Photographs courtesy of Ali Webbinaro/ADK Yoga and Family Center
Ali Webbinaro is an awakening force in her northern New York community.
Having grown up in Peru NY, Webbinaro settled in New Hampshire after college and earned a graduate degree from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) in Public Administration. She went on to serve her New Hampshire communities as Public Administrator and city Human Resources Director, focusing her career on community building and outreach.
In 2018, with her spouse and two young children, Webbinaro returned to her New York hometown and became a public administrator of another kind — offering mindfulness and support to New York’s North Country in the form of community yoga.
ADK Yoga and Family Center, co-owned by Ali with business partner and yoga teacher Emily Barry, is an emerging yoga studio offering adult classes, yoga for kids, prenatal and postpartum classes, and activities and events to support caregivers and children. More than a yoga studio, ADK Yoga fills a vital need in Plattsburgh, New York by offering a place for community engagement, support for families, and a mental health resource in the form of breath and movement.
We spoke with Webbinaro about the role yoga plays in life, the importance of community engagement, and how mindfulness awakens the spirit.
New York Makers: How did yoga enter into your life?
Ali Webbinaro: I’ve been around yoga my whole life. My mom has been a yoga teacher since I was a kid, so we grew up with yoga and meditation in our world as a big part of my life, and I’ve taken classes everywhere I’ve lived. Over time I’ve developed my own practice and idea of a yoga teacher -- someone like my mom, a vision of somebody wise with a calming and supportive energy and a lack of judgment. A true teacher. Somebody who is there to support and teach, someone who can give and receive a certain energy and who can encourage each person to do things the way that feels best for them.
I think that’s hard to come by in yoga teachers. I’ve done yoga at many studios and in many places and have only found a few where I really felt comfortable. So when we moved back here [to Plattsburgh] and I started taking classes with Luis [Sierra, former owner of ADK Yoga], I thought, ‘Yes. This is my teacher.’ He has this presence that makes you feel comfortable and really at ease. There’s no judgment in his space, not even self judgment. It’s a place of peace and a solace. When he told me he was retiring, I was so sad. I remember being in his class, lying in Savasana and crying. And then I thought to myself, ‘You know what? I could continue this. I could continue this because this space is so special. And this is so helpful to me. And I know other people feel this way, too.’
NYM: How did you transition into taking over the studio?
AW: My co-owner Emily and I have known each other through email for many years. She had taught at my mom’s yoga studio, while I had done the website and social media for them; but I don’t think we’d ever met in person until we got together for coffee right before Christmas in 2019 to discuss the idea of partnering to take over. [Former owner of the studio] Luis connected us, thinking we’d be a good team. We had coffee and discovered a shared vision of creating a space of support where we could bring yoga and support to women and families, and build a community center around that support. Then it was a whirlwind. January we started really thinking about it, February we put it all into place, and March we took over.
Luis and his partner Libby did a meet and greet with their yoga community for us before we took ownership because they wanted us to be embraced by their community. It was really beautiful and such a lovely transition.
NYM: How did you decide to incorporate kids and families into the yoga space?
AM: Emily, and I both have a similar vision. We feel it’s so important to support families, especially women and kids through yoga. We’ve both felt strongly from the start about being able to offer an authentic and meaningful yoga practice to adults, while also bringing yoga and mindfulness to kids. We’re really excited to be able to support people and families, and women prenatal and postpartum, in a studio that serves everybody. Yoga is so good for everybody.
NYM: What can yoga offer?
AW: Yoga, for me, keeps me physically fit but is also a really important tool for maintaining mental balance. It quiets my anxiety. It helps me to be a better mom. It keeps me connected to my body. It helps regulate the nervous system. It’s great for adults. But it’s also so beneficial for kids to learn early on. Teaching our little kids how to breathe and how to regulate their bodies and connect through their breath is a life skill that they’ll always have. When we can give kids these tools at an early age, it’s such a benefit to them in every aspect of their life.
I see yoga as service. To myself and others. I want to be able to help others the way that yoga has helped me. I want to help new moms feel good. I want to help moms who have two- and four-year-olds not go crazy. I want to help people in all stages of life maintain that balance between mind, body, and breath.
It’s hard because, as a mom, it can be difficult to give yourself the time to do something like yoga. Even though we know how good it is for us, it can be hard to give ourselves permission, even once a week, to spend an hour on ourselves like that.
I took kids yoga classes all throughout with my first child. I did prenatal yoga with her and then I did baby yoga and tiny tot yoga and toddler yoga and then my second child was born and we did family yoga and it was awesome. A two-year-old doesn’t need yoga as much as the mother needs it. Through family yoga, I could be in my body and also connecting to my children at the same time. It’s so nice to connect with your children in that way.
I think that family yoga is so much about supporting the caregiver. In our classes, we work with the kids in age-appropriate movement and song and repetition, connecting their body to their breath, doing all of these developmentally appropriate things for their bodies and minds, and we’re also giving the caregiver space to practice alongside the child. It gives the mother or father or caregiver the opportunity to do some stretching and breathing while they're connecting with their kids. I feel like that’s the perfect combination. And then as kids get bigger and are able to practice independently, they just blossom. It’s amazing.
NYM: How has the current COVID-19 crisis affected your studio?
AW: We opened at the beginning of March, and were only open for one week before we “paused.” We were not set up to take online payments when this began and didn’t feel like we had the capacity to do online classes. At the same time, as soon as we started quarantining we felt like there was such an overload of information coming in, and we didn't want to add to that flood. So we started thinking about ways that we could foster a deeper connection with our local community without generating more noise. One thing healthy communities have in common is engagement -- people being connected to other people, their neighbors, their schools, their towns, their yoga communities. So, on Sundays at 10 am we started offering a Zoom call called ‘Coffee and Tea with ADK Yoga’. It’s a half hour of conversation and then a fifteen minute grounding meditation. And it’s been really nice.
It’s a group of people who all have yoga in common, so it has that thread of mindful awareness running through it. It’s been really lovely to connect with people whom we might not otherwise talk with through this. It’s open to everybody. You’re still in your house, but you’re connecting. And while we’re not offering yoga instruction at this time, we feel lucky to be able to create a space for meaningful connection.
NYM: Are there any last thoughts you can leave us with?
AW: I think one of the most important things we can do right now is support each other. Figuring out how to do that and what that looks like for us in our communities and our villages is so important. Everything I do, I do with the intention of putting my kids on the right path and creating a better world for them. So really, the best thing we can do right now is to save our planet.
Learn more about ADK Yoga and Family Center here.And check out the public Facebook group to learn more about upcoming ‘Coffee and Tea with ADK Yoga’ community zoom calls.