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Saturday's event will feature free yoga and qigong classes in a non-traditional setting.
Saturday’s event will feature free yoga and qigong classes in a non-traditional setting.

The Historic Triangle is home to several studios and gyms that offer yoga classes for practitioners at a variety of levels, but sometimes newcomers may still feel hesitant to jump straight into a class full of “regulars.”

The idea there are people in the community who are curious about yoga but nervous about their ability level is what inspired Paul Crapol to put together “The Art of Movement,” which will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Linda Matney Gallery in James City County.

“We are looking to bring mindfulness-based activities to different folks in the community rather than waiting for them to come to us,” he said.

The main attraction will be the free half-hour “Intro to Qigong” classes at 1:15 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., and the free 40-minute yoga classes “Yoga Flow for All” and “Yoga Fun!” at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Guests are also encouraged to take a stroll through the gallery and check out the art on display.

Attendees can also stop by and visit with the animal ambassador that will be present starting around 12:15 p.m. as a representative of the Heritage Humane Society. Any donations collected during the event will go to help that nonprofit organization, which takes in more than 1,200 stray, unwanted and lost animals per year.

Crapol, who has taught yoga at several different gyms and studios in the Williamsburg area, felt a growing need to take his practice to the people. He was concerned people feel too intimidated to try yoga in a traditional yoga class setting.

David Hamilton, a local qigong instructor, shared Crapol’s concerns. Qigong (pronounced “chee-gong”) is an ancient Chinese art of movement that advocates aligning the mind, body and spirit in order to channel qi, or chi, which can be described as “life force.”

Hamilton and Crapol got together and decided the best way to get people interested in learning about yoga and qigong was to hold a series of classes in a nontraditional space. They approached John Lee Matney, owner of the Linda Matney Fine Art Gallery, to see how he felt about hosting an event featuring free yoga and qigong classes.

Matney had been on the lookout for new and interesting uses of his space, so he was immediately on board. The current exhibit in his main gallery is a series of mixed media, high texture pieces by artist Linda Mitchell, most of which feature storybook characters and animals. The exhibit inspired Matney to suggest that donations collected at Saturday’s event be given to the Upper York County-based Heritage Humane Society.

Crapol and Hamilton hope people who attend on Saturday leave with the impression that yoga and qigong are accessible to all people.

“Anyone can do it, and you don’t need any prior knowledge or experience,” he said. “These types of exercise are extremely all-inclusive.”

Hamilton added that qigong in particular is extremely adaptable to people with different physical needs and abilities. He describes is as more of a “holistic health practice” than an exercise in the traditional sense, because it involves focus on breathing and meditating more so than feats of strength or endurance. Qigong is even possible for people in wheel chairs or with limited mobility.

Local artist Donna Christensen will also be present at Saturday’s event, selling and displaying “mala” or “intention” bead necklaces that many yoga practitioners like to use to keep them focused on their personal mantras as they work out.

Also present will be local massage therapist Elizabeth Southard, who will be giving free 10-minute chair massages. The inclusion of Southard and Christensen reflects Crapol and Hamilton’s belief that their approaches to health and fitness have more of a mental and spiritual component than many traditional exercise classes. Hamilton describes what he teaches as “moving meditation”.

“Try it and see what it’s like,” Hamilton advises. “It can have a profound effect.”

The free event runs from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Linda Matney Gallery, located at 5435 Richmond Road.