This article appears in the December 2013 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, visit Loumag.com
Past the hum of elliptical machines and treadmills, past the clank of free weights and talking heads on TVs, a group of yogis take over studio D at Baptist East/Milestone Wellness Center, behind Mall St. Matthews. Women and men (mostly women) pour into Tami Sue Combs’ Monday-morning yoga class, squeezing past one another to grab teal straps, purple foam bricks and folded wool blankets from the prop closets. Members of the previous class barely have time to roll up their mats before the next class plops down, reserving spots. What may appear to be chaos is actually ritual and dedication. The class is snug — you might find yourself the distance of a padangusthasana (that’s a hand-to-big-toe pose that stretches to the side) away from your neighbor.
Then — peace.
Combs weaves through the class in her stretchy black-and-pink pants and shirt, her bouncy layered hair down. She gently talks the intermediate class through sun salutations, sequences of asanas, or postures, that warm up the body. “Pause,” Combs says gracefully, mid-asana. “Notice how your legs feel.” The class of 30 or more flows from the asana downward-facing dog to padottanasana (a wide-leg forward fold). “We don’t have to be synchronized,” Combs reminds the class. The room is full of regulars, so Combs is flexible, if you will, with letting students explore their own practice and take their time.
Sue Weese, a former aerobics teacher who does the splits and headstands in Combs’ class, surprises me when she later tells me she’s 69. The petite, toned woman with short blond hair credits yoga for aging well. “It just is so energizing and a great way to meet new people,” she says.
After class, Combs and I sit down cross-legged, facing each other. She hands me her card that has a poem-like mantra on the back. The front includes the credentials E-RYT 200 and RYT 500 after her name. “In most states you can just say you’re a yoga teacher,” she says. She tells me that the Yoga Alliance in California sets the standard for accreditation across the country. The numbers mean she has gone through both 200- and 500-hour training programs, and the E means she has taught 2,000 hours of classes. In addition to teaching at Milestone, the Jeffersonville, Ind., native also teaches at some churches across the river and gives private lessons.
Combs was a financial advisor for more than 20 years before yoga took over. “The World Trade Center threw me for a loop,” she says. The company she worked for, Morgan Stanley, was based in one of the towers. She says she and her coworkers went through some hard times after 9/11 and she ended up leaving. She started practicing yoga, thinking she’d gain strength, flexibility and balance. “Then my sister died too young,” she says, adding that something inside her made her hit the mat the next day. “When we got to savasana, I fell apart,” she says, explaining that the end relaxation exercise helped her deal with her loss. “Yoga helps us heal, whether it be grief, cancer or trying times,” she says. “What you end up building is a strong, balanced mind.”
Back in class, Combs asks everyone, “Where are you? Are you in this room?” She rephrases: “I’m not hallucinating. I know you are physically in this room, but where are you mentally?”