Wrapping up one last sun salutation, the students exhale into Tadasana, palms pressed together at their hearts.
“Beautiful!” the instructor enthuses, eliciting smiles throughout the room. “That was just fabulous.”
The students are University of Missouri–St. Louis employees making the most of an inexpensive lunch-hour yoga session, and the instructor is UMSL alumna Martha Philipp, BA communication 1980. She started teaching yoga on campus in 2014, and her classes have quickly gained a following, especially among those new to the practice.
“I do a type of yoga that I think feeds more than just the body,” Philipp says.
What she finds most rewarding is seeing students leave the sessions feeling better in both body and spirit – and motivated to make it part of their everyday routine.
“When they start coming more often, I think it’s having an impact,” says Philipp, whose passion for wellness and for her alma mater is infectious. “Now I’m teaching at the new rec center, and I love it.”
Students and others are enjoying Philipp’s basic yoga sessions and dozens of other classes available as part of their membership at the UMSL Recreation and Wellness Center. Her reach extends beyond the borders of campus, too.
“My whole goal was bringing yoga to the Normandy [Mo.] community,” says Philipp, a lifelong resident of north St. Louis County.
After working as a news editor at KTVI (Channel 2) for two decades, she switched gears to raise three kids and work part time. About five years ago, she set out on a new path to put yoga within reach of the diverse community she loves.
Working with groups ranging from preschoolers to UMSL students to community members of all ages, Philipp has done just that. All of the venues where she teaches are within three miles of her Bellerive Acres, Mo., home, including OmTurtle Yoga studio in Ferguson, Mo., which opened last December.
Although her appreciation of fellow yogis from all walks of life and at all levels is obvious to observers, she particularly enjoys introducing young children to the practice.
“Child’s pose, happy baby … kids do all that stuff naturally,” she says. “And we do a lot of singing.”
At UMSL, Philipp makes a point to push her students with new sequences and challenging poses. But the overarching themes of her sessions are mindfulness and breathing, which reap benefits in their everyday lives.
“You’re told frequently, ‘Take a deep breath,'” Philipp says. “That’s yoga.”
This story was originally published in the fall 2015 issue of UMSL Magazine.