Photos by Sadie Dayton
The art of practicing yoga aims to steady “the ripples of the mind” through an individual’s control of mind and body. It brings together physical and mental disciplines to achieve a peaceful union between the science of life and the spirit of the soul. In other words, it helps manage stress and anxiety and keeps you relaxing. The Sanskrit noun yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, which translates in English “to attach, join, harness, or yoke.” In the context of yoga philosophy, the word yoga refers to union or a yoking of the human spirit with the Divine. Someone who practices yoga or follows the yoga philosophy with a high level of commitment is called a yogi (male or female) or yogini (female). The ultimate goal of practicing yoga is to achieve Moksha (liberation), where one enters a state of meditative consciousness called Samadhi and abides in that state as pure awareness.
Sandy Klemmer ’98 is a yogini who, along with brother Scott ’95, attended Suffield Academy as a day student from Granby, Connecticut. She was in the first freshmen class to receive a laptop computer in compliance with the school’s innovative laptop initiative started in 1993. It was a significant time in her life she remembers well: “I considered many local independent schools but Suffield appealed to me the most. The mood on campus suited me—a familial warmth and friendliness—and I appreciated the balance and scope of the school’s pedagogy in much broader areas than just academics. I felt that the curriculum wasn’t solely oriented around creating well-rounded individuals but rather supported a foundational understanding and trust that each student is multidimensional, unique, and capable of existing within a greater community. The Suffield faculty knows how to hold space for its students, and it was an invaluable experience being around such incredible role models. Mr. Butcher was one of the most patient, kind, and creative teachers who encouraged everything we could dream up and made us believe that anything was possible. Mr. Vianney’s joy and enthusiasm for English were contagious, and we all admired Mrs. Cahn for her humility, warmth, and strength. She always listened, and I felt that.”
The ancient yoga texts emphasize the importance of equanimity and steadiness. How do we stay clear-headed and compassionate in the midst of such a crisis? How do we not become overwhelmed by the theatrics of our adaptively worrying-mind, but still allow for complex emotions and wise actions? How do we find ground to stand on when everything feels shaky and uncertain? How do we take hold of the reigns when our thoughts are running amuck? How do we breathe in the face of fear? The yogis spent a lot of time studying these timeless human experiences, and they concluded that all of this work happens from the inside out, over a long time of dedicated practice.
Above all else, Sandy says that Suffield taught her the value of following her inspiration, and of leading by encouragement, patience, and open-mindedness. Flipping through a deck of memories, she recalls moments from nearly all her teachers that left notable and lasting imprints on her adolescent life. What stands out most in her long list of memories was a course taught by James Godfrey named A Call to Service. “It was based on the concepts of philosophy and religion and explored dimensions of humanity and the welfare of society,” she explains. “It was my first organized study and articulation of what it means to be in a community, have a purpose, embody compassion, and hold multiple perspectives while bearing witness to the complexities and injustices of our social framework. That resultant dovetail with our individual and shared consciousness is very stabilizing to me. I’m fortunate to have parents with strong moral and philosophical values and to have been exposed to a variety of teachers like James Godfrey who enabled further inquiry. It’s fascinating to reflect on given where I am now and because all the pieces fit together. The practices of yoga focus on regulating our own thoughts and actions to cultivate perspective, service, love, and open-mindedness.”A celebrated and gifted scholar, Sandy earned Underclass Religion and Math Awards during the 1996-1997 academic year and graduated cum laude at Suffield’s 165th Commencement, where she earned the Class of 1847 Mathematics Prize, the Emmet Kent English Prize, and the Francoise Waskiewicz Award. This is an endowed travel grant awarded to a student who, after two years of French to the third level or beyond, has demonstrated outstanding effort, love of the French language and culture, and intellectual curiosity. Sandy headed to Tufts University in the fall of 1998, where she earned dual bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Environmental Studies. She also holds a master’s in Human Nutrition from Boston University and is a licensed/registered dietitian.
For nearly 10 years she applied her clinical expertise to providing medical nutrition care at Massachusetts General Hospital. She has served on the Massachusetts Dietetic Association Board of Directors and is a network provider and member of the Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association. Earlier in her career, she interned at the British Nutrition Foundation in London, worked as a nutrition consultant in food marketing, was an assistant to Dr. Miriam Nelson’s StrongWomen Program at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition, and is a supporting author of The Healthy Eating and Active Time Club Curriculum: Teaching Children to Live Well. Sandy completed her yoga certification and began teaching in 2014. She is grateful for the opportunity to study with her teacher Raghunath on an annual pilgrimage in India and while passionate about yoga philosophy is currently enrolled in a 500-hour certificate program in yogic studies.
