After a long, tense work day I’m rushing to get home. Not because of a TV show I really want to watch or because I want to go out for pizza with some friends – not that those things aren’t great stress relievers as well – but for me it’s my yoga class that I’m looking forward to. I begin to relax a little simply by slipping into my yoga pants and pulling my hair up into a ponytail. But the half-mile walk to class is kind of a blur. Again work is haunting me, irritation with a friend, feelings of disappointment about where I am in life and where I want to be. But I reach up to touch the strap on my shoulder as I wait to cross the street. My yoga mat is hanging across my back and I take a mindful breath. Just breathe, I tell myself, and then I do. I let all the junk of the day slip away - like a child letting go of a balloon - a lesson I've come to better understand and utilize because of yoga.
For practitioners yoga becomes quite addictive, and it’s obvious why this tradition has endured for more than 5,000 years. And yet, there are still misconceptions among those who have never tried it. “It’s just a bunch of stretching,” they’ll scoff. But for those who are in the know, it’s oh, so much more, and it’s as much emotional as it is physical.
“I discovered yoga somewhere around 1988. There were classes being offered at a local health club where I had just become a member,” explains now yoga teacher and graduate of the Yoga School of Covington, Nina Boasso. “I was a little intimidated but determined to see firsthand what all the buzz was about. I was hooked after my first class. I felt challenged physically by the asanas and mentally by having to associate them with their mile-long Sanskrit names.”
“At the end of practice, in my first Savasana (a relaxing and meditative posture at the end of a yoga session intended to rejuvenate body, mind and spirit), I experienced something that was completely new to me; I found a place inside of myself that was serene, calm and peaceful. There were no thoughts running through my head, just a feeling of well-being and a sense of stillness. It is a feeling that has become very familiar to me. Something that I continue to experience after every practice.”
But Louisiana native, Boasso, has always had an appreciation for a sort of equanimity even if she didn’t realize it at the time.
“I was born in New Orleans. I lived there for 35 years before moving to Mandeville. I am one of five children and I am a twin. My family’s annual vacation on the Gulf Coast was the highlight of every summer for my brother, sisters and me. It was a great experience being able to leave our day to day lives in the city behind and connect with the wonders of nature. The sights, sounds, smells. All so foreign to us but so captivating. Closer to home, I also remember balmy summer nights spent at the old Pontchartrain Beach. It was pretty exciting stuff for us as kids back then. Bright lights, junk food, amusement park rides and games, a boardwalk, and of course, the beach."
Finding the path to yoga was probably inevitable for Boasso, but which forms of this tradition are the most satisfying to her?
“My yoga teacher, Becky Gelatt of Yoga School of Covington, taught in the ancient tradition of Hatha yoga which focuses on physical and mental strength building exercises and pranayama (breathing techniques), all of which are designed to purify the body and prepare it for meditation. Becky also incorporated Iyengar, which focuses on safe and precise alignment and incorporates the use of props to assist practitioners in performing the poses, and Viniyoga, a therapeutic style of yoga which includes asana, pranayama, Bandha, chanting, meditation and study of yoga texts.”
“My teaching incorporates all three of these traditions. As a teacher, my highest priority is to ensure the safety of my students. Yoga was never meant to be a competitive sport. It was conceived to end suffering. In its most ideal form it links breath and movement (vinyasa) encouraging the practitioner to be in touch with their own body; its strengths and limitations on any given day. A student learns to deepen their own practice by challenging themselves through an ongoing dialog with their body, disregarding the level of practice that any other student in class has attained. In yoga it’s all about going within. Your yoga practice can and should provide you with a peaceful sanctuary from the chaos of the outside world.”
All around New Orleans there are examples of opportunities that were created to help heal the community after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Boasso, who was dealing with the hurricane and personal tragedy as well, knew yoga could assist in healing not only herself but others as well.
“My home in Mandeville flooded in Hurricane Katrina as did the homes of most of my family members. My son was offered a scholarship to a prestigious music school in New York City but the catch was that he had to be there immediately. I booked a flight out of the nearest airport, leaving with only the clothes that I had packed for evacuation, and arrived in New York with my son in tow.”
