Gretchen Graham Lightfoot
RYT-500, SilverSneakers Classic/Circuit/BOOM Move
500-hour Registered Yoga Instructor & SilverSneakers Instructor
Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation, Blooming Life Yoga Studio + School
Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation/Monon Community Center, Blooming Life Yoga Studio, Noblesville Juvenile Detention Center (OPTIONS)
Tell us about yourself, your story, where you are from, practice, etc.
A Yoga Alliance RYT-500, Gretchen Graham Lightfoot trained with Carmen Fitzgibbon, Thomas Taubman & Gigi Snyder of YogaWorks in Los Angeles. Gretchen’s teaching experience includes group classes at Quest for Balance, Crawfordsville Parks & Recreation, Finish Strong, Center Pointe, Goorus Yoga, YogaWorks, Neutrogena, and Fancy Feet Dance Studio among others.
Originally from Montgomery Co., Gretchen holds a BA in Classics from IU Bloomington and previously worked as a nonprofit fundraising professional in LA, San Francisco & Boston. Music figures prominently in Gretchen’s classes, which are a little different every time. In her spare time, Gretchen is an avid hiker and reader who is happy to be back home again in Indiana.
How long have you been practicing yoga?
40+ years. I’ve been practicing yoga since the age of 9 or 10, and I turn 53 in December.
How did you get started?
I was an only child until I was 8 and my mother was an avid reader. I discovered yoga through one of her books, A Year of Beauty & Health by Beverly and Vidal Sassoon. On my own, I began practicing the yoga poses I discovered in the Sassoon book. I didn’t have a formal yoga class or a yoga teacher until I was a sophomore at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. From there, my practice grew and I practiced yoga in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston. My yoga practice was a bit spotty from time to time, especially after I gave birth. I became much more dedicated to it in 2013, earning my 200-hour certification in 2014 and my 500-hour certification in 2015. (My ex-husband and I ran a yoga studio together for 2-1/2 years; he is still running Goorus Yoga in Pacific Palisades, California.)
What type of yoga do you teach?
I have practiced many different types of yoga and incorporate a variety of influences as I teach. However, I trained under two very strong vinyasa flow teachers at YogaWorks in Los Angeles (Thomas Taubman and Gigi Snyder) as well as with an Iyengar instructor, Carmen Fitzgibbon. I teach gentle yoga, vinyasa flow, chair yoga, and restorative and yin yoga, but I have a strong focus on alignment, and regularly make use of props such as blocks, straps, blankets, and bolsters. My students often comment on how funny I can be during class. I rarely teach the same sequence twice and I frequently read poetry or short passages during savasana. When I was younger, I dreamed of being a DJ, so I have a lot of fun creating dedicated playlists for my classes.
What do you prefer/enjoy about this particular form of yoga?
I love the Iyengar style of yoga because it means that most people can continue to be active throughout their entire lives, due to the use of props. Same thing with chair yoga! I have had some problems with my hip due to overuse, and chair yoga has helped me maintain my flexibility without causing additional harm. I love kundalini, restorative yoga and yin yoga as well because I feel so relaxed and at peace afterwards; I’ve always been on the go, so it has been hard for me to settle down. Yoga has helped me find a little more balance in my life.
Do you feel anyone can enjoy and gain from yoga?
I do believe everyone can find something to enjoy or gain from yoga. However, I would encourage folks to try it at least 3 times. Those new to yoga might feel a little lost unless they give it a couple of tries! I would also recommend that students really look at the class description and start out with a slower-paced or more gentle type of class. Beginners always tell me how much their wrists suffer at first.
What has yoga done for you as person?
Yoga helps me to slow down and be more present. I am less reactive when practicing regularly.
Do you feel yoga is more mental or physical?
In the beginning, yoga was more of a physical practice for me—a type of workout. Over time, yoga has become more important for the mental clarity it brings to my life. I need the “work-IN” more than the workout.
Do you believe it is an alternative form of healing and medicine?
Yoga can be very healing and therapeutic. So many of us suffer from stress, anxiety, and insomnia. When I was a fundraiser, I returned to my yoga practice due to insomnia and stress. When I found myself lying awake at night with racing thoughts, running through surya namaskara in my head was so helpful to me. By imagining the motions of the sun salutes and tying the movements to my inhales and exhales, I was able to drift back to sleep.
Do you associate yoga with Hinduism? If yes, in what ways?
Is yoga a way of life or a way to exercise or meditate?
Yoga is a way of life, although we are all works in progress. There are 8 limbs along the path of yoga:
Yamas (social practices, self-restraints),
Niyamas (individual practices, observances),
Asana (physical exercises/postures),
Pranayama (breath control),
Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses, turning inward),
Dhyana (meditation, subject & object still separate),
Samadhi (self-realization, blissful state and/or oneness with God/Higher Source)
As a former English and Classics major, I studied the writings of the stoics, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau. During my yoga teacher trainings, I read Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, and other yoga philosophy texts. Aside from the Sanskrit and reincarnation, I have found some similarities to the teachings of Christianity. For example, yogis practice Ahimsa, or non-violence (physical, emotional, mental). Mathew 7:12 urges us to “do to others what you would have them do to you.” Truthfulness or Satya, is important for yogis and Christians alike. Asteya or non-stealing is a significant Commandment in the Bible.
What is your dharma, your life mission?
I believe my path in life has been to help others. For many years, I was a nonprofit fundraising professional. I worked to raise money to help ALS patients and their families live a better quality of life while battling Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I worked to raise money for underserved students to have free music lessons and free musical instruments. I worked to bring school-aged children into the great outdoors so that they could learn to care for our planet. Now, it is my mission to help people find some comfort and ease in their bodies and some tranquility in their minds.
How important is living a healthy lifestyle ) important to the yogi lifestyle?
Eating healthy foods is important for everyone, but we all must find our own way. I have dabbled with living a caffeine-free life, and I have flirted with a vegetarian diet. For me, the key message of the yogic lifestyle is being open and flexible in body and mind. What might work for me, may not work for others. I strive to be non-judgmental and to support others in their journey. Every day is different and we don’t know the path others have walked.
Any natural ingredients and/or vitamins that you recommend? And why?
I try to avoid extremes when it comes to diet, and prefer to meet my needs through my diet. When I am feeling under the weather, I will add more citrus, garlic or ginger to my diet. Because I have severe arthritis in my neck, hands, and low back, I frequently add turmeric to my foods.
How important is hydrating/drinking water to the yoga lifestyle/your practice?
Water is very important for hydration. When you are feeling thirsty or your lips and mouth are dry, you are already dehydrated. The flip side of that, of course, is to not over-hydrate before yoga class—it can be rather, er, uncomfortable to have a full bladder during certain poses!
When and where do you currently teach?
I teach a Strengthening Slow Flow class at Blooming Life Yoga in Zionsville on Fridays, 9:30 to 10:45am. At the Monon Community Center in Carmel, Indiana, I teach yoga flow on Mondays at 7pm and Fridays at 12N; I also teach a Gentle Yoga class for Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation on Thursdays at 10:30am. Every other month, I teach a yoga class to teens in the Noblesville Juvenile Detention Center through their OPTIONS program. In addition to yoga, I teach SilverSneakers Classic classes at the Monon Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30-12:20.