Albany Yoga Project working to break barriers, build connections

Sylvia Maxwell, founder of Albany Yoga Project, is using her expertise in yoga to help the Albany area embrace the concept. Since establishing Albany Yoga Project, she has offered free yoga classes to various entities, including youth groups. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)

ALBANY — Yoga’s popularity is growing in many areas of the country, but Southwest Georgia is not fully embracing it.

Sylvia Maxwell is hoping to change that.

Maxwell is the founder of the Albany Yoga Project, which she started bringing to Tift Park Community Market before eventually going to places such as Mission:Change, Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, the Challenger League, Albany Area Arts Council and various youth and after-school groups to plant the seed through her expertise with Baptiste Power Yoga.

“My focus has been young adults and teens,” she said.

Since starting the project, she has been taking the art of yoga and offering it to people for free, a skill set that would typically be taught at a cost of $12 a person. She does not have a brick-and-mortar facility, so she visits various sites throughout Albany to provide the classes.

“You can recreate it (yoga) in a way that does work for you,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell, an Albany native who recently relocated back to the area from Pennsylvania, focuses on breathing techniques and the discovery of potential in the form of yoga she teaches.

“It starts creating change in your life in a positive way,” she said.

Offering yoga classes for free can be of benefit depending on socioeconomic circumstances. Maxwell said there are drawbacks, however, particularly when it comes to youth outreach.

“In Albany, the problem is being low-income,” Maxwell said. “I have taught children who fall asleep so quickly on the mat. Their parents are up all night with the lights on and they sleep during the day. They have no space of their own just to sleep.

“It is almost like giving them an outlet. It is easy work teaching adults who have had a normal life; that is easy. Children are different. It is almost like they are stuck in something that is not their fault.”

It is a sight that sometimes is too much for Maxwell to bear. When she considers stepping back, she also gives thought to the reality that nobody else might be willing to do it.

“It’s the grunt work,” she said. “These are the children who will be taking care of us.”

In the 20 years she lived in the Pittsburgh area, Maxwell saw a yoga studio on every corner. She is the mother to 6-year-old twin boys who sometimes go with her to classes.

“They can see those kids who don’t have what they have,” Maxwell said.

Steve Brimberry, co-chair of Friends of Tift Park, said many who appreciate yoga also appreciate healthy eating, making it a good quality of life component to the 25-vendor market. It helps shoppers better connect to the environment around them while offering a chance for Albany Yoga Project to be showcased.

He added Maxwell’s presence brings an entertainment aspect, and an ideal partnership for the weekly market, that could be built on at the market if she conducts the classes there on a more regular basis.

“She brings out the mats, provides a great service and it’s free,” Brimberry said. “When she does it, her classes are getting bigger and they are getting more recognition.

“I’d like to see her on a monthly basis. It is a good addition. It makes it feel like more than just produce stands.”

The market held a soft re-opening in Tift Park on Saturday, which it was displaced from after a severe storm that hit Albany on Jan. 2. Brimberry said Maxwell’s presence is something he would like to expand on when the market is able to move completely back into the park again in the next few weeks.

There might even be an opportunity to take in donations for the Albany Yoga Project. Even if only a few show up for classes, that still means more exposure for Maxwell and more shoppers for the market’s vendors.

“I just would like to see her expand more,” he said. “People miss her when she is not there. If one person shows up, she will teach that one person. When they are done with yoga, they will get their vegetables for the day.

“She is like a performer, almost.”

The word “yoga” is a term that means “to yoke,” making it a natural way to build connections with others. These connections come in many forms, even if it means teaching a child to do a handstand in a busy airport.

Maxwell is undergoing leadership training through the Baptiste Institute, founded by Baron Baptiste. As part of that training, she was expected to create something, and she chose to establish Albany Yoga Project.

“You have to create something big,” she said. “Baptiste Yoga is big on community and giving back.”

The institute is actively involved with the Africa Yoga Project, through which over 6,000 people participate in more than 300 yoga classes weekly in 13 African countries. The Africa project has trained more than 200 people now earning a living wage teaching yoga to people who would otherwise not have access to it, the organization’s website said.

In a typical class, the mat will face northward. In many cases, a person will start from the top of the mat and work their way down. Rather than practicing with her classes, Maxwell walks alongside the mats, instructing the students and helping them in their path of discovering what they are capable of.

Some find themselves twisting their arms, legs and hips in ways they have not before. It may be easy for one to compare himself or herself to another based on ability to strike a certain pose. Falls sometimes happen, but even one set counts as a pose.

Maxwell often tells students that a person’s expression will likely be different from others, and they may not realize what they can do going in. She tells people it is about the journey, and that she is only a tour guide.

“You discovering what is possible,” she said at a recent class.

A component of her classes is ensuring those practicing take time to appreciate the moment and the work the human body does from day to day.

“Recognize you are enough and you are who you are supposed to be and where you are supposed to be,” she said while instructing a recent class.

For more information on Albany Yoga Project, email, call (412) 719-2071 or find @AlbanyYoga on Twitter.

Staff Writer

I'm a 2007 graduate of Georgia Southern University, and I've been a reporter for The Albany Herald since 2008. I cover news related to health care, Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, SOWEGA Council on Aging and other areas as assigned.

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