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Farm Fresh Yoga
You’ll no longer find livestock in the Pease family’s century-old barn in central Illinois. You may, however, find a lively group of yoga students practicing poses like cow and rooster.
The nature-inspired postures, paired with mindful breathing, are part of an ancient Indian system for well-being. With farmland as far as the eye can see, it is practiced in a setting that is pure Americana.
Yoga at Connie’s
In 2005, Connie Pease opened the area’s first – and most unlikely – yoga studio on the 6-acre homestead she shares with husband Louie, a corn and soybean farmer.
Known simply as Yoga at Connie’s, the barn offers a classic studio in an unconventional setting. With original hayloft and shiplap intact, the barn’s minimalist, modern interior features brick-veneer walls and mirrors to help perfect poses.
In the beginning, the repurposed barn raised a few eyebrows.
“My family thought I had gone off the deep end, but I liked how I felt and wanted to share that,” says Pease, a certified hatha yoga instructor and former restaurateur.
Today, people from near and far seek out Pease’s instruction and idyllic studio to build strength and flexibility – and to cope with conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis to stroke – not to mention stress.
“Some of my students are teachers, and some are on tractors all day,” says Pease, who first tried yoga at the suggestion of her doctor. “Working on a farm is very stressful because it’s dependent on Mother Nature. Yoga helps manage that stress.”
Pease teaches 15 weekly classes at the barn, welcoming all ages, sizes, and abilities. Some of her devoted students drive as far as 60 miles one way.
“I give the barn most of the credit,” says Pease. “This place is very unusual. We’re out here in the middle of nowhere, and it takes time to get here and to get home. People want an escape from their lives. We laugh and we talk. It’s a place to express ourselves.”
Today, Yoga at Connie’s is also a registered 200-hour yoga school – another first for the area. Now in its fourth year, Pease has trained 25 teachers who are planting seeds for this powerful practice throughout central Illinois.
Just 30 miles away, another uniquely rural studio and registered yoga school has sprouted up in Clinton, Illinois.
Yopaca Yoga Studio
“I had always been interested in yoga, but I never really had much opportunity to try it around here,” says Elizabeth Lord, who owns Timberview Alpaca Farm, east of Clinton, with husband Rick. “I began taking lessons with Olivia Rousseau and fell in love with yoga.”
Rousseau, a registered yoga teacher and doctoral student in physical therapy, describes her yoga style in simple terms: “stretching, strengthening, breathing, and calming.”
Lord credits the practice with building upper body strength and erasing years of lower back pain. In light of the benefits she felt firsthand, it was not a stretch for Lord to picture a yoga studio in what was once a woodworking shop on their property.
“My gut told me to go for it,” says Lord. “It’s a tranquil space. It’s the perfect space to do something together.”
Together, Lord and Rousseau helped a yoga community take root when that serene space became home base for Rousseau’s Yopaca Yoga Studio.
Warm and inviting, the studio features an original hardwood floor, wood stove, and walls painted soothing shades of purple and green. The 2,000-square-foot space –which includes a gift shop for hand-crafted Alpaca products – also hosts felting and painting classes.
This past spring, the studio and farm hosted its first alpaca yoga workshop to raise funds for a local youth center. Participants practiced yoga in a pristine pasture as alpaca grazed nearby against a setting sun.
Docile and friendly, “the alpaca have a very calming effect,” says Lord. “When we first got them, I used to just go out to the barn and sit with them.”
“The biggest issue was holding peoples’ attention, because the alpaca are so fun to watch,” adds Rousseau.
The timid creatures kept their distance until participants relaxed into savasana (corpse pose) at the end of the session. Only then did the animals let their natural curiosity get the better of them, wandering among the yoga mats – even sniffing students’ hair.
“The alpaca respond to calming and meditative energy,” Rousseau explains.
A growing number of people are eager to pair their yoga practice with a peaceful setting. These rural studios remind us that – in yoga, as in life – the journey is often the destination.
“Some come from quite a distance because it’s on an alpaca farm,” says Lord. “For us, the most satisfying thing is the number of people who get to enjoy our property.”
“When you drive through the country, you experience the tranquility, and you might see an owl, an eagle or a fox,” adds Rousseau. “As you make the journey here, you shed things along the way. When you get here, you’re ready to do yoga.”
Who knows? You may find downward dog pose even more satisfying down on the farm.