Upper Valley Yoga celebrates its 15th birthday with a free public class— and a sweet namaste
Back in the BL (Before Lululemon) Era, there were few places to find a yoga class in the UV. Leslie Carleton, a veteran teacher, had just moved to town and became friends with Kat Frorer, a yoga enthusiast who was running informal classes out of her basement.
Leslie Carleton in Upper Valley Yoga's gleaming studio in downtown White River.
The women hatched a plan to start a studio. They reserved the gym at the Black Center in Hanover and put an ad in the newspaper advertising a public class. It was Labor Day 2003.
"We thought maybe 10 people would show up," Carleton recalled this week. But when they opened the door, "There were probably 50 there."
Upper Valley Yoga was born. The women eventually outgrew the Black Center and rented a space in Norwich to expand. "We didn't have a business plan," Carleton said. "She was the business plan; I was the teacher."
But then Forer moved away, leaving her yogi pal with a choice: Become a businesswoman or watch the studio fade away. Carleton plunged in — and today runs a thriving enterprise offering upwards of 30 classes a week from a large studio in downtown White River Junction and a smaller space at the home she shares with her husband, Greg Gundlach, in Thetford.
"When she first said she was leaving, I went into a tailspin," Carleton said. "I didn't know how to run a business."
"I figured it out."
Carleton holds a copy of an article about Upper Valley Yoga's early days in the now-defunct Spectator newspaper.
This Labor Day (Sept. 3), Carleton will celebrate Upper Valley Yoga's birthday with a free public class in her large, gleaming space in the Dreamland building at 58 North Main Street in White River. And she'll have a special guest — her original business partner (now Kat Smith) will join her in leading the class.
Full disclosure: I bring zero objectivity to writing about Carleton. I've been taking classes at Upper Valley Yoga for about a decade and am an unabashed fan. After getting hurt in hot yoga and bored in classes that move at a glacial pace, I found my way to Carleton's studio. She and her team of instructors offer a variety of approaches, from gentle and slow to vinyasa classes that have you flow vigorously — but never recklessly — through postures.
Carleton and her crew have a way of balancing the physical and the spiritual. It's not church, but they invite you to turn inward.
"What is it about yoga?" I asked Carleton — a 54-year-old mother of two grown sons, one a circus performer and the other a software engineer — over breakfast at the Tuckerbox this week.
She paused for a minute.
"I'm still figuring that out," she said, eyes flashing gently. "What is going to happen today? Is it going to be something physical? Is it going to be something subtle and energetic? Is to going to be something spiritual?"
While some people fret about their flexibility or their ability to adopt a perfect pose, Carleton said, she's learned that's not the point. "Ultimately, you can be perfect in the pose — but then what?"