The genesis of growing up the daughter of a chemical engineer father and social worker mother would lead Sandy down an organic career path enveloped by both science and spirit. With the heart of a hippie and a mind skilled in medicine, Sandy started her own private nutrition practice in 2014 dedicated to helping clients explore their relationship with food, body, and movement. Specializing in disordered eating, she identifies her primary role as a nutritional therapist rather than a dietitian. She explains, “In this realm of my work I help clients learn to trust their bodies, to trust their own experiences. I cherish this integration of mental, spiritual, and physical health, steering away from a strictly prescriptive or dietary approach to foster personal competence and intuition. I think people are surprised by the potential to redirect thought processes from the self-judgment and criticism that stifle change to the acceptance and curiosity that encourage it. There’s a lot of noise out there about nutrition and wellness and our most powerful health tools these days are discernment and earmuffs. I’m pleased to support a clear momentum towards an individualized conceptualization of nutrition while moving away from the outdated and simplistic calories-in/calories-out model.” At the intersection of yoga and nutrition, Sandy spends a lot of time thinking about the misguided course of wellness culture and how as a community we can reclaim the true intent of the terms “wellness” and “health,” which she considers to have fallen victim to semantic satiation, privilege, and consumerism.
Underlining all of Sandy’s work is the fundamental belief that the way we experience and relate to our bodies is a direct access point to understanding the self. She says that “exploring the impermanent aspects of the self—our thoughts and body (called Prakriti)—illuminates the part of us that is steady and unchanging: our consciousness (called Purusha).” She further explains, “The fact that there are practices that put us in contact with our own being and consciousness is purely magical. Whether I am with nutrition clients or yoga students, we leverage all sorts of different approaches to pursue freedom from obscurations, puncture ego, and gain perspective on the question: Who am I? We all have a deeply inherent knowing that we can learn to tune and honor. In yoga, we use the body as an instrument to access the mind but ultimately move both of those things—body and mind—out of the way to reveal consciousness. So much of yoga sounds incomprehensible and laughable until you experience it for the first time, and only in retrospect can we look back to recognize our own ignorance—at least that was my experience. These glimpses of insight give me sound faith to keep going, and it would be difficult to experience these noetic and life-altering states without being able to share it with others.”
Yogic teachings seem to be eternal. Recently, Sandy has been considering the Covid-19 pandemic from the seat of a yogi: “The ancient yoga texts emphasize the importance of equanimity and steadiness. How do we stay clear-headed and compassionate in the midst of such a crisis? How do we not become overwhelmed by the theatrics of our adaptively worrying-mind, but still allow for complex emotions and wise actions? How do we find ground to stand on when everything feels shaky and uncertain? How do we take hold of the reigns when our thoughts are running amuck? How do we breathe in the face of fear? The yogis spent a lot of time studying these timeless human experiences, and they concluded that all of this work happens from the inside out, over a long time of dedicated practice.”
Sandy admits there are a lot of misconceptions about yoga, and to fully understand yoga one must first strip away any preconceived visions of poses or postures. She explains “Yogis have a long history of using their bodies as a container for study through breathwork, cleansing practices, energy manipulation, and discipline. I think the mindfulness of intelligent postural sequences is a beautiful extension of the tradition, but the modern representation of yoga as being a physical or pose-based practice can lead to a gross misunderstanding of what yoga is and what it can offer. Yoga is the liberation from suffering caused by misperception—a pursuit of appreciation, tolerance, clarity, and selflessness. This is not achieved by bypassing the presence of suffering but rather by embracing it with a proper perspective. Without the context and knowledge derived from studying the original yoga texts and learning from qualified teachers, yoga runs the risk of being limited to gymnastics, but it can offer so much more than that. I see transformational shifts occur for students and nutrition clients when they are exposed to the depths of this ancient wisdom. I wasn’t raised with any formal religion but instead, my parents taught curiosity and morals, which gave me the freedom to explore spirituality. Through the study and practices of yoga, I’ve been endlessly fascinated by how much control we have over our mental atmosphere and thus the overall experience of everything. It’s not mastering the Crow Pose that feels good; it’s the humility that comes as a result of exploring ultimate consciousness.”
“Lately something that’s been on my mind is the intersection of science and spirituality,” she says. “There’s a growing insistence to dissect and justify the benefits of ancient practices (like yoga poses or meditation) by scientific means which extracts them out of their context. Research helps us to understand and even enhances our experiences by providing a shared language to discuss them, but I think we need to also be very cautious about the limitations and biases that can arise when applying a scientific framework to spiritual phenomenology. It was very eye-opening to me when I first heard a swami in India offering the instruction to be as cautious with blind faith as with blind doubt. I had always before been heavy on blind doubt and insistent in proving everything with science. I now recognize we need both wise faith and wise doubt for stability.”
Sandy concludes that bodies are beautifully complex, dynamic, and equipped with an inherent deep-knowing. Rather than searching for answers, she says “the process is more about establishing practices that help reveal the knowledge we already have. For most of us, our minds will yank us all over the place, and it’s gnarly in there. But once we learn to drop away from the drama and anchor into wisdom, decisions about how to best proceed in life or to care for selves become organic. Wellness is after all a practice in subtlety, not precision.”