Yoga and gypsy jazz music — not two things you’d necessarily think of putting together, unless you’re Melanie Caines. She says it works, and the 15,000 or so students who’ve passed through her doors over the past two years might agree.
Caines is the owner, operator and sole teacher at Nova Yoga on Long’s Hill in St. John’s, where she teaches Vinyasa (Flow) yoga, she says, infused with spirit, laughter, creativity, and a bit of sweat.
This often includes live music yoga classes, during which a local musician performs while participants practise their poses. It’s a concept Caines learned in Los Angeles while studying with world-renowned teacher Shiva Rea.
“She has a background in dance and is interested in finding the internal pulse, combining music with moving and breathing,” Caines explained. “She always has live music, and it’s amazing to be surrounded by that.”
Caines put out a call to MusicNL members for musicians who might be interested in performing in her studio, and received an overwhelming response. She has to be a little picky about who she hires, however, since they have to be able to improvise quickly, changing their tone or tempo if the class requires it. Participating musicians have so far including Duane Andrews, Ian Foster, Rozalind MacPhail and DJ Slim Macho. All have been solo acts, but Caines is hoping to have some collaborative performances in the future.
“Ian Foster is a singer/songwriter, but he came in with an electric guitar, a looping system and a keyboard and created a very beautiful atmosphere,” Caines said. “It was perfect for a very grounding, earthy class. With Duane Andrews, I’d do something bouncier and lighter.
“I tell them the outline of the class, but they don’t know what I’m going to do and I don’t know what they’re going to play. I like that creation aspect of it.”
Caines, also an actor who’s been featured on Robert Chafe’s play “Afterimage” and CBC’s “Republic of Doyle,” developed an interest in yoga after searching for a bit of brightening up during what she said was a dark time in her life. She has trained in New York and Los Angeles and opened Nova Yoga in January 2010, after recognizing a niche in the community.
Caines, a native of Corner Brook, credits an increasing local interest in yoga to a general lifestyle that has become more sedentary.
“As a population, we spend a lot of time being still, while driving, sitting, or lying down in bed,” she said. “For some people, even coming in after work and being able to stretch their arms can be great. Personally, I like that yoga is not just about the physical, but the spiritual and mental, too. It makes me feel good all-round. Sometimes I’ll come in and do 20 minutes of physical work, or sometimes I’ll just lie down on the mat and meditate.”
The benefits of yoga aren’t limited to the physical, Caines said. While it has been proven to increase flexibility, boost the immune system, strengthen and tone the body and improve balance as well as detoxify and cleanse — thanks to twists and poses that “wring out” the organs — experts say it can also improve focus and concentration, build energy and release stress.
Vinyasa yoga is about connecting movements and breathing, Caines explained, and can be gentle and slow or cardiovascular and sweaty, depending on the class. Anyone can participate — not just those who are particularly agile.
“People don’t even have to know how to sit down with their legs crossed,” she said, adding she’s even taught toddlers. “Some people want to breathe, relax and take it slow, while others want to climb the walls. It’s for everybody, you just choose what works for you at that time of your life, or that time of your day, no matter what your age or abilities.”
Caines has noticed that men seem more reluctant to try yoga, often calling to ask her if they’ll be the only man in the class. Once they discover the challenges involved, they’re often more willing to try it. About a quarter of her current students are men.
As well as her unique live music classes, Caines has created a 30-day yoga challenge, in which she challenges students to take 21 classes within one month, based on the theory that it takes 21 days to create a habit. She’s also created the “Feel-Good Friday” video series on YouTube for practising yoga at home, and has followers countrywide.
Caines has raised about $1,600 for local animal charities in the past few months with her Karma (Donation) Yoga Classes, for which participants are asked to make a monetary donation of their choice instead of paying a class fee. She holds the special classes during the last Friday of every month.
She’s intending to develop new classes in the coming months, including some very specific ones tailored to certain athletes: special yoga classes geared toward runners and golfers are on her list, and she’s been asked to develop classes for swimmers and rock climbers.
“It’s really satisfying to be able to share it,” she said. “I’m an actor and I’m passionate about that, but what yoga feeds in me is that ability to share and give. To see someone’s face when they’re able to do a pose that they weren’t able to do the week before is amazing. I sleep well at night and it feels good to know what I’ve helped people reach through yoga.”
Caines’ “Feel Good Friday” yoga video series can be found online at bit.ly/tGo4Cs. The Nova Yoga website is located at www.novayogaonline.com.
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