gassho: shining the light on sybil shelton-ford

“The breath is where the beauty happens.” ~ Sybil Shelton-Ford


Kismet. Synchronicity. Divine InterventionThe Power of Intention. Before I even realized I was ready, my teacher appeared!  I can get tired of treading the same streets and sometimes look for new routes to explore and new sights to soak in.  That day in November 2005, I wandered along a quiet downtown block that I hadn’t walked before and discovered a newly-opened yoga studio offering $5 classes. GASP! An accessible studio with affordable classes in little ol’ Lansing?! Say what?! I made a mental note to check it out as soon as I could.

A couple weeks later, I flipped through the local newspaper to see this radiant Black woman gracing the front page of the business section. She was the owner of the studio I had passed…and she looked like me in shape and ethnicity! (DOUBLE GASP!)  I called a dear friend and spiritual confidante in Virginia to share my excitement.  Tati knew my spiritual compass had guided me toward the contemplative practice of Buddhism and that I’d recently found what would become my root sangha; however, my study of yoga had been a private and solitary exploration.  Tati, who also understood that I could be a “slow burn” with new people and things, immediately declared: “She’s your teacher.”

I liked Sybil instantly and, shortly after I’d begun practicing with her that December, asked if she’d ever consider offering a teachers training.  I didn’t have any specific aspirations of becoming a yoga teacher at that moment but could see its potential for healing and building community. Sybil hadn’t ruled it out but was focusing first on getting the studio off the ground.

Fast forward to June 2006, Sybil had hosted a Girls Night Out at the studio and invited me to offer a Reiki share circle similar to those held at the Reiki program I attended before I left New York City three years earlier. It was a lovely body-soul nourishing event filled with asana, laughter yoga, tasty treats, and good conversation. A few days later, I sat down to send Sybil an email to thank her for allowing me to participate and to volunteer to help in any way I could with the studio. Instead I was greeted with a message from her, announcing that she was ready to begin her teachers training program and would like to offer a scholarship to me if I was interested! Um, YEAH!

This month marks 8 years since I began my intensive one-on-one apprenticeship with Sybil. The journey has taken us from apprentice and teacher, mentee and mentor, to friends and collaborators! (Full circle moment: I decided in May to take a summer hiatus and, as soon as I opened Facebook, Sybil’s post appeared in my newsfeed announcing her availability to sub yoga classes, walk dogs or help with gardening!!! ) So I am thrilled to introduce Sybil to the community of devoted practitioners who find refuge with me every Monday evening. Sybil will be bringing a “yummy” spin to Yin + Yang Yoga from 7 July to 28 July.

With a deep gassho, I offer my sincere gratitude to Sybil for being a true sponsor of my teaching, learning, and growing along this path!

How has yoga changed you?

Yoga has made me become more mindful about all aspects of my life; how I eat, how I speak, how I listen; how I attend to my job… everything.

How has your personal practice + teaching approach changed over the years?

When I first started practicing yoga, it was all about the asanas (poses).  It was about how it LOOKED, not how it felt.

Now when I practice asana, it is all about the breath. Breath first – pose second. The breath is the precious jewel of all yoga that it often overlooked and this is  a true shame.  The breath is where the beauty happens.

Also when I first started teaching, I was more concerned about how to sequence classes and would even plan out my classes ahead of time.  I remember writing down the sequences on pieces of paper and stuffing them under my mat!  I would often check my “notes” to make sure I was on track.  Now I teach to the student – to who is in front of me.  Sometimes I will ask them for requests, but sometimes I “read” their energy and/or their bodies and the sequence sort of emerges from there.  I never plan anymore.


When people ask you about yoga/wellness, what is/are the thing(s) you value the most that you’d like them to know?

I think the most important thing is to listen to your body; listen to your gut.  The only way to really do this is to be mindful and aware of what is going on both INSIDE and OUTSIDE.  I would also urge them to remember that they are individuals and what works for someone else may be true poison for them.  This is true in yoga, when choosing foods, when choosing a career… everything!

Sybil Shelton-Ford is a mother, early childhood educator, yoga therapist + founder of As You Are Yoga. She completed her 200-hour yoga teacher training at the Temple of Kriya Yoga in 2003 and went on to receive advanced training (500 hour) with Integrative Yoga Therapy. She has additional training in Yoga for the Special Child with Sonia Sumar, Chakra Yoga Therapy with Joseph and Lillian LaPage, and Ashtanga Yoga with David Swenson.

Sybil has developed training curricula for teaching yoga to adults and children (including those with special needs) and is currently studying to become a health and wellness coach. She plans to launch her first conscious eating workshop series this fall.

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