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Jeannie Gilson leads candlelight flow yoga on Wednesday evening at Karma Cat Yoga. (Holly Pelczynski)
Jeannie Gilson leads candlelight flow yoga on Wednesday evening at Karma Cat Yoga. (Holly Pelczynski)
Jeannie Gilson leads candlelight flow yoga on Wednesday evening at Karma Cat Yoga. (Holly Pelczynski)

BENNINGTON -- By becoming a nonprofit and changing its location, a local yoga studio plans to reach those who don't think yoga is for them and possible heal the community at the same time.

Karma Cat Yoga Studio originally opened along with Green Mountain Oasis, which offers massages and other spa services, at 469 Main St. Jeannie Gilson, Karma Cat's executive director, said it was started by Bethany Boulger, whose mother owns Green Mountain Oasis, and the two businesses shared space to their mutual benefit.

Since Feb. 1, Karma Cat has been at 186 North St., having decided to become a nonprofit organization and offer yoga classes to groups of people who might not normally find themselves in a yoga studio.

"It's really difficult to sustain a business of yoga in Bennington, because yoga is considered a luxury, and people don't have a whole lot of money for luxuries around here," said Gilson. "I firmly believe that yoga should not be luxury, that it's a necessity. It's very healing mentally, physically, emotionally, it's just a very healing daily practice."

Gilson is also the president of Karma Cat's board of directors. The group has been approved as a 501c3 nonprofit by the state, but is still in the process of getting approval from the Internal Revenue Service.

Karma Cat has gone in this direction for a number of reasons, Gilson said. One is the yoga classes that had been held during the day were not meshing well with the massage treatments at Oasis. Yoga can be noisy, Gilson said, especially the classes offered to young children, which makes it less than desirable to hold classes close to a massage therapist trying to relax a client.

Gilson said she and Boulger also wanted to bring yoga to a different group of people beyond those actively seeking it. "It was the same type of demographic," she said. "Yogis, over and over again, and I really wanted to find a way to access the greater Bennington community. We really do feel this is the way to heal Bennington."

To make yoga more accessible and affordable, Gilson said Karma Cat is working with other nonprofit agencies to bring yoga classes to people those groups provide service to.

Gilson is a certified history teacher, and uses that background to offer yoga classes to students taking an alternate gym program through the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union's Tutorial Center. Students can get a gym credit, as well as a science credit by taking a yoga anatomy class.

The group also offers yoga classes to pregnant and parenting teenagers through the Sunrise Family Resource Center in Bennington.

Drug addiction has been a high-profile problem in the community and the state, and Gilson says yoga has a role to play there as well. "Karma Cat is doing yoga with a women's group at (United Counseling Service) that is targeting addiction and recovery," she said. "I want the people that yoga is out of their comfort zone and they know nothing about it, what it's about, what it can do."

She said there are other excellent yoga studios in town and in the area, but Karma Cat wants to attract those who do not think of themselves as yoga people.

Dana Vacchelli, Karma Cat's marketing and outreach coordinator, said yoga is not just for thin, fit women, but all genders, ages, and body-types.

Karma Cat still offers traditional yoga classes, and two times a week it offers a basic yoga class where participants can pay by donation.

Gilson is president of the group's board of directors, which includes Boulger, and others who practice yoga but who do not necessarily teach it. She said their new space is slightly smaller than their old, but with the windows overlooking North Street it feels much more open and less stuffy, but more intimate at the same time allowing for a better teacher/student connection.

More information on the group can be found at www.karmacatyoga.com.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.