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Magic Island yoga: A mind-body experience

RACHEL MOLENDA | Gazette photos
Deborah Mattingly, of the Charleston Area Medical Center, leads a sunrise yoga class at Magic Island. The free outdoor class runs weekly through July.
Brittany Adkins (center) of Cross Lanes, and Candice Hill (right) of Poca, chat with Deborah Mattingly after the first day of this year’s Magic Island yoga class.
Staff writer Bill Lynch gets up early to try out yoga on Magic Island. The weekly class will be held Tuesday mornings at 6 (weather permitting) through July 29.

Fitting in time to exercise can seem next to impossible. So many of us spend our days at a desk somewhere or behind a counter and our nights on the couch, in front of television.

It’s just as hard for those who do exercise to find time to try something new.

I’m one of the lucky ones. About three times a week, I make it up to the YMCA in a faded t-shirt to make faces in the mirror while I lift weights and slowly destroy my hearing with the help of my iPod.

On a really good week, I’ll get in 20 laps at the pool or spend half an hour on an exercise bike or one of the more elaborate arc training machines.

Sometimes, I sleep in. A lot of times I sleep in, especially lately.

I used to be a lot more active.

Through high school, I ran cross country, played soccer and swam competitively.

In my 20s and 30s, I took aerobics, kickboxing and spent hours each week swimming laps.

After I joined Charleston newspapers, former Life & Style editor Rosalie Earle tried to get me to come to her lunchtime yoga class probably half a dozen times before she finally stopped asking.

Yoga didn’t seem like something for a guy like me.

Yoga was for willowy-thin twenty-something women who can do handstands, ultra-fit soccer moms with designer yoga pants or sinewy, serious-looking dudes with graying pony tails and “I love NPR” bumper stickers on their cars.

Me? I’m as willowy as an old oak and nearly as flexible, twenty-something was quite a while ago and I don’t have enough hair to do a ponytail.

I like NPR, though.

But I’ve always heard about the benefits of yoga: greater flexibility, more energy, relaxation and yes, a legitimate workout.

For the last six years, CAMC has helped sponsor a sunrise yoga session at Magic Island in Charleston, Tuesday mornings through the summer — as long as weather allows.

Deb Mattingly, who usually teaches the class, said, “Yoga is a mind-body experience. It gives you what you need: If you need to relax, it provides that. If you need more energy, it provides that. If you need less energy, it provides that.”

Denise Chiartas, who occasionally fills in, added, “Yoga is great for stress management and reducing anxiety. It’s strength building and can make you more flexible, both mentally and physically.”

Mattingly said the class originated with nurse manager Denise Burgess and that first year, none of them knew how much interest there was in yoga at 6 a.m.

“We were worried that only four people would show up,” she said. “But our first class had 50.”

Since then attendance has stabilized to around 20 to 25 people.

“We get all ages, all sizes and shapes,” she said.

Some people seem to show up every week, but there are often new faces. Classes always happen unless it’s raining — a forecast promising rain doesn’t count.

“If it starts sprinkling during class, usually I’ll give it a minute,” she said. “But there are safety issues. The mats can get slippery.”

Otherwise, classes last about an hour. People are welcome to follow along with the instructor or do their own practice.

You can’t beat the location, Mattingly said.

“Magic Island is perfect.”

And the atmosphere is supportive and encouraging.

“You can feel the energy of the city,” Chiartas said.

I decided to give it a shot.

For the first session of the summer, the weather looked iffy.

The forecast the previous day called for a chance of rain and thunderstorms, but it’s West Virginia. That’s practically the same forecast every day from the end of April until Mid-July.

Charcoal clouds hid the sun, weakening the daylight and threatening a downpour at any moment, but about 20 people showed up for Mattingly’s class — most of them women, but also a few guys.

None of them had a ponytail.

Finding a spot in the back, I put down my towel and borrowed yoga mat and tried to follow along. 

Overlooking the river, with the busy drone of morning traffic coming from the highway, Mattingly guided us through a collection of stretches and poses whose names more or less described what each was supposed to look like.

It was tougher than it had seemed. I moved in ways I probably hadn’t in years, if ever. Muscles and joints complained as they were made to work, and, at first, I was a little self-conscious about how I looked from the road or to the others.

Nobody said anything.

Nobody was paying much attention to anybody else unless it was to see how someone else was doing a particular form.

Half an hour or so into the class, the rain started to fall and that was pretty much it. Mattingly finished the class up quickly and of course, the rain stopped right after.

But better safe than sorry.

I asked a few of the other people in the class why they were there.

A few of them were people who’d returned from last summer, but some of them were newbies like me.

Cara Lee Felber was a returning practitioner. It was her second year.

“I’m over 50 and the yoga helps with my flexibility,” she said.

Lindsey Crowley said she liked coming out because it helped her start her day.

Britney Adkins from Cross Lanes had come out to Magic Island because she wanted to help kick start her fitness goals.

“I’ve done sunrise yoga at some of the festivals I go to,” she said. “I’ve wanted to get back into some exercise and this seemed like a good place to do that.”

In little over half an hour of actual yoga, I felt a lot better. I was breathing deeper.

Some of the tension I’d been carrying around in my shoulders, chest, neck and back was just gone. I felt more alert and physically looser than I’d been in a while.

While I don’t necessarily see myself giving up weight lifting — there’s just something satisfying about the bench press — it made me want to go out and buy a yoga mat.

Reach Bill Lynch at or 304-348-5195.

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