wasnt born on a yoga mat but she might as well have been.
The Kentfield yoga teacher is the daughter of San Francisco fitness
pioneers Walt and Magana Baptiste, who opened the first yoga
studio in the city nearly 50 years ago. She grew up with yoga. For
a woman who started teaching the breathing and posture exercises
as a teen, the current boom is almost a source of pride. Baptiste
Freeman can look at the yoga mats sticking out of half the backpacks
on the street and know that her family had a part in it. I
watched it all my life and saw all the good that can come from it,
Baptiste Freeman says. Along with her brother, Baron Baptiste,
who has taught yoga to everybody from NFL teams to Hollywood celebrities,
Baptiste Freeman works hard to continue her fathers work.
She teaches 15 classes a week at four Marin health clubs and has
two weekend retreats scheduled at the Green Gulch Zen Center. She
recently released her own video, Baptiste Power of Yoga,
a 60-minute class designed to bring the class experience home. Her
classes are growing, she says. The current yoga boom is no surprise.
The combination of relaxation and fitness is ideal for the times.
This is accessible and real, Baptiste Freeman says.
Mary Frank tried yoga before, but she didnt get hooked on
it until she took Baptiste Freemans class at Elan Fitness
Center in San Anselmo.
That was six years ago. Now, the TV commercial producer says, I
feel better. I look better. The difference was Baptiste Freeman.
This isnt just something she kind of does; this is something
that has been in her blood since birth, Frank says. Shes
inspiring. Married for 27 years with four children ranging
from 10 to 25, Baptiste Freeman puts herself out as a testament
to the yoga lifestyle. She has the energy. She has the fitness.
She has the youthful bent. Shes out to convert the masses.
I want people to bring this into their everyday life,
Marin IJ: Why is yoga booming now?
Baptiste Freeman: Yoga fits the times so well because yoga
is not complicated. You can feel and see it working. That mind/body
connection really happens. Perhaps the first and most profound benefit
that most people notice is stress reduction. The real beauty of
yoga is that it creates a balance of strength and flexibility, mentally
and physically, and you notice an increase in vitality and an overall
sense of well-being. Yoga feels good.
IJ: Can this kind of popularity hurt yoga?
Baptiste Freeman: Well, to be honest there are concerns of
raw, untrained and inexperienced people stepping into the yoga rooms
to teach. Yoga is really wonderful, and a true teacher knows yoga
from the inside out. Its something that you must know from
personal practice and experience over time in order to be what I
consider a qualified teacher. I am mentoring a group of wonderful
teachers right now, and their process for training through me is
deep, extensive and over a long period of time. My classes are known
to be safe. I typically have 50 to 65 people in my evening classes,
with each level working constructively and safely at their own level
of ability all at the same time. This ability to teach such a big
class safely and effectively comes from a lifetime of experience
and personal practice.
IJ: Why are women more receptive to yoga than men?
Baptiste Freeman: Stepping out of our own element and comfort
zone can be a challenge for us all. Women tend to be more open and
more at ease when it comes to bringing things into their lives.
In the Baptiste family work we have always had a strong balance
of men and women in the classes. In my classes here in Marin, I
typically see 30 to 40 percent men in attendance so I think stepping
into a yoga room is getting a lot easier for the guys too.
IJ: What other exercises do you do?
Baptiste Freeman: I wake up at 6 a.m. and take a 45-minute
brisk walk with my husband and our dog. I work out in the gym twice
a week. My family have been leaders and pioneers in the fields of
health and fitness. Along with opening the first yoga center in
San Francisco in the 1950s, my dad was a former Mr. America, and
my mom was a first runner up in the Miss USA contest in the 1950s.
Our family has also helped to take the science of bodybuilding mainstream.
Even in the gym I stay aware of what I have learned in my yoga practice.
I use my breath. Im calm, focused. I use my intuition to know
when less is more and when to push further. Yoga is applicable to
everything in our lives.
IJ: Is yoga changing?
Baptiste Freeman: I have noticed that yoga acquires a new
significance for every generation. And watching yoga all of my life,
I have realized that the system of yoga has neither a beginning
nor an end, but it is permanent and is based on universal principles
that appeal to us on every level, mentally, physically and spiritually.
Yoga effects deep change. Its the real deal.
IJ: What mistakes should beginners avoid?
Baptiste Freeman: Probably the biggest mistake that someone
can make is to come in with expectations. I tell people let go of
your expectations and mental limitations. Just get yourself to class.
Come in. Get on that mat, and let me get you breathing and flowing
in and out of poses. It will all grow from there. Its simple,
each time you come to class youre taking a step in the right
direction. In yoga the prize is in the process.
IJ: What would you change about the way exercise and fitness
are presented to children?
Baptiste Freeman: I would like to see yoga in the schools
for kids and teachers too. When kids practice yoga, we notice that
it increases their attention span and calms the nervous system.
Yoga keeps kids physically healthy. Children learn by example. Having
a yoga program for the teachers as well sets a good example. Offering
even a half hour yoga class for the teachers during the day keeps
the teachers less stressed and feeling good and healthy.
IJ: Why are Americans so fat?
Baptiste Freeman: Lack of movement and not figuring out what
their own best way of eating really is. The Baptiste family is known
for its leadership in the area of nutrition/healthy eating, and
what we know to be true is that no two people are the same. We have
noticed that what works best is when you really tune in to how your
body and emotions respond to the foods you put in your mouth. I
teach at least 15 yoga classes a week, have a family and home and
have plenty of energy to spare. By eating a diet that consists mostly
of fresh-water rich foods and healthy protein sources such as salmon,
I feel fantastic. This is the diet that works for me. I have paid
attention, and doing my yoga helps me to really get in touch and
notice what works and what doesnt work.
IJ: What do you say to people who are reluctant to try yoga?
Baptiste Freeman: Just get your body there. Come in with
an open mind and with an open heart, and let me do the rest.
Learn more about Sherri Baptiste Freemans VIDEO,
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Article by Richard Polito