Kelly Tweito

    Fields of Yogis is coming Aug. 23-25, and this year, the festival’s message is, yoga is for everyone. Check out Lindsey Flannery’s look at some yoga practitioners who defy the stereotype she describes below, and how this ancient practice aids in their physical healing and emotional/spiritual calming and support.

    Julie Cain is a mother of two, a high school Japanese teacher, a self-proclaimed “type A personality,” and an amputee.

    She also attends Breathing Room Yoga in Cedar Rapids, and turns to yoga for many benefits, physical and beyond.

The Fields of Yogis festival is a chance to experience many forms of yoga and related healthy healing and spirituality, at your own pace. It’s coming Aug. 23-25. Read our profile of presenter Cassandra Justine here.

    Julie, of Cedar Rapids, is an example of yoga’s growing appeal to people beyond its stereotypical fans.

    In Western culture’s popular image of yoga, we typically see thin, fit, able-bodied white women who are in excellent health. And of course, they’re super flexible and practicing advanced poses. In a bright, airy studio. With plants. And kombucha.

    The stereotype leaves many people feeling that yoga is elitist, a group to which they don’t belong. It’s also often perceived as just a simpler kind of workout, like the treadmill, circuit training, power yoga, or weights. It’s an option at the gym, or an “easy” practice day in college sports

    But this idea of yoga belies its roots, nature and purpose. Yoga allows us to transcend the limitations of the physical body and the racing mind, and align with our higher selves.

    At its most essential, yoga is a path to connecting body and mind, finding stillness, and realizing that what we have inside is enough.

    Kelly Tweito, also of Cedar Rapids, is another person who defies yoga’s stereotypes. Kelly is a transgender/nonbinary person who found yoga as a college athlete (which they call “a joke”). They ultimately relied on it to heal a severe back injury and now practices yoga regularly for self-care.

    Having faced discrimination in high school and college athletics, Kelly was drawn to yoga’s inherent openness.

    “You never know what you’re walking into when you walk out of your house,” they said. “You don’t have a bubble big enough to feel sacred. That’s where yoga comes in for me.”

    Now 28, Kelly practices regularly, both at home and at Breathing Room Yoga, and has seen incredible changes in their life. “Everyday I feel I am healing and structurally aligning more. I have watched my posture change, my self-love and care have improved and I have a more developed sense of my individual consciousness,” Kelly said.

    “Yoga can be a workout, yes, but more so it’s an exercise you do for your physics, the particles of your matter. That’s how important I believe yoga is,” said Kelly. “Even if it’s chair yoga or yoga in your car, or learning to breathe. It’s presence. It’s stillness.”

    Whether you call it stillness, space, the divine, or presence, many yogis discover this gift of connection, or alignment. It makes it easier to stay calm and centered through the everyday troubles and worries of life.

     In fact, in yoga philosophy, the physical postures, or asana, comprise only one of the eight limbs of yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutra (one of yoga’s essential texts). The others are moral disciplines, breathwork, and increasing levels of focused concentration and meditation, culminating in a state of profound connection with all life and the divine, called samadhi.

    It’s at this point in the conversation when people unfamiliar with yoga may be thinking, “I don’t have a spiritual practice. This all sounds like a lot of new-age woo.” But you don’t have to subscribe to a spiritual or religious tradition to practice yoga. All you need is an open mind and a willingness to show up for yourself.

    Keep showing up. You will experience the benefits of focusing your attention fully on your body and breath and beginning to slow the ‘monkey mind’ — the onslaught of uncontrolled thoughts flying through our brains pretty much all the time.

    “It’s worth a try,” says Julie to anyone questioning whether they’re a “yoga person.” “If you’re not finding someone who’s willing to help you, there’s some place else that will.”

    Pictures of Lindsey Flannery, Kelly Twieto, and Julie Cain are part of the “All Bodies Belong” series, intended to showcase “real, everyday bodies, and the stories they tell. The images highlight all different shapes, skin colors, abilities, backgrounds, cultures, lifestyles, looks,” writes Sarah Driscoll, leader of the project. The project featured Heidi Eiffert at Studio U Photography in the New Bo Neighborhood  of Cedar Rapids. Click here to see other photos from the collection!