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Yoga in the museum provides a “peaceful pause”

GCMoA exhibits provide a thoughtful background for yoga practice. Photo by Isabel Torrence.

By Ryleigh Hayworth

At 12:15 p.m. every Tuesday, students, faculty, staff and community members gather in the Grinnell College Museum of Art (GCMoA) to practice yoga among the current installations. As mats are rolled out and people trickle in, GCMoA yoga attendees enjoy a pause in their busy days.   

 “For me, yoga may start on a sticky mat, whether it’s in here or wherever, but ultimately you want to take it off the mat,” said instructor Jackie Hutchison. “That’s really where the magic happens.” 

Before Hutchison began teaching yoga in the GCMoA, she participated in the classes, which have been occurring for over a decade. When the former instructor left, Hutchison assumed the role, saying she “felt really honored to be asked to do it.” She appreciates that this opportunity attracts more than just the art crowd and brings students that otherwise may have never visited the art museum.   

 “I think there is this notion that yoga is for bendy people, for athletes. And really yoga is for everyone, especially in this forum. It’s a very friendly place to just try it,” Hutchison said.   

 Curator of Academic and Community Outreach Tilly Woodward, who has worked at the GCMoA for 15 years, loves the museum for the way it brings together campus and community. One of her goals in her work is to “make the museum be a welcoming place where people can interact with the art in a variety of different ways.” By hosting yoga in the museum, participants spend more time appreciating art before, during, and after practices.   

 “There’s real benefit in punctuating your life with an artwork and letting yourself be called to the artwork that you need to see today,” says Woodward. “There are definitely physical benefits in terms of strength and flexibility as well as the practice of breathing and being present in your body in the moment.”  

 Yoga in the museum provides a different route for individuals to get some physical activity into their busy schedules. Hutchison points out that it eliminates the steps of changing, going to the Bear, showering and then rushing to the next thing, but instead allows time for stretching and breath.  

 “These stretches are an avenue to kind of hook people in, to bring them back,” Hutchison said. “I think so often it is the avenue through the body that gets people here and then there is the potential to connect to the mind.”  

 Currently, most attendees are staff and faculty members, but there are students who participate. Hutchison mentions one student who stumbled across the yoga class while looking at the art. She invited him to join the class, and he has attended every session since.   

 “The exhibit was really cool, it was a little bit like doing yoga on like some sort of alien planet,” said staff member Jane Mertens. “It was nice to be able to do yoga in that space.”   

 The practice is oriented towards different pieces as focal points each week, carefully chosen by Woodward, who says that some pieces “lend themselves better for a meditative engagement.” The safety of the artwork is also a crucial factor in the selection of the practice area.   

 “Because I’m in and out of the museum, and often very busy leading groups or facilitating an event, to have a moment where I’m more still and more intentional in being connected to myself and the environment around me is a real gift,” said Woodward.  

 The practices provide a valuable opportunity to gather in pursuit of a peaceful break and some gentle movement.   

 “I hope they [attendees] get 35 minutes of a pause from the mind chatter and before rushing to the next thing,” said Hutchison.   

 During the pandemic, Woodward and Hutchison worked together to create virtual GCMoA yoga classes, which are available on YouTube. Yoga in the museum will continue every Tuesday at 12:15 p.m. through Mar. 15. 

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