Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

ALBANY -- When Jennifer Mensink ran into a little of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" -- spurned by a man who had been her fiance, she found peace and balance without the benefit of a therapist.

"In lieu of therapy, I took up yoga," the first-year Darton College English instructor said.

Mensink, who discovered yoga after "fleeing the South" for Arizona State University, is now offering her special brand of therapy to Darton students and faculty members through the formation of a "power yoga club" that has drawn more than 40 would-be practitioners in its first few weeks of existence.

"When I first tried yoga, I just got it," Mensink, who started teaching at Darton in January, said. "By focusing on the postures, I'm able to exist outside my head. I become more in tune with my body, more in tune with my self."

Wanting to share that experience with others, Mensink decided to form a yoga club for Darton students and staff. When she put out the call for interested people, she was surprised by the turnout.

"I was impressed; I learned that maybe the South had actually opened itself up to a few new things in the time since I'd left," she said. "I didn't come back because I missed living here; I came back to deconstruct the South, one belief at a time."

A daughter of that same South that she came back to change, Mensink grew up in Virginia, a self-proclaimed wallflower who "dressed in all black and hid behind the stairwell" rather than face confrontation.

She attended Randolph-Macon College, an all-women's liberal arts institution in Lynchburg, Va., majoring in philosophy and English. ("I find ideas and expression beautiful," she says of that unusual mix.) But she chose to shun the land of her upbringing and "fled" to Arizona State University, where she earned a master's degree in English and studied the philosophy of disciplines such as Zen Buddhism.

It was during this time -- and after her broken engagement -- that Mensink discovered yoga.

"I'd basically gone through life always thinking about something else," she said. "I could never focus. By learning to concentrate on the postures of yoga, I was able to bring focus into other aspects of my life."

Mensink's had no trouble motivating the members of her nascent club.

"I figured yoga would be a way to unwind, get rid of stress," John Dimino, 64, the director of Darton's arts program, said. "It's not the typical kind of workout I'm used to -- I've been taking the body core classes offered here the last three or four years -- but one of the things I like best is that (yoga) builds flexibility.

"I also think one of the most important features is the mental aspect of yoga. You're forced to focus, to concentrate, and that's carried over into other aspects of my everyday life. For instance, I'm studying classical guitar, and the yoga training is already helping me to focus on the instrument."

The positive reaction to and unbridled enthusiasm for her yoga club has convinced Mensink that maybe this South she came back to "poke a stick at" is not so bad after all.

"When I first arrived in Albany, I thought everything here was dark, dim, dirty," she said. "I started thinking about leaving almost immediately. But at this point, I think I want to stay here. I'm probably going to work on getting my Ph.D. at Florida State University and continue to do the things here that I'm enjoying.

"I'm enjoying teaching the students, and starting the yoga club has taught me that the South is more open-minded than I thought. I'm more prepared now to be what (Chinese scholar) Lao Tzu called a 'good traveler.' I don't care so much now about the destination; I care more about the journey."