When Marsha Banks-Harold became the legal guardian of two sons with special needs nearly 12 years ago, she was eager to find a way for them to process and work through the trauma they experienced in the foster care system. At the same time, she had taken an interest in yoga, but felt the fitness regimen as a whole was not inclusive of all bodies and minds.
Despite that, she continued to translate what she learned in yoga to her life at home, accumulating her minimum 200-hour certification, then 500, and eventually 1,000 hours, labeling her as an official yoga therapist.
Today, Banks-Harold is the proud owner of Alexandria-based PIES Fitness Yoga Studio, where she teaches her flagship method, My Body Don’t Bend That Way, as well as yoga therapy to historically marginalized people, including those with special needs, trauma survivors and older adults.
“When I started practicing, every studio looked the same to me—same technique, same people,” says Banks-Harold. “I’m a woman of color who studied engineering in college, I know what’s like to not be given a place or a voice.”
In the very first class she offered, the majority of Banks-Harold’s students were older adults who couldn’t physically master the poses. As a result, she ended up creating programming designed specifically for those with physical inhabitants, and continues to do this with all of her students. According to Banks-Harold, any pose can be modified to the person trying to do it.
“I use a learner-based approach, which makes the practice welcoming to everyone,” says Banks-Harold. “I also have an intake process at the beginning of each class. Everyone tells me how they are feeling emotionally, intellectually, physically and spiritually, and then we decide what to focus on that day.”
In addition to leading classes, Banks-Harold offers yoga therapy training to those who are interested in becoming certified. With the program, participants study a combination of anatomy, yoga foundations, biomedical practices, psychology and more, treating yoga more as a therapeutic method than just a workout.
“We look at the pathology of marginalized populations in the training, covering all possible medical conditions that could be present,” Banks-Harold explains. The studio partners with local medical professionals and physical therapists too, to better teach Banks-Harold’s method.
With 30 certified instructors and more than 25 class types across both studios, ranging from yoga in Spanish to belly dancing to prenatal-focused yoga, there’s something for everyone. Plus, Banks-Harold has seen the physical and mental health benefits translate to her older clients, with some losing a formerly needed cane and others reducing stress as a result of the therapy and community aspect of PIES Fitness.
“I do yoga with my boys all the time,” says Banks-Harold of her longtime husband, two biological sons and two adopted sons. “For the two trauma survivors who are now 19 and 16, they’ve used the tools I have taught them to manage their emotions and be more peaceful at school. I actually certified the older one recently. It’s amazing for me to see how far they’ve come as a result of this.”
For those looking to master Banks-Harold’s approach to the fitness regimen, the next yoga therapy training program will begin on Friday, Jan. 17. // 374 S. Pickett St., Alexandria and 33 S. Pickett St., Suite 200, Alexandria; class and yoga therapy training prices vary
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