Sophomore graced with the gift of yoga

Grace Rieger starts class to raise mental health awareness in high schoolers and the community.

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Maddie Monroe

Sophomore Grace Rieger reaches her arm in the air during a session of the "Mindful Healing Flow." She started this class as an effort to raise awareness for mental health and provide a healthy outlet for high school students to deal with stress.

Inhaling deeply, sophomore Grace Rieger steps off of her mat and onto the cold floor in the Lakeshore Yoga studio. As she collects her gear, a feeling of content washes over her. Surrounded by her peers, all in a positive mood, she can’t help but feel the same way. This “after-yoga” feeling is contagious.

 

Rieger started practicing yoga when she was younger and it’s been something she’s been doing ever since. It never occurred to her that some day she would use yoga to change lives.

 

“It’s the only thing in life I’ve been really passionate about and really stuck to, so I loved it and I stuck with it,” Rieger said.

 

She participated in classes at Lakeshore Yoga and began to make it a regular part of her lifestyle. After realizing the benefits she was getting from this routine, she made it her goal to find a way to pursue this outside of her own personal experience.

 

“I wanted to introduce yoga in general to more high school students,” Rieger said. “I wanted them to reap the benefit of yoga and the healing qualities it has for stress, anxiety, depression or whatever you’re working through, just to have a safe healthy outlet for any high school student.”

 

Rieger decided to pursue this opportunity for her “Genius Hour” project freshman year in her English class. She started off by asking Carey Burns, the owner of Lakeshore Yoga, if they would be willing to host a workshop where high school students could come to learn about the basics of yoga and how it can help with mental health issues.

 

“To me yoga is about mind, body and soul,” Rieger said. “It really does touch every aspect of your life and it makes you want to do better. I just couldn’t think of a more perfect way of helping kids.”

 

Maddie Monroe
Yoga instructor Melissa Vannette meditates with her students. This is one of the many exercises she introduces in the class, along with sun salutations and restorative yoga.

Yoga instructor Melissa Vannette was asked to lead the workshop and she gladly accepted.

 

“I have done different types of workshops where I have been trained but I have never myself taught a class specifically for mental health or anxiety,” Vannette said. “Honestly, it was something that I’ve always wanted to do, bring those two aspects together, so it was just the perfect opportunity to do that.”

 

The workshop ran so well that the staff approached Rieger after the event, asking if she’d be open to making this a full-time class at Lakeshore Yoga. From there it grew into what is now known as “Mindful Healing Flow.”

Vannette adapts to how the students are feeling and the class is usually flexible in structure. She teaches a variety of practices such as meditation, sun salutation and restorative healing poses. Afterward, they connect and talk with each other.

 

The class is entirely donation-based and encourages people in the community to use yoga as an outlet to deal with stress.

 

“It’s a really safe space,” Rieger said. “I think people would describe it as really easy going, each week is different and new, [Melissa] fits us in a way that adapts to what we need.”

 

Both Rieger and Vannette have noticed the positive effect the class made on the attendees.

 

“I have seen people just really open up, and it’s allowed them to be more vulnerable,” Vannette said. “We’re all unique in some ways but we’re all human, we all struggle with the same sorts of things, so just bringing everyone together and helping them feel that oneness has been really powerful.”

 

Rieger hopes that the class grows and more people realize the benefits of yoga. She says that it is one of the best decisions she’s made for herself.

 

“There’s high school kids that come but I hope to see more, for sure,”  Rieger said. “I really hope people see this as not a competitive thing, just a safe space to do what they need, to listen to their body, to discover new things about them and be enlightened by Melissa’s words.”

 

As mental health awareness continues to grow, Vannette is encouraged by the way Rieger’s class offers another outlet for teens to help address their own mental health needs and take action toward self care.

 

“I’m just really happy that the shift, from when I was in high school 15 or so years ago, that high schoolers now are even into [mental health],” Vannette said. “I think it’s just really cool to see how we’re evolving as humanity, so it’s just really cool to be a part of.”