“Upon landing, my husband called to tell me that my father had a severe stroke and was not expected to live; I was beyond devastated. I enrolled my son in school, bought a new wardrobe for him and headed home to see my father. He subsequently passed away and my mother never fully recovered from the loss. I felt lost and helpless and turned to yoga to heal myself and to help other people who were in similar places heal themselves. That’s when I decided to get my teaching certification. It was the first step in the process of healing for me.”
Now, she continues to offer that healing in an array of settings:
“I teach at Franco’s Athletic Club in Mandeville two nights a week, and I have group and private classes at Nature Yoga Studio – my open-air backyard yoga studio built on the banks of the Chinchuba Creek surrounded by mature cypress trees, a bamboo forest, and a variety of native plants.”
One of the other places Boasso teaches yoga is a structure utterly familiar to the Crescent City’s residents and visitors alike. Adjacent to St. Louis Cathedral is the Cabildo - originally housing the old Spanish government it is now a museum featuring exhibits dedicated to Mardi Gras, Hurricane Katrina and much more. During a visit to the museum you may hap upon the second floor gallery, a stately room lined with massive and majestic windows which look out at Jackson Square and the Mississippi River. To walk through the light-filled room across the glossy, wood floor one can sense two things – monumental history and a sense of peace. So of course this is the perfect room for yoga to be taught and practiced.
How did Yoga at the Cabildo come to be?
“Yoga at the Cabildo was conceived during an after-class conversation with a student who was a director of the Cabildo at the time. He mentioned that he thought that the second floor gallery would lend itself ideally to the practice. We started bouncing ideas around about how yoga could play a part in the healing process in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The classes began in July of 2009 and have become tremendously successful with locals and tourists as well.”
With yoga mats available for travelers who weren’t able to fit them into their luggage, what is the breakdown of tourists verses locals for these classes?
“The Cabildo classes break down to about 80-percent locals and 20-percent visitors,” explains Boasso, “The room that I teach in is loved universally by all students. The visitors are usually blown away by the beauty and history of the building, wanting to take photos and so many have commented about practicing in such a lovely, elegant space.”
Boasso goes on: “I feel honored to be teaching in such a beautiful space in the Cabildo. There’s such a sense of history there, so many beautiful classical architectural features inside and out that combine with elements of nature like the morning sun illuminating the entire room or lazy white clouds drifting by, or the smell of fresh air after a morning shower in the Quarter. Yoga teaches us a respect for nature and all things in the natural world. That’s why many of the asanas were named after animals – to remind us that we are all one in the universe, and when we harm anyone or anything we harm ourselves as well.”
“All classes end with the word ‘Namaste’ from Sanskrit, which has been translated in many different forms but my personal favorite is, ‘My soul recognizes your soul, I honor the light, love, beauty, truth and kindness within you because it is also within me, in sharing these things there is no distance and no difference between us, we are the same, we are one.’”
A former marathon runner, and recipient of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness Award in the 6th grade, Boasso has always had a certain oomph regarding fitness and determination. Having once broken her coccyx during a New York City bicycle race she rode on for another 30 miles to finish the race – Nina Boasso is the epitome of a natural go-getter. Yet today - with a family, all of her yoga classes, and now she’s just become a real estate agent as well, how does she balance such a daunting schedule?
“My husband, Larry, has been a tremendous support. Both of my kids are grown – Teddy is a professional musician and Adrienne just graduated from the University of New Orleans. I decided that I was ready for another challenge so I enrolled in real estate school last winter. I now have my license and I’m working for a boutique real estate company in Mandeville, Moss Real Estate Services, LLC. I’m loving this new career choice and I’m happy to say that my students have been very supportive of my new endeavor, allowing me the privilege of representing them in their own personal real estate transactions as well as referring me to their friends and family.”
And that's the sense of community that's just so New Orleans.
“I love New Orleans. It will always be such a special place to me. I love the history and the vitality of the city. I love the uniqueness and resilience of the people who live there. The food, the music, the culture. No matter where I live, New Orleans still feels like ‘home’ in my heart. I also feel such a sense of pride that the city has come back to exceed its former glory despite the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.”