Gentle Japanese music fills the room as students roll out their mats at the Asheville Community Yoga Center in Woodfin. Sarah Jean Couture sits serenely on a mat in the front of the room, smiling at students as they enter the room. “Today we will be traveling to Japan, a country very dear to my heart because it is where I grew up,” she tells the class as they settle into a Sukhasana, or easy sitting pose. Moving around the world when she was 9 years old (from Florida to Japan), influenced the 31-year-old’s love of travel to other countries— and to explore the inner workings of her own body and mind through the practice of yoga.
She draws from her own experience of living in different countries and cultures to inspire her yoga classes.
“In yoga, you have to be present with yourself,” the instructor says. “Yoga is similar to traveling in that it is scary. You keep putting yourself out there as you’re trying to understand the self and the culture.”
During this class, Couture shares words of wisdom from Japan and affirmations from that culture. The instructor structured her class with a focus on New Orleans the following week. A bright and bold sound played from the speakers as Mardi Gras music streamed out of the speakers.
As recent transplant from New Orleans, Couture sequenced the class with a theme of rebirth and transformation out of destruction.
“Traveling and teaching yoga run parallel,” Couture says about incorporating travel into yoga, accompanying the asanas with music and snippets of wisdom and quotes from that culture.
“Asheville is ready for this type of class,” she states. “We are geographically isolate, but there are so many cool stories and food from everyone traveling the world.”
As an anthropology major in college, Couture says she believes that studying and appreciating other cultures opens avenues for love and compassion within the self and helping others. She also teaches Spanish at Erwin High School and yoga at Warren Wilson College.
Couture explains that she feels it is vital to expose students to another culture. “Most of them had never been on a plane before, unless they evacuated for Katrina. We did yoga together every morning to be grounded and ready to work with community.” Couture’s nonprofit, Para El Mundo USA, offers people of all ages the opportunity to travel to another country and do community service work. “Yoga is a beneficial addition to volunteering and helping other people because it helps an individual stay centered while helping people that can be very poor and living in horrible conditions,” the instructor says.
Couture will offer a yoga and culture immersion trip to Peru this June to practice yoga, surf, and work with the Peruvian culture on different community service projects. To find out and apply, visit www.paraelmundousa.org. She teaches Wednesday, 6:15-7:30 at Asheville Community Yoga.
Kate Lundquist is a yoga instructor and writer living in Asheville. Her website is www.facebook.com/katelundquistyogaandwriting.