Sharing the benefits of yoga: Sept. is National Yoga Month


CULLMAN – September is National Yoga Month and Cullman yoga practitioners are gearing up for an awareness campaign emphasizing the national observance to educate the public about the health benefits of yoga and how it inspires a healthy lifestyle.

“September was chosen because it seemed the perfect month to start a healthy lifestyle, especially considering that after summer many people are looking forward to living healthier," explained Cullman yoga teacher, Debbie Leopard.

Local artist, Laura Willingham Walker, has been taking yoga classes from Leopard for about four years. “She is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic,” said Walker. “Debbie is excellent as an instructor. I find that I will exercise regularly if I find something that I enjoy doing and that is definitely yoga. Because of my yoga practice, I am more flexible and stronger now than I was in my 20s!”

Doris Simmons, who is 76 years old only by the calendar, attributes her youthful appearance to the practice of yoga.

“I have been doing this for years,” said Simmons, who is also an avid gardener. “I have to exercise so that I can garden on this slope,” she laughed, indicating the steep incline from her Smith Lake home, down to the water. “I don’t have to take any medications for osteoarthritis, or anything else, just Vitamin D, and glucosamine and chondroitin for my joint health,” she continued, saying that her doctor is amazed at the good tone of her muscles and overall good health.  She credits yoga with most of that, and the fact that she is faithful to consistently attend classes three days per week. “I’ve lost several inches off my hips and thighs, too,” she added.

Benefits of the ancient form of exercise also include increased balance, flexibility, joint health, natural detoxification, muscle tone, weight management and heart health.

“On the mental side, it helps to alleviate anxiety and depression, elevates self-esteem has many other psychological benefits,” Leopard continued.

Leopard pointed out that football players or anyone in sports can also benefit from the deep stretches and mental conditioning that come from yoga practice.

For instance, the benefits of the Sirsasana position (also known as the headstand) are practically endless. Here are just a few of them:

  • Strengthens the spine, neck, shoulders and arms
  • Tones the legs and abdominals
  • Relieves a buildup of fluid in the legs and feet
  • Allows a healthy, pure blood flow to brain cells
  • Stimulates the nervous system
  • Aids in the treatment of headaches, anxiety, asthma, sinusitis, hay fever, depression, diabetes, insomnia, and symptoms of menopause

“I'm into my 20th year of practice and was just told from my doctor that the results of my bone density showed my spine was equivalent to a 30-year-old’s,” said Leopard, who was in automobile accident earlier in her career and surprised doctors by recovering so quickly. She attributes her resilience to having been a devoted yoga practitioner at the time.

For most people yoga gives benefits which allow them to do more in other areas of their lives. For instance, Wallace State Community College President, Dr. Vicki Karolewics leads a very active lifestyle. She often scuba dives and frequently takes motorcycle trips. Because she is in great shape, she doesn’t get sore or stiff when she does other activities.

For Karolewics, the results have been gratifying. “Yoga elongates the muscles and loosens stiff joints, especially my spine and hips,” she said. “All strengthening occurs through the use of your own body weight. When I finish an hour of yoga posing and stretching, I feel regenerated and strong,” she said.

Leopard sees these results on a regular basis. Her students are always coming to her and telling her that their doctors are surprised at their health and fitness after they are involved in Yoga for a while. Although there are still people who don’t know what the practice really is, some even still think that it’s just chanting or burning incense, it is gaining in popularity and understanding due to word of mouth and media coverage in movies. 

“I think in Cullman, yoga is still somewhat of a mysterious practice,” said Leopard. “It's stigma as a religion couldn't be further from the truth. It's a science not religion. The health benefits, body and mind, of yoga are second to none. There's no age limit to this beautiful practice. I've taught ages 5-80. Nothing like watching an 80-year-old touch their toes or a 5-year-old learn to sit and just breathe,” she said.

At one time, Leopard was one of the only yoga instructors in the city. Now, due to her diligence of promoting the practice, and the growing awareness of its exercise benefits, especially for people who can’t run marathons or do high impact aerobics, yoga has become more recognized here.

B.K.S. Iyengar, who was one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world, once said, "Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured,” quoted Leopard.

“Mr. Iyengar was 95 when he passed away in August 2014,” said Leopard. “He truly lived a full life and is a prime example of what yoga can do for one’s health and longevity,” she continued.

“Cullman has a variety of yoga classes and teachers who are trained in the various forms and positions of the practice,” said Leopard. “This summer and fall Beverly Dotsey (200-hour certified yoga teacher) teaches ‘Yoga in The Park’ at Depot Park on Thursday nights at 7 p.m. This class is very popular because it allows people to be outside instead of in a studio setting.”

Beverly also teaches Mondays at 5:30 p.m. at Olympic Health Spa. Her classes are all-level Ashtanga-based flows.

According to Leopard, the Cullman Ballet Theatre School is also planning to add yoga to its schedule this month. The class dates are undetermined at this time. Please contact the school for more information.  (256-734-7775

Leopard is an E-200 registered yoga teacher, and will complete her last 300 hours of training in October 2017. This will place Leopard at the highest certification level from the Yoga Alliance as an E-500 registered yoga teacher and a Yoga Alliance Continuing Education provider. Leopard will be teaching all levels alignment classes, and is also available for private sessions upon request.

  • ELEVATE Cullman offers yoga classes Monday-Friday. Check the website for pricing and schedules at or call 256-595-2064. ELEVATE Cullman yoga teachers are:
    • Becky Beckman – BUTI YOGA and All levels flow
    • Debbie Leopard- Vinyasa, Iyengar based workshops every Wednesday and BUTI YOGA
    • Mary Rogers – All levels
  • Beverly Dotsey- Yoga in the Park on Thursday nights at 7 p.m. (
  • Fabian Holland teaches at the Donald Green Senior Center, the Cullman Wellness and Aquatic Center and Below Chiropractic Clinic.
  • Sister Mary McGehee teaches Monday evenings at the Benedictine convent. These classes resume the first Monday after Labor Day.  Call Benedictine Manor for information on these classes.

Check for class times and dates, updates and more information on “Yoga with Debbie” on Facebook.

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