Yoga trainer travels near and far
When you think of a yoga class, what do you picture? Can yoga be taught in an elementary school gym? Can you picture a yoga class on a moving train, in a private home, an office during the lunch hour or along Brighton Beach on a sunny day?
According to Duluthian Katie Olson, "Yoga can be done anywhere. It's not just on a mat, in a studio."
Olson lives up to this claim by working as "The Traveling Yogini" since January of 2016. She travels from Two Harbors to St. Paul and all around the city to teach yoga in different locales. Her students range in age from 2 to 84. Olson isn't attached to one studio; she travels to wherever her instruction is wanted. But she taught her first yoga class in a very different setting thousands of miles away ... in a girls' orphanage in Bangalore, India.
"It was the right place to start. I've had a relationship with that orphanage since the first time I traveled to India during college, about five years ago," Olson said. "I taught the 27 girls there about yoga and meditation for two or three months before I flew back to the U.S. and began my western practice."
Olson started practicing yoga 10 years ago, taking her first class with local Yoga North instructor Hilary Kesti. A friend introduced Olson to yoga as a way to help her mental health.
"My life forever changed in that evening. She [Hilary] introduced me to a place of peace within and I've just been cultivating that ever since," Olson said. "Since I began, I always envisioned being a teacher because I like to show people different things, different ways of life."
Olson was certified to teach yoga at Padma Karma Yogashala in the jungle of Kovalam, Kerala, India by a yogini named Padma Nair. There Olson trained for 12 hours a day for 27 days. One of the first things Olson had to learn was how to breathe intentionally.
"At school we had to watch each other's breaths and how we naturally breathe," Olson said. "It was somewhat annoying at the beginning because I didn't understand what we were doing. But by the end I was like, oh my gosh, she just taught me how to receive my life energy."
Finding relief from headaches
One of the struggles for Olson during training was learning how to do a headstand. It was mandatory to pass the class. Olson was hesitant to place pressure on her head because she had a traumatic brain injury two years earlier. She was working in the garden on vacation in California with her family and remained unconscious for six hours. The accident left Olson unable to drive for eight months due to directional confusion, memory trouble, weakness on the left side of her body, and a constant headache.
"I kept going through it, but it was always there. Some days were worse than others. If I was too active, I would get a headache bad enough that I couldn't move," Olson said.
Olson explained the injury to her instructor Nair, who told her "Kate, you get over your ego. You'll get up within the week." Seven days later, Olson did her first headstand since the injury and found the circulation flowing through her head helped her headaches.
"I don't take daily pain medications for headaches anymore. I do headstands often and do them if I feel a headache coming on," Olson said. "It took me two and a half years, but I found a remedy."
One place she doesn't tend to do headstands, however, is during her class on Sundays throughout May on the North Shore Scenic Railroad's "Yoga Train." Olson started teaching the class last year shortly after returning from India with her yoga instruction certification.
"It sounded like such a unique idea, doing yoga in this ever changing environment with constant air and shifts in position," Olson said. "The biggest challenge, for me, is trying to speak loudly while going over the tracks. Usually my voice is more soothing and soft, but here I have to have a stronger voice."
The train takes riders on a 90-minute excursion to Lester Park and back. Olson teaches in the SP&S 66 baggage car where there's room to lay down mats and work through low to the ground positions.
"It was challenging definitely. I haven't done yoga in a while," said yoga train participant Lizzy Shelerud. "There were some parts that were a little difficult, but it was nice to go at your own pace and look out at the lake and everything."
Teaching the next generation
On Tuesdays, you can find Olson in the Lester Park Elementary School gymnasium teaching meditation and yoga to a group of 10 fifth-graders in the after-school Yoga Club. Olson visited the fifth-grade classrooms earlier this year to do a presentation on her travels and lead a short yoga class at the request of her Lester Park fifth-grader Isla Pepelnjak. Olson used to babysit Isla years earlier.
"She's really calming and she has a lot of patience, so it's a lot of fun to do yoga with her," Isla said. "She makes everything kind of a game."
Isla encouraged Olson to speak with the principal to start the yoga club for fifth graders in order to aid their transition into middle school.
"It's such a good thing for them to learn right now, before they start to take on stress in middle and high school," Olson said.
Isla said the club helps her relax.
"The first time I did yoga, I went to bed really early because it just calms you and if you have any stress, it just gets rid of it," Isla said. "You just forget about that stress and get caught up in the moment. You're not too far in the past or too far in the future. You're in the present."
You can find more information on The Traveling Yogini on Facebook or at fortheloveofculture.org/yoga. Information about the Yoga Train can be found at northshorescenicrailroad.org/yogatrain.html. The train is scheduled to run for the next four Sundays at 12:30 p.m. Tickets are $20.