“I never wanted to teach yoga,” Mary Ashton explains. A yoga practitioner for fifty years – “I’m a child of the ‘60s, so I’m pretty old,” she laughs – she was driving to work one day and inspiration hit. “I thought, ‘I’m supposed to teach yoga’. It just came to me that I was supposed to do this.”
A mere day after her vehicular epiphany, Ashton was offered rent-free studio space by a friend whose last tenant had vacated. Over the next few years, Ashton worked with a few clients and got her equipment together. She moved to a new studio and began building up her practice – no easy task in rural Virginia.
Even isolated, she gathered a varied practice – clients of all ages (her oldest is 89) and many women with health issues. “I realized that I really love teaching yoga to people who have, like most of us, compromised health or who hadn’t really connected with their bodies before,” she says. She began taking therapeutic yoga classes herself and reading about kinesiology and anatomy. But when Cindy, a woman with MS and Lyme Disease, found her way to Ashton, she was confronted with a seriously compromised system. “She can’t walk, her legs are completely numb,” Ashton explains. “But I figured, why not? I’ll make sure she knows that I’m going to do my best and we’ll see what happens.”
Most yoga poses require the use of the legs, whether as the essential element of a standing pose or as part of a stretching pose. “I had to invent a system using chairs to prop her up,” she explains. Ashton drives 19 miles to meet with Cindy for a few hours each week and they work together to discover how to stretch and strengthen where she needs it. Even with such severe physical limitations, she allowed herself to believe yoga could work for her. “I think it’s her curiosity, her can-do attitude,” says Ashton. “It’s really a privilege to teach her.”
“A lot of people still think of yoga as wearing spandex and turning yourself into a pretzel,” says Ashton. “I think it’s really important to let people know, whatever way I can, that yoga is really about getting in touch with your body, getting in touch with the larger forces that can help wellness happen.” People often feel out of control as their body ages or if they get injured or out of alignment – stretching and strengthening can help alleviate that discomfort. “I truly believe it’s about feeling good,” she says in her profile. “When we feel good, it’s easier to save the world, love our neighbor, do a kind deed, take time to watch a sunset, or anything that gives meaning and joy to our day.”