BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — A lot has changed since Holly Foster took her first yoga class twelve years ago in a rented room at Grace Lutheran Church in Niskayuna.
For Foster, yoga has changed from a curiosity to a reliable, twice-weekly ritual to look forward to each Tuesday and Friday. Grace Lutheran has since closed, and Lisa Alexander, Foster’s first yoga instructor, has her own studio, Soluna Yoga on Balltown Road.
“I just thought it would be a good way to stretch out,” Foster said. “It’s much more than that.”
The constant in Foster’s yoga practice has been Alexander, who has remained her teacher since the beginning and is now a close friend.
That’s why Jan. 2, the tenth anniversary of Soluna Yoga’s opening, will be a big day for both women.
“It has gone by very fast,” said Alexander, who surprised herself by staying in the yoga profession for a dozen years and counting. Until becoming a yoga instructor, she was something of a career hopper, with stints as a hairdresser, a seventh-grade teacher and an adjunct college professor.
“When they first had me sign the lease, I was like, ‘Five years? There’s no way,’ ” she recalled. But instead of itching to move on, she’s looking to expand her business. She recently added massages to the list of services at Soluna, and she hopes to add opportunities for people to learn about the spiritual practice of reiki, bring in a nutritionist, and add other wellness services.
Alexander has been celebrating the upcoming anniversary since mid-autumn, when she offered free classes and held raffles at the Schenectady Greenmarket to promote Soluna.
She’ll continue to mark the studio’s tenth birthday by offering free classes to the community on Saturdays in January, and finally, by holding a grand re-opening ceremony in March.
Though her career path has often shifted, her previous experiences inform her passion for teaching yoga to her students. Alexander said one thing that stands out with Soluna is a focus on consistency: Students sign up for an eight-week series of classes, rather than taking an assortment of different ones.
“What I do here is really educate people,” she said. “I’m pretty strict about, if you’re a beginner, you can’t come into a vinyasa class.”
The idea is to make sure all her students feel capable of enjoying class. Progressing too quickly can make people feel like they’re not good at yoga, when really, anyone can do it.
“I’ve seen so many people get discouraged,” Alexander said.
Foster agreed that incremental growth over years of practice keeps yoga interesting.
“You’d think I’d get bored,” she said.
In addition to simply enjoying herself, Foster said she wouldn’t give up yoga because she’s noticed significant physical benefits that come from slowly building strength and flexibility. She credits yoga with recovery from a major health problem about ten years ago.
Just recently, she slipped on a patch of ice after a winter storm; she’s convinced her injuries would’ve been more serious if she didn’t have yoga to help her stay fit.
Alexander also said encouraging students to return consistently to the same class, with the same teacher, also creates a sense of cohesion among students.
“It’s being committed to at least one, at least once a week,” she said. “It builds this community because they’re in class with each other.”
Foster said forging those friendships is one part of what has kept her coming back to Soluna for the entire decade it’s been open.
“It’s — well, not like going to the bar, but everybody knows you,” she said with a laugh.
And it’s not just the students who have displayed admirable personal growth. Foster said Alexander has also changed as an instructor in noticeably positive ways.
“She has grown more confident,” Foster said. “Now she offers teacher training.”
Soluna’s first class of yoga teachers will graduate in April 2015, certified and ready to pass their knowledge on to new students.
In turn, those new teachers will continue to inspire people to live happier, healthier lives through yoga for years to come. “It helps you center yourself and learn what’s important in life,” Foster said.
“We all have good, and we tend to forget that,” she added.