Her feet and hands are pressed shakily into the mat. Tight runners’ muscles scream at the stretch from simple flows and poses, like downward dog.
From the downward facing dog pose, she shifts forward into a high plank and pushes off the floor using just her shoulders to allow for more space to step a single leg forward. Shifting the center of gravity to a more neutral base, she free’s both hands from the mat and lifts up. With her hands leading the way, paying mind to her breath, she sweeps from the group to the heavens, before settling into Crescent Lunge.
A wobbly Crescent Lunge.
Liv Otter, then a freshman, was awkward, uncomfortable, and out of her element.
“I remember being super distracted, I kept looking up at the instructor and kept looking at everyone else around the room,” Otter, 21, said. “I really had no idea what I was doing.”
Like a baby giraffe learning to walk for the first time, it was less than a year before Otter was certified to teach through YogaFit, and moved her mat from the back of the class to the front, for her first organized group exercise, Yoga Class.
And there her mat stayed.
“When I first started teaching [yoga], I remember my voice was shaking, my whole body was shaking, my anxiety was through the roof,” Otter laughs. With over 40 students in the class, she says that she was so focused as to what everyone was thinking.
“Now, I don’t second guess myself, I go in confident,” she said.
Otter, a senior Doctorate Physical Therapy graduate student, is widely known for converting the group exercise room on the second floor of the Wellness Center into her own personal yoga studio to share with all of Springfield College.
In the allotted time, Otter transforms the room into a yoga sanctuary. The mirror-paneled room fills with airy, whimsical music as Otter guides the class through a Vinyasa style yoga class. It is also referred to as Flow yoga, which emphasizes on connecting movement with breath.
“In my classes I like to really switch things up” Otter said. “I like to not know what’s coming next time flies that way.”
Students come to stretch out and relax.
And they come often to clear their heads, as Otter once did.
The Charleston, South Carolina, native was a member of the cross country and both winter and spring track teams at East Lyme High School, in Connecticut. So, when her college decision finally rolled around, it only made sense to pursue her doctorate in Physical Therapy in addition to her dreams of running at the collegiate level.
But, an ankle surgery and a series of injuries to follow, left Otter with a bad repor with running.
“I just started going to the group exercise classes here on campus and I really enjoyed the yoga classes,” she said.
Otter continues to mention how at first it was the physical aspect of yoga that drew her back, time and time again.
“The way my body felt and my mind felt. I always felt so relaxed and a little less stressed,” she said.
She thought of yoga as an hour of a clear headspace. A time for no prolonged injury, or hours of running, just her, her mat, and nothing else.
“The benefits from that feeling really started to get to me the more I did [yoga],” Otter said.
As finals wrapped up in the spring semester of 2016, Otter returned to her home in Niantic, Conn. She mentions her mom could sense Otter’s growing frustration as her passion for running was rapidly declining.
To soothe her frustration, her mom gave her a week trial for the yoga studio in town.
“That’s just when I really think I fell in love with it,” Otter said. She confessed that she went to hot yoga every day that week and continued to go for the duration of the summer.
Returning to Springfield that fall, Otter dropped off the varsity team and returned to the wellness center for routine exercise and group exercise yoga classes.
This time, while wandering around the second floor, she ran into a poster that read, “Deepening your Yoga Practice.” It was an ad for a YogaFit clinic being held on campus that was a 20-hours long for the lowest level certification for aspiring Yogi’s to teach in Fitness Centers.
Otter stopped momentarily to look at the ad.
She believes that Yoga finds everyone when they’re ready.
And she was more than ready.
That is how Otter jump started her Yoga instructing. All awhile, her practice was growing at a rapid rate. From wobbly crescent lunges and screaming-burning downward facing dog, came balance, strength and grace in a series of advanced poses.
And so much more.
Otter’s passion for yoga began bursting at the seams. One, 20-hour certification led to her 200-hour certification through Yoga Alliance at Karma Yoga, in West Springfield.
The program includes a balanced blend of the physical, meditative, and spiritual aspects of yoga. Dr. Suzanne Marotta was at the helm during Otter’s certification.
“Exercise is nice, it’s absolutely essential for good health. But yoga is a spiritual practice, you don’t have to believe that… but it is,” Marotta said.
With over 20-years of experience in yoga practice, Marotta has traveled to every corner of the world for yoga retreats to expand her knowledge.
“If you do it enough it changes something inside. Something that exercise doesn’t. Exercise works the body, yoga changes your mind, your heart, your soul, your spirit.”
Marotta commends Otter for her knowledge and command of the human body because of her dedication to her studies for Physical Therapy. However, she believes her most special talent is not her knowledge, but her ability to relate to women of all ages.
“Young people are young people, there not fully formed. [Otter] is maybe an old soul. Her growth and her ability to understand other and empathize with them and sympathize them, believe in them, that just goes beyond what someone her age would have.” Marotta said. “She’s very exceptional.”
Otter’s training began a year and a half ago with Marotta. Every Sunday for five-hours, the two would meet and study the history of yoga, different styles of yoga and how to deepen her practice. Marotta believes that it was Otter’s willingness to learn that set her apart from the group of other Yogi’s, and her natural ability that made her extraordinary.
“[Otter] will change the world one person at a time,” Marotta said.
And the first person was Otter herself.
“[Yoga] just changes the way I look at things,” she said. “It’s really helping me to slow down sometimes and be in the present moment”
Or, on the other hand, it’s helped her become a better physician.
Otter considers her public speaking to be a work in progress. As she is currently in pursuit of her doctorate degree, there’s no time for work in progress, only work.
Early this semester, Otter and a group of other physical therapists and physical therapy assistants from Springfield Technical Community College, gathered together for a large presentation in Professional Practice Issues. With only 15-minutes to present their PowerPoint, the margin for error was very slim. When it came time for Otter to deliver her portion of the presentation, she felt her hands shaking and body shaking, much like her first Yoga class.
However, this time she stopped herself.
Took a couple deep Ujjayi breaths.
And carried on.
Ujjayi breathing is an ancient Yoga breathing technique that relieves the body of any tension and has a multitude of other health benefits such as regulating blood pressure, increasing the amount of oxygen in the blood and building internal body heat.
A simple technique that Otter has picked up throughout her yoga practice to regulate flows and breathing.
As Otter’s hours for completion are coming to an end with Karma Yoga, there is a growing curiosity in her as to what’s next.
An ideal situation for Otter would be a physical therapy office attached to a Yoga studio. Because a great deal of stretching in physical therapy is intertwined with yoga, Otter believes that continuing yoga after insurance-covered physical therapy sessions expire, will prove to be extremely beneficial in any recovery process.
She said that patients may feel more inclined to go to Yoga after physical therapy if their instructors are also therapists. Otter hopes to infuse the two one day.
And Marotta agrees with that. Otter will come in contact with more people in her professional life than most and Marotta believes Otter will breathe life into all her patients and students, alike.
“She may be a yoga master someday” Marotta said. She said that Otter’s blend of beautiful yoga flows and her command of the human body will impact all who come in contact with Otter.
“She can change the world with yoga.” she said.
Photo courtesy of Liv Otter