Whatever you do, stay flexible: Yogis stay resilient throughout pandemic

If anyone knows about pivoting, it’s yogis.

Despite the ever-changing pandemic restrictions, two experienced Bay City yoga practitioners Kirsten Marie Wild, an independent teacher, and Jodee Mitrzyk of Traveling Light Yoga have remained flexible. 

When the country was encouraged to restrict travel and gatherings, many people turned to new hobbies or activities. Yoga, especially, rose in popularity. Wild and Mitrzyk turned to virtual classes to help people discover yoga.

Since the pandemic began a year ago, local yogis including Kirsten Marie Wild have done what it takes to keep classes going in order to help people deal with stress.“I think the pandemic brought out a lot of bad things, but I really think that it made people internalize and re-direct and re-focus on some things that are really important to them,” Mitrzyk says. 

A consistent yoga routine has been shown to reduce stress, relieve anxiety, and improve quality of life.

“I really think that every single person right now should really try to tap into some type of yoga stretching, even if it’s for 10 minutes,” Mitrzyk says. “The stress that we’re all carrying right now is too much. It’s too much and you can’t be holding on to that for this length of time so you have to have some sort of relief, some sort of outlet.”

Wild offers a monthly class inside Studio 23/The Arts Center. The studio offers enough room for students to remain socially distant while practicing yoga.

If you’re not already practicing yoga, it might seem intimidating for a number of reasons — sitting in near silence for long bouts of time, stretching into unfathomable shapes, or even making time to do it. 

“The most common thing people will say is, ‘I’m not flexible; I can’t do yoga. I’m not in shape,’” Wild says. “And you don’t have to be any of those things. You don’t have to be anything but yourself. It truly is for everybody. If you have a body, if you can breathe, you can do yoga.” 

Artwork inspired by nature surrounds yoga students during a recent class.

Mitrzyk agrees.

“Nobody expects perfection in anything,” she says. “We’re all on our journey through yoga doing what we can and there’s no end point — that’s what I love about it.”

Wild recommends starting out small, dedicating just 5 minutes to yourself every day to meditate or practice yoga. Use that time to check in with your body, focusing on areas of tension or physical stress, and begin to relax by slowing down your heart rate.

Masks and exercise mats spread at least 6 feet apart are required for in-person yoga classes.“Meditation doesn’t have to be scary,” Wild says. “It’s not sitting there and saying, ‘Oh, I can’t have anything in my mind right now.’ If you can just sit there and focus on the breath, and then when your mind wanders, just bring it back to the breath.”

By making that daily commitment to yourself, you send the message that “‘I am valuable; this is worth my time; I am worth my time,’” Wild says.

Different types of yoga produce different results, ranging from relaxation to the release of endorphins.Wild has practiced yoga for 14 years, which has helped her through many challenging experiences.

“I went through a lot of grief, a lot of pain, and a lot of trauma that I didn’t know was possible, honestly,” Wild says. 

Jodee Mitrzyk plans to begin offering Buti yoga soon. Buti yoga features loud music and movements set to a beat.“It was chaos around my home. But because I was doing this yoga — even with all these crazy things going on around me out of my control that I had to just accept that may be painful or scary — my yoga allowed me to take a step back, to again, breathe, and actually find peace in the middle of chaos. Once you’ve built those skills and you can figure out how to get yourself regulated, you have that for life.”

Mitrzyk agrees. 

“I had such an epiphany once I realized the quietness that it can bring to your mind when you’re concentrating on breathing,” says Mitrzyk, who’s practiced for 28 years, “... and you’re thinking about the moves you’re doing, and how it just relaxes you in a different way. It doesn’t really matter that you do the pose perfectly. You just do what you can do.”

More than simply time spent on the mat, yoga is a way of life. 

Wild and Mitrzyk each offer yoga tips through social media.“Yoga is also how we treat one another; it’s how we take care of our bodies; it’s how we move around in the world,” Wild says. 

She explains that there are eight limbs in yoga. Many of these limbs provide ethical and moral guidance, whereas only one limb refers to the actual physical practice. An important concept in yoga is non-violence, which has a deeper meaning than it appears to at first glance.

“You’re making sure you’re taking care of yourself. That’s doing your physical yoga practice — sitting quietly, feeding your body healthy things, making sure you’re taking breaks, and really learning to love yourself and take care of yourself first,”  Wild says. “Then that radiates to every other interaction that you have in the world.”

In-person classes open up, virtual classes still available

Mitrzyk has taught in Bay City, Standish, and Saginaw since 2013 and owned her own studio, Traveling Light Yoga in the Johnson Street business district, since 2018. Read about the building she purchased in this 2019 Route Bay City article

Classes are held six days a week in-person and on Zoom. Mitrzyk’s teaching style is a relaxed Vinyasa flow.

“My class is slow,” says Mitrzyk. “We’re doing 3-5 breaths in each pose, flowing right into the next. It becomes like a dance; it’s very even. I don’t want to extend poses in the style of class that I teach for that long because I don’t want people to feel anxious – that’s defeating the purpose.”

She’s also looking to begin teaching Buti yoga soon.

“It’s an endorphin-relieving, stress-relieving, dance-type of yoga,” Mitrzyk says . “It’s completely different than traditional yoga though. They’re like night and day. It’s loud music; you move to a beat.

“I just loved the expression of it,” Mitrzyk says . “I’m really excited and I feel a movement in my soul to get out of my own comfort zone to start teaching it.” 

Outside of Bay City, Mitrzyk teaches classes in Saginaw with Friends for Recovery, a nonprofit for adults with mental illness.

Because Wild doesn’t own a studio, she has taught in a variety of locations. Currently, she teaches at the Dow Bay Area Family YMCA, 225 Washingon Ave., on Wednesdays and holds weekly live classes on Google Meet. 

Wild will be teaching classes until June, when she will be taking a year or more off to travel around the country to explore and discover what’s right for her. She’ll be sharing her journey on Instagram for those who want to follow along. Click here to see her first scheduled stop

When she got her teaching certification last year, she led outdoor classes at Carroll Park. As the weather turned colder, she looked to indoor spaces that could accommodate classes. One of those spaces was Studio 23/The Arts Center, 901 N. Water St.

The executive director, Tara Welch, had been taking classes and wanted to see them continue. Moreover, she wanted to get people in to see the artwork. So in October, Wild started leading classes at Studio 23, charging a little extra to donate to the nonprofit. Work from the Land to River, a collaboration with the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy, is on display now. Read about the exhibit in this March 2021 Route Bay City article.

“I think a unique and exciting thing about Bay City being the small community it is — the small, integrated, community mindset — is that it’s really easy to get connected with people that want to do great things too,” Wild says.

She’s also held several specialty classes, “Morning Yoga & Mimosas,” at Lex & Co., a lingerie store at 721 Washington Ave. in Downtown Bay City. 

Traveling Light Yoga opened in the Johnson Street district in 2018“I just want to share it with as many people as I can,” Wild says. “I’m not motivated by the money; I’m not motivated by a career out of it; I just truly want to be able to help others coming to find some peace and find some balance in their life.”

“If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t be doing it because it’s definitely not a lucrative business — especially having your own studio,” echos Mitrzyk.

What advice do two longtime yogis have to share?

“Every single day is a gift,” Mitrzyk says, “and really focus on that and really pay attention to the beauty in everything around us — the beauty of the trees, the beauty of the skies, the beauty of the friends that you have and the family — to just really absorb that and know that’s there and appreciate it.”

“Nothing lasts forever,” Wild says, “just like imagining those ocean waves — the wave comes, and the wave goes away. And sometimes that’s a little bit reassuring.”

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