Local instructor teaches full-moon yoga class


Elizabeth Sayasane

A free full-moon yoga class was taught at Allerton Park on Saturday.. Josie Heck has been teaching yoga classes for the past five years, and college students often travel from all around Illinois to attend her classes, including Springfield, Decatur, Champaign-Urbana and Tuscola.

By Elizabeth Sayasane, Assistant Features Editor

As the sun set on the Allerton Meadows in Monticello, Josie Heck gathered her students in a large circle. She had a wagon with purple yoga mats for those who did not bring their own, and she  attached glow stick bracelets to everyone’s wrists. Then, at 7:30 p.m., she began her full moon flow. 

Heck has been a yoga instructor in the Champaign-Urbana area for several years now, teaching classes to students from all over.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

The Daily Illini: Can you tell me a little bit about the work you do?

Josie Heck: I teach yoga. I went full time with it over the course of 2019, but I’ve been teaching for the past five years. I had always been in talks with Allerton, because it always settles me and reminds me to breathe. They were very supportive of me becoming a yoga teacher and bringing yoga to Allerton. I believe it was 2015 (when) we started (classes) once a month through the summer.

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It took some time — the first community classes I would get two people, or sometimes nobody would show. Throughout the last four years, the students have been amazing. They come from everywhere, and they’re the ones who have given us suggestions.

DI: Can you tell me about the kind of people who are attracted to these classes?

JH: It’s interesting because the different classes are pulling people from different areas. (For) the full moon yoga, we get a lot of college students from all around, as well as people coming in from Springfield, Decatur, Champaign-Urbana, Tuscola … people will drive a good 45 minutes to come and experience that sort of class.

Our monthly community yoga is usually (for) my regular students, but also (for) people who are not available to get into a class during the week. The summer series is again free community yoga.

We did Wednesdays this week at 9 a.m. through June and July, and that group is the teachers who are off for the summer. I love it. I usually have a really good group anywhere from like six-12 9 (people) will hit that series in the summer.

It’s a different vibe for the different types of classes that we bring in, which I really like. I don’t want people to get lost in this idea that yoga is for one type of person, or you have to have a certain amount of privilege to be able to bring yoga in.

I make it more available to people who are not able to afford a monthly pass or even occasionally make it available to kids… I volunteer for the first-grade class at Lincoln, and that’s another one where they really respond well to it. Then they will bring their parents to the free family community classes, which is nice, because that brings in a group that would not (come) if their kids didn’t demand it.

DI: Why do you do yoga?

JH: I started yoga really as an accident. We were on vacation, and I found a little studio and went to a class every day. I had done one class ages ago, and it just didn’t stimulate (me) enough — it didn’t fit at that time — but this time, I really felt a connection.

When I got on my yoga mat, it really brought me back to myself in a way that I never experienced. I grew up with a lot of chaos in my home. Oftentimes it was a volatile place. I hadn’t realized how much I had closed myself physically to protect myself over the years and how that transferred to my mental well-being. I was very reactive, quick to anger, quick to judge, quick to blame.

Those five days of yoga really brought a massive shift in how I viewed myself and how I operated. We were driving home, and my husband looked at me and said, “You look different,” and I said, “I feel different, and I think maybe this is what I’m supposed to do: Teach yoga.”

I found Amara Studio in Champaign-Urbana, and when I walked in, it was like I was coming to a safe place, something that I hadn’t previously experienced in my life.

The teacher tells me that I should take the teacher training, and after completing my 200 hours, I was trying to figure out how not only to be a student  but to be a teacher.

I let myself go really slow until the last two years. I would teach community classes at the elementary school, at Kirby (Medical Center) and then of course my Allerton classes were always going around.

In April, a space popped open off the square, and I thought it would be really fun to open a full-time studio, so Yoga Off The Square now has a full-time studio where I don’t have to take my mats everywhere. I still travel around, but now I can bring different groups into one space.

DI: How did full moon yoga start? 

JH: It started with a student suggestion. I started to think about how to do a full moon class, looking into how we move in a yoga.

It shifts, so if we’re doing the practice in the morning, it’s very different from a practice we would do in the evening, and it’s the same … as when the moon is high or low. Instead of going from the top of your mat to the back, we move from side to side. We’re shifting the balance, how we move our bodies, just like the Earth is kind of being pulled slightly different with the full width of the moon.

It’s designed to have you breathe and move in a way to discharge some of that excess energy, that tightness, that anxiety… People trust themselves to move more instinctually. They’re not fully focused on me; they’re not trying to set themselves up or to be exactly like the person next to them. You’re allowed to be completely in your own space on Earth and connect with the sky.

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