World traveler finds community through yoga

Walking into a dimly lit room in the upper level of the old City Hall in Superior,Wis. there are green plants arranged in the two front corners, five large windows connecting the ceiling to the floor, and a hanging dream catcher.

A candle burns in the middle of the spacious yellow room near a clay Buddha figure. A gong is placed to the left of the statue. Between the two, lies a pillow and a green rubber mat. Soft music is heard over the howling wind rushing across the exterior of the building.

A woman sits cross-legged on a mat, barefoot, with her hands placed palm to palm near her heart. Her students walk into the studio, grab yoga mats, and find a place to sit.

Catherine Anderson founded Yoga Tree Studio 14 years ago. She has been teaching yoga for 17 years and is a certified yoga instructor. Anderson has been practicing yoga since she was just getting out of high school.

“I was the flower child generation,” said Anderson. “When they were all experiencing all those drugs and free love and all that, I was doing yoga. Which was quite radical in my day.”

She has spent her entire career in the health care industry. She received her registered nurse education at St. Luke’s School of Nursing in Duluth, Minn. and her B.A. from the College of St. Scholastica. She is now working on her Master’s in nursing but Anderson said, “it’s kind of by the wayside,” because of how much she travels.

“My focus has always been health and wellness, which is why I teach yoga,” she said. “I want to teach people tools so they can care for themselves for the rest of their lives and stay healthy and vibrant so they can do the things they love to do.”

She taught aerobics before she started teaching yoga, because she knew that she didn’t want to teach aerobics forever. But becoming a yoga instructor wasn’t easy for Anderson.

“I went down to my local YMCA and they turned me down the first time,” she said. “I went back and told them that they just have to give me a chance. So they let me and teaching’s been history ever since.”

Anderson has two daughters, a son, and nine grandchildren. She just got back from a trip to Austin, Texas with one of her daughters.

She is an avid traveler. When she travels, she finds a yoga community and practices out in the elements.

“It’s really a part of me,” she said.

She’s done yoga in Fiji, Mexico, Hawaii, Cyprus, Egypt, Ireland, Scotland, Vietnam and many other places.

“What I’ve really found in my travels and in yoga communities is that people have the same concerns we do,” she said. “They love having company. They hurt just like we do. They have joy just like we do. They worry just like we do. I mean it’s pretty much the same. They wear different clothes and eat different foods, but have the same concerns as us.”

During her classes she’ll get up from her mat and walk around the room. She places her fingers softly on the backs of her students to feel the rhythm of their breathing.

“With the breath and with the movement it is really hard for stress to get into the mind in here,” she said gently.

Yawns are seen around the yoga studio, not because the students are bored, but because they feel relaxed.

“This is our third time here,” said Cori Randa. “We feel so much better afterwards. Ten times better that is.”

Randa goes to Anderson’s classes with her 10-year-old daughter Cora. Cora urged her mom to do yoga with her after learning some techniques in her kindergarten class.

“I like it because I get to relax after a day,” said Cora looking up at her mother.

Jo Windship, a nurse, is taking her second introductory class from Anderson.

“Catherine. That’s what I like about it,” said Windship giggling about what she likes most about the class.

Windship’s friend Julie Kowalczac, who has had back issues in the past, says her back feels better after doing yoga and that she can finally stand up straight.

“It’s magical,” said Kowalczac.

Anderson is different from most yoga instructors in that she encourages her students to get out and experience other teachers besides herself. She stresses this because she believes every teacher has a gift to give.

“Sometimes people become dependent on the teacher and I don’t want people to be dependent on me,” she said. “I want them to be dependent on their practice.”

“I’m not competitive as far as a yoga teacher. I am competitive in other things,” she continued. “Yoga’s not about that. It’s about cooperation. It’s about sharing. If they go somewhere else and practice yoga I’m glad they do that.”

“That’s part of the practice, to be really open and to be flexible not only in body, but in mind,” she said.

Anderson said her yoga studio isn’t about maintaining students for money and profit.

“For me, it’s what I get to give back to the community,” she said. “When I can teach people tools to stay healthy then that’s giving back.”

At the end of each of her classes Anderson presses her palms together near her heart and bows.

“Namaste,” she said. “It means the spirit in me respects the spirit in you.”

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