Noelle DeStefano first found yoga as a business professional suffering from stress.
DeStefano had been running an area website and graphic design business for 15 years, and began searching for an answer.
“Sitting at a desk all day takes a toll on your body,” she recalled on a recent afternoon, seated on an embroidered pillow at the center of a sunwashed Elm Street studio, “I knew as soon as I stepped on the mat that yoga was what I needed.”
She added: “I think yoga can help just about anyone.”
DeStefano recently launched Ashtanga Yoga New Canaan in a second-floor space in the heart of the downtown.
A relatively self-led style, Ashtanga yoga was founded in Mysore, India by Shri K Pattabhi Jois and it has just three authorized teachers in Connecticut, including DeStefano.
“In a regular yoga class, everyone starts at the same time with the teacher in the front of the room, and everyone’s sort of moving together,” she said. “In Mysore style, there’s a set sequence of postures. Each pose that you do sets you up to be able to do the next pose, so you’re not doing anything too complex, or anything that your body isn’t capable of yet. It becomes more challenging as you go on, but you’re ready for it because you’ve been building up to it.”
For DeStefano, choosing New Canaan for her studio location was a no-brainer.
“There is no traditional Ashtanga yoga in New Canaan,” the Norwalk resident told NewCanaanite.com. “I have lived in this area my whole life and have always loved New Canaan, specifically the charming downtown area. When I went looking for a space for my studio, this was the first place I looked. New Canaan still has a small town feel and values small business. It’s the perfect location.”
Laura Budd of the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce said she’s met DeStefano and “can tell that she is really committed to giving back to the community.”
“For example, she will be doing a yoga demonstration in the Pop Up Park this summer,” Budd said. “The demand for yoga continues to grow in New Canaan and it is great to see that residents have a wide variety of choices.”
Students may come to DeStefano’s studio during open hours at their convenience, where they can work individually, pose-by-pose, with her.
“It’s like a semi-private yoga class,” she said. “You’ll probably see a few other students practicing. Everyone is doing the same sequence of postures, but at their own pace. The beauty in that is you’re learning to do the poses correctly. Everyone is different, and everyone learns differently.”
The Ashtanga yoga method is designed to lead to the practice becoming one’s own—once a student learns all the poses, he or she can practice anywhere.
DeStefano herself began practicing Ashtanga yoga after several years of sampling various methods, resolving to focus on a specific, traditional form of yoga and train seriously.
She said she was drawn to Ashtanga yoga for its ability to be a transformative and insightful tool for self-discovery. The process of becoming authorized in the practice took commitment, she said.
“I’ve made four consecutive annual trips to Mysore, living there for between a month and two months each year. There is no teacher training approved by the K. Pattabhi Jois Institute. Those interested in teaching this method should commit to long term study over many years at the Institute in Mysore. You have to show dedication and proficiency in the practice, but most importantly, the teacher has to see that you are ready.” DeStefano practices six-days a week, as per Ashtanga yoga’s principles.
Such commitment may seem daunting to beginners, but DeStefano insists that novices have no reason to fear.
“People sometimes look at Ashtanga yoga and see the complex poses and get intimidated,” she said. “Mysore style is a six day practice, but it’s for everyone. Any age, any level, flexibility is not a prerequisite. All that is needed is a desire to learn. Anyone can practice, because it’s so tailored to who you are.”
The benefits speak for themselves, according to DeStefano.
“There’s so much noise in the world today,” she said. “But when you’re practicing here, you’re in a quiet place and you’re building concentration. In addition to physical strength from the poses, you are building mental strength.”