtime seminars as part of a local company's lunchtime seminar series.
In fact, Messerschmidt says she is getting an increased number of calls from businesses interested in corporate wellness programs to help keep employees productive, healthy and happy. And it's not just women who take yoga. A full 20% of Messerschmidt's enrollment are men and they actually have a higher degree of dedication than their female counterparts.
"I did an informal study and I was surprised to discover that 73% of the men keep to a regular schedule, which is almost four times the rate of the women who take yoga here," she said. When asked why that might be, Messerschmidt said she suspects it's because women have a hard time taking time out for themselves. "Moms are busy at home, with the family, and if they work outside the home, it's even worse. Men, on the other hand, don't have a problem taking time for themselves. I wish I knew how to get more women see that they deserve 75 minutes out of every week."
Your Yoga Lifestyle offers a variety of classes throughout the week for students of every level, from a beginner's program to an advanced, Ashtanga class taught by Jason Frankhouser, also certified through the Yoga Alliance. Melissa Brown is just completing her education through Yoga Alliance and will soon take over the Tuesday 7 p.m. Hatha 1 class. Her dream, Messerschmidt said, is to be able to offer classes to new teachers and to expand class offerings.
In addition to classes, Messerschmidt also hosts Lifestyle Workshops throughout the year. Upcoming events include a "Detoxify Your Body" seminar on April 25 with Arthur Shattuck, owner of Root and Legend in West Racine, as well as "Finding Inner Peace Through Anger Management" on May 2 with two experts in ancient Indian philosophy, yoga and meditation. "Deconstructing Cravings" on June 20 will be led by Heidi Fannin, health counselor and owner of Body Wellness. There is a charge for the April 25 and June 20 workshops, but the May 2 workshop is free and all are open to the public.
The workshops and seminars, as well as retreats, are meant to help deepen the yoga experience for students, to help them embrace a more holistic way of living.
"I love seeing yoga get more popular," Messerschmidt said. "But I didn't get into this for the money. I wanted to feel better, but it's really about helping others feel better."
Your Yoga Lifestyle is located at 518 College Avenue, Racine. Linda Messerschmidt can be reached at (262) 880-4044 or by visiting www.youryogalifestyle.net.