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Open Wide!

Diane Grant encourages her students to open body, mind and soul through yoga practice.

 

Dressed in pale moss-green yoga pants and a soothing earth-tone tie-dyed tank, Diane Grant steps lightly up and down between the rows of students engaged in yoga poses on floor mats. It's more of an elegant glide than a step, actually. Her long tresses of dark blonde curls frame her attractive face, a face made all the more lovely by her open smile and peaceful, doe-eyed expression.

Diane Grant demonstrates a pose for her yoga students.
(Photo by Donna Clayton Lawder)

This is Thursday evening yoga class, offered at Western New Mexico University in Silver City, where Grant has been teaching for 10 years. The walls of the room are mirrored, the better for the students to check their postures. The lights are slightly dimmed and soft music plays from a small boom-box at one end of the room.

Grant stops to kneel and touch a shoulder here, offer a word of encouragement there. She goes back and forth between specific instruction in postures and broader reminders to relax, to pay attention to the breath. Her voice is soothing, almost syrupy, her vowels drawn out in a soft, pleasant drawl.

She returns to her own mat to demonstrate the Chair Pose. Students follow her example, getting into proper form, and she begins to walk around again.

"Yes, that's it," she says, validating a student's attempt. "It's a powerful pose." She moves down the row and meets the eyes of another student. "You feel it? Powerful!" She reminds the class as a whole to watch their form.

"Get your legs wide. And I say wi-i-i-i-ide," she urges, seeming to add three syrupy syllables to the word.

Though she's been in Silver City for 10 years now and lived in California for the 10 years prior to that, Grant has managed to hang onto her soothing accent, gained from having grown up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She's been teaching yoga classes for more than 20 years. In her decade at WNMU, she's taught the whole gamut from student athletes to senior citizens from the community at large. Some 600 students have taken open "community" classes, and more than 100 take her classes for PE credits through the university.

Grant teaches three days a week at WNMU. A 10-session series costs $75, or $40 for seniors. Classes, which incorporate beginner and intermediate levels, are ongoing and new students can come on board at any time.

Grant says she has a number of long-term students, some of them having taken classes with her over the whole 10 years she's been at WNMU. But newcomers, too, she says, seem to get right into the swing of things.

"It seems to happen right off, from the first class," she says. "They feel that oxygenation. It's so different for them! They definitely leave with a feeling of wellbeing. That deep relaxation that you reach with yoga is so different for an American. We are just so used to going all the time."

 

Grant received her yoga training at the Yoga Institute in Houston, one of the oldest and largest yoga studio businesses in the country, and at the Sonoma School of Yoga in Napa Valley, Calif. Her method is Hatha-based, but draws from a variety of disciplines, she says. Hatha is an ancient and very large yogic tradition, she points out, incorporating many other schools of thought and out of which many methods have come.

Grant has worked with the WNMU football team, and says the spine-lengthening moves of yoga, the increased physical balance, the "centering," can benefit a variety of athletes. She regularly has golfers, tennis players, members of the WNMU women's volleyball team and high-performance cyclists attend her classes.

Balance, Grant notes, is especially beneficial to us as we get older. She has a core group of about 50 men and women between the ages of 60 and 80 who attend either her Senior Yoga morning classes or who integrate into the regular community classes in the afternoons and evenings.

"Oh, they are a wild bunch!" she says of her senior citizen students. "They know each other real well, and we have a whole lot of fun." She says many folks who come to yoga in their golden years "experience an amazing reawakening. They sometimes have a lot of fear in their bodies, because of how they've been warned and what they think they can't do. We break down those concepts, and then they can tap into what their bodies can do."

Though Grant takes care to get her students through the steps and discipline that bring the physical benefits of yoga — flexibility, deep breathing, balance, increased circulation — she also acknowledges the more esoteric aspects of practice.

"It changes our outlook," she says simply. "When you get into your body in a different way, when you just make the space for yourself to do something that helps you relax and clear your mind, it changes the way you feel about, well, your whole life."

And though she eschews focusing on the dramatic, saying, "that's not what it's about," Grant does acknowledge that she's seen "some amazing transformations in people coming out of what happens on the mat." Taking care to guard confidentiality, Grant talks about one woman who credited her two years of yoga practice with giving her the confidence to finally leave an abusive relationship. "It's not about that, though," Grant cautions. "But amazing things can happen when people get in touch with themselves and open up.

"This is all about opening the heart," she says. "We open up through the postures."

 

Back at WNMU, the Thursday night class has gone through its paces and is winding down. Grant has lowered the lights another notch and put on especially soothing music, bringing the volume up just a bit.

Students lie in completely relaxed positions on their mats. Grant goes around from one to the next, sweeping her hands — scented with peach body lotion — over a face here and there, touching a shoulder or the back of a neck to encourage complete relaxation, a deeper letting go.

She touches one woman lightly on the sternum. The student takes a deep breath, relaxes her rib cage and melts further into her mat. Her eyes still closed, she smiles, breathes another deep breath.

It's easy to imagine her feeling her teacher's instruction taking hold, going deeper. Open the heart. Open it wi-i-i-i-ide.

— Donna Clayton Lawder

 

Diane Grant teaches yoga at WNMU in the PE Complex near the pool on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Call 590-1775 for class times, information and to register. $75 for 10 sessions; $40 for seniors. First class free.

 

 

 

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