Born to Malcolm and Helen Pratt in Pittsburgh, Cheryl was the youngest of sisters, Dianne, Lynn and Sandy. Cheryl’s father moved the family to Chattanooga when he was transferred and worked for Olan Mills. She's now a leading light in yoga - a healing art that also helped transform her when she was very frail.
Cheryl says, “Yoga becomes more than just the movement. We come into yoga – especially in a gym setting - expecting a workout.
You are going to get a workout in one form or another, but you have to get out of your own head and learn to connect to your body."
She wanted to be a photographer when she was little. "I was at my daddy’s knee taking pictures with him. I don’t take pictures like I used to, but I see the world that way; I see it through the eye of a camera, always thinking that what I see would make a great photo.”
Cheryl claims she was the least feminine of the four girls. “My dad used to tell people that I was the son he never had. I sat on my dad’s lap when he would mow the yard. I would caddy for him when he golfed - I was the kid that you just looked up in a tree and that’s exactly where I was,” Cheryl admits.
“It frustrated my beautiful, elegant mother to no end. We decorated our own rooms. My sister Sandy had a purple room – she was girlie, (the woman will not go to the mailbox without putting make up on). My room looked like a den, with a trundle bed and a wall of bookcases. I was an avid reader. My mom would walk in and say, ‘It looks like a boy lives in here!’” Cheryl laughs.
Marrying young and starting her family Cheryl was a stay-at-home mother and didn’t begin working until she was in her thirties. She had a difficult time with her health and this prompted Cheryl to eventually get into fitness. No one could pinpoint why she was ill. It later came out that there were thyroid problems and gestational diabetes but during that time she was not getting any answers so she took her health in her own hands. She stopped eating sugar and she began eating whole foods.
“I also started exercising a little bit – I had been so sick, I couldn’t get off the couch. I began with Richard Simmons,” Cheryl laughs. “I confess, it was Richard Simmons who got me here. I lived in a very isolated rural area; there were no gyms. I slowly began to put the needed weight back on and get my energy back.”
Cheryl and her family moved to Shelbyville. They owned a farm where she grew fresh fruit and fresh vegetable and started taking aerobics classes. After six months, the aerobics instructor was moving and asked Cheryl if she wanted to take over the class.
“I thought, ‘Me?’ I was this tall, gangly - and I thought - uncoordinated person. She had a big group, so she got me started, gave me pointers, made me music on cassettes, pointed me in the direction of getting certified and I was off and running. Nothing was going to get in my way of group fitness. I loved it then and still love it now,” Cheryl vows.
She taught at the rec center for three years and then taught at a gym called the Shelby Barn. “We moved to Cleveland, Tn. and I began teaching classes for Princess Snyder who now runs the group fitness department and is one of the fitness directors at the Cleveland Y. For years she had her own studio called Body Dynamics, it was a great studio. I learned a lot from her. She was one of my favorite employers ever and was phenomenal - very generous with her time, a stickler for details, a stickler for safety and I loved working for her,” Cheryl says.
Cheryl was very in tuned with her body by this time and followed its lead. “Princess used to tease me because I did these long stretches at the end. She would say – ‘No, no, no three or four minutes of stretching that’s all we do,’ in that era – it was all hard-core aerobics. I knew I was on the right path though. I taught aerobics for a great many years and didn’t start teaching yoga until about 12 years ago, though I had always done yoga on my own,” Cheryl attests.
In the year 2000 Cheryl remarried and moved to Nashville. She worked at the credit union in Goodlettsville but taught as well. "They wanted me to start teaching yoga. I wasn’t certified for that so I searched for a while and settled on Yoga Fit Training Systems which was a good fit for me. Yoga Fit teaches different takes on yoga. You can develop your teaching levels so you don’t have to go through a whole year-long practice that can cost several thousands of dollars. I eventually did do that but they were geared for people teaching in gyms, not yoga studios. That was how I got started teaching yoga and I haven’t looked back,” Cheryl says. Cheryl and her family eventually moved back to Chattanooga.
The hardest pose in Yoga depends on the individual, she says.
“Backbends for me are a challenge; I don’t do Wheels very easily. Where Forward Folds are easy for me - I can do a Forward Fold and touch my chin to my knees. Most people find the challenging poses are balancing poses – like arm balances such as Crane or Crow, those are harder for some people. Wheel is the challenge for me, I do wheel but it looks more like a Table,” she laughs.
“My favorite is Vinyasa Flow where you string poses together in a flowing manner that creates a movement of energy in the body and it creates fluidity in the spirit as well. I teach to all levels and to all ages,” Cheryl says.
There is another style of yoga called Iyengar, I have never trained formally with the Iyengar – that is the style that I gravitate towards and it’s my favorite to do. I would like to study more of it. Iyengar is very precise, a very lined base. They use a lot of prop blocks and bolsters it is a very restorative event and certainly very healing. That style is what I like most when I work with clients in yoga therapy. It is hard to teach in a class setting. Because where there is a lot of movement in a class; Iyengar is more precision,” Cheryl says.
What do you tell people who feel yoga is not enough and it is too slow or they don’t feel they can gain something from it?
“You just come do it. Try it. The energy moves in the body differently. You think it is just slow paced and holding poses and that it won’t be hard or challenging and it is anything but- especially if moving in, what is called Ashtanga style. You are moving from one pose to the next one breath at a time,” Cheryl demonstrates, “inhale, move …exhale, move ….inhale, move …exhale, move. It can be a very powerful practice – a very hot yoga,” she states.
“There are many subsets of yoga in this country and they were started by a man named Krishna Pattabhi Jois. He took old styles of yoga and brought them into the modern world. He was a doctor and he took yoga in the healing direction that it was meant years ago but in a modern way and from him, came teachers like Krishnamacharya or Iyengar. And Jois started the Ashtanga style, that power style,” Cheryl says.
“Krishnamacharya has done the more slow yoga that is long poses to free up energy that is trapped in the joints. All these different yoga styles came from one person. Some people think this is better or that is better – it’s not, there is no better. You have to find what style fits your body and what works for you. You might take lots of different classes – some people come to my class and I ask them what other classes do they take and some will say they only take mine - but they might like something better. There are so many forms to try,” she avers.
Cheryl has seen the powerful transformations in her clients when they come to her. “A man in his late sixties, walked with a shuffle, was stiff, closed off. His shoulders forward and chest collapsed. