Grounded in the Community

By Alyssa Bullock

Waleah Norton has created a warm, welcoming environment at her Yoga Studio. 500The bright red, cracked windows and old stone look of Stillwater’s Red Earth Yoga Studio give off a funky, apropos vibe, but it’s only when you walk through its doors that you discover all that lies beneath the external representation. Red Earth is so much more than a business; it offers more than just a place to exercise. Yoga is a lifestyle, a practice that can improve and change lives, and that is what Red Earth is in the business of doing.

Waleah Norton, owner of Red Earth Yoga Studio, has been practicing yoga with dedication for about 13 years. She moved to Stillwater in August of 2009 from Jupiter, Florida, to be near her ailing mother. A mother herself, Norton chose Stillwater for it’s excellent academic environment and sense of community. Not long after getting settled in, Waleah looked for a place to practice yoga, to experience the community and support of fellow yogis and instructors, but had a hard time finding such a place. Her dedication to yoga and the risk-taker in her led to the opening of Red Earth Yoga Studio, a place where she shares her passion for yoga and for life with the community.

Norton gained some great experience at her studio in Florida. Her instructor noticed her ability and her helpful and encouraging demeanor and suggested that she train to become an instructor herself. Hesitant at first, she gave it a try and fell in love. She took 200 plus hours of training courses and was certified by the Yoga Alliance to ensure the quality of her instruction. She even took it a step further and went to study in India, the birthplace of yoga, for five weeks this past summer. Before opening Red Earth, Waleah taught a couple classes at the Colvin Recreation Center as well. She has invested much in her studies so she can be a quality instructor, because she knows firsthand the benefits that yoga can have.

Starting yoga to reduce the stress of a high-power job in Florida, it did not take long for Waleah to see how even an hour practicing yoga greatly helped her unwind and not worry so much. It has increased her flexibility, balance, and self-confidence, while also helping with back and joint pain; she has an artificial hip due to a car accident at 18 years old, and yoga has been able to reduce the discomfort from that.

Yoga has definite personal health benefits, but it does more than that. As Norton has observed, “there’s really a sense of community here; friendships are being built, and people are starting to meet outside of classes during the week.” She is able to spend time with some of her students, especially the young people, acting as a mentor and friend when they experience struggles, or just want to talk. She’s even had five students go on and become instructors themselves because their interest in yoga, and the benefits they have seen it produce in the lives of their peers, inspired further learning. Red Earth will soon offer its own instructional training program to train up more yoga instructors, some of whom will stay and use their knowledge to serve Stillwater, and others who will end up in communities near and far. Above all, Waleah’s desire is to create a welcoming and non-judgmental environment where students can feel safe, respected, and experience growth. 

Often, misconceptions about yoga, or the general dread of the gym, keep people from giving yoga a try. Many people mistakenly assume yoga is part of Eastern, mystical religions, but Norton says, “It’s not a religion. It’s definitely a spiritual practice, but you don’t need to be religious to practice.” Another reason people tend to stay away from yoga is that they think they don’t have the right body type. “There is no right body type!” Norton states firmly. “That’s the great thing about yoga. It meets you right where you are; there is no need to play catch up.” You don’t have to be skinny and toned to practice yoga. Any person with any body type can enjoy the benefits of yoga, and every person will experience unique benefits. If you put in the time and focus, you will get what you need from practicing yoga.

Knowing that we are all made differently, and that we could have different fears or objections to attending a yoga class, Waleah tries to be as accommodating as possible so that everyone who is interested in yoga can practice as is beneficial to them. She offers private lessons for those who struggle with anxiety and self-confidence, ensuring they have a place to practice with good instruction and feel comfortable in the process. Special discounts are offered for educators, service men and women, students, and many others who deal with high-stress positions. Waleah is willing to work with people who maybe need yoga to help manage stress, but don’t have the funds to do it. Overall, Red Earth seeks to make yoga available and affordable for those who need it, accommodating to personal needs when necessary.

Waleah Norton owns Red Earth Yoga Center in Stillwater 500One initiative Norton is taking to make yoga more accessible and get the community more involved is implementing a new program: Yoga in the Park. There are various parks in Oklahoma City that offer this type of public, free yoga class, and Norton thought that Stillwater would enjoy and benefit from something similar. This program has been in the works for over a year and it is slated to begin soon—just in time for the lovely spring days ahead. The idea is to have classes at Boomer Lake on Saturday mornings twice a month and Sunday afternoons on the alternating weeks. She and some of her instructors will be there, and they will also allow those with experience to share in instructing the group. Waleah’s hope for this program is that it brings people to yoga who would not ordinarily go to a studio. “I want to make this open to everyone—families, kids, anyone who is interested.” She’s already seen people come together over shared interests at Red Earth, and she hopes that Yoga in the Park will be able to do the same thing on a broader scale. To her, this program is all about serving the community: “I just want to give back to this community that has been so supportive of me as a business owner and fellow community member.”

Serving people is what being a yoga instructor is all about to Waleah. Over the years, she has been able to work with people who suffer from anxiety, depression, PTSD, and a variety of self-confidence struggles, helping them to find peace through yoga, but also through relationships that are built by being part of a warm and welcoming community. She feels so incredibly humbled that through yoga she has been able to assist in the recovery of individuals who come to yoga reluctantly, or even as a last resort. To her, “it’s crazy to hear someone say ‘this saved my life’. I just know this is my purpose in life, to use one of my gifts to help others, and I’m so blessed to be able to do that.”

Yoga is a passion that brings peace and healing, and Waleah is thrilled that she has been able to help so many people through Red Earth Yoga Studio. People are what make a community great, and Norton loves being able to help build them up to be the most confident and strong version of themselves. She hopes to continue serving our community through this practice and is excited to work with new instructors and classes as Red Earth continues to grow.