RIFLE, Colorado - For Misty Frontella, the practice of yoga means both love and peace.
And as a yoga instructor in Rifle, that's what she hopes her students take away from the classes she teaches at Colorado Mountain College - both at the West Garfield campus off Airport Road and at the old CMC building on Railroad Avenue.
"It's a tough world out there," Frontella said. "I want my students to find self-acceptance and be aware of their bodies. I want them to walk out feeling really good about themselves. I want them to feel grounded and not worry about what other people think and I want them to have a deeper connection with themselves."
A group of 12 people are gathered at 6 a.m. on this particular morning in a darkened gym room at the West Garfield campus. Soft, soothing music plays in the background. The mood is quiet and serene and the students remove their coats and shoes, quietly greet each other and get their "areas" ready with their mats, a blanket, straps, Styrofoam blocks and eye pillows.
They come for all different reasons - to strengthen and tone their bodies, increase flexibility and to simply relax and relieve stress. It's understandable. The holidays are just around the corner, and the entire country is ready for a deep breath after a contentious mid-term election. Yoga might just be the answer.
Frontella begins the one-and-a-half hour class with breathing exercises as everyone sits cross-legged on their mats.
"Take a deep breath through your nose and exhale through your mouth," she instructs in a gentle voice. "Bring your awareness to your breath. Feel how your breath feels. Connect with your breath. Set your intention for this practice."
After a few minutes of relaxation, the class goes into a variety of what are called "poses," which focus on different areas of the body from the feet to the face - all of which have names such as "plank," "downward dog," "child's pose," "warrior," "cobra," "lunge" and "mountain pose."
Robin Andersen of Battlement Mesa, a student in the class, has been practicing yoga for the past five years.
"I thought it looked cool and decided I could get into it," Andersen said. "I do it for cardio strength and to feel balanced. Yoga connects your mind, body, spirit and breath. It's a challenge and rewarding. Yoga is a practice and a process. It's definitely worth it."
Once everyone has stretched, Frontella leads the class in a series of "sun salutations" - a flowing series of 12 poses that helps build strength and increases flexibility.
"Good job you guys," she encourages the class. "Great warrior poses. Check in with your body. Notice how your body feels ... breathe."
Frontella, who grew up in Aspen, has lived in the valley for 20 years and is married to Garrick Frontella of Rifle. She has owned Sunshine Lawn Service for 16 years and is also accomplished in pottery and jewelry-making. But the creative field is not new to her family.
"I come from a long line of eccentric artists," Frontella said with a smile.
She has been practicing yoga for ten years and teaching for two.
"When I started, I didn't really know what it was about, but I had a back problem," she said. "At that time, there were 15 people who did it in this tiny room in the old CMC building."
She later began practicing at the old 3rd Street Studio on East Third Street.
"That's when I really got into it," Frontella said. "I was going through a divorce with my first husband and I don't know how I would've gotten through it without yoga. But I was really uncomfortable with the whole Eastern side of it."
That has since changed.
"It's opened my eyes," she admits. "It comes from India and the initial intention of yoga is so that you could sit in meditation longer - that's the purpose. It came to the West in the late 1800s."
Frontella's mother, whom she was very close to, died after a long illness and yoga again helped her through a stressful time.
"In yoga, your breath connects your body and mind," she said. "It's about becoming more aware. As you go through life, you have all these things and yoga is a way to slow things down. You get back to your true self and find who you are. You find a place of quiet inside. Yoga brings me to a deeper level. We're so busy and this is stress relief. It opens your body and opens your energy centers."
Like different churches, there are also different types of yoga. Frontella recently attended a training at the Sivananda Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas at an "ashram," which she describes as similar to a monastery.
"It was a life-changing experience," she recalled. "It was a lot of the spiritual aspect of yoga. Yoga is a continuing learning experience. There's always something more."
Following the sun salutations, the class practiced headstands and shoulder stands. These poses, also known as "inversions" can be some of the more challenging poses to master. But Frontella helps each student individually, all the while assuring everyone that they should go at their own pace.
The final five to 10 minutes of the class are dedicated to a relaxation pose known as "Savasana" - or the "corpse pose" in which a person lies on the floor with eyes closed, feet apart and arms spread out to the side, palms facing upward and taking deep breaths.
"Let everything go," Frontella says in a soothing voice, as she walks around the room spraying a calming mist of lavender. "Let go of all expectations, all judgments and self criticism."
After everyone has come back up to a seated position, cross-legged on their mats, with hands in a prayer position Frontella bids her students farewell for the day.
"The light in me honors the light in you," she says, bowing her head. "Namaste."
It just doesn't get much more stress-relieving than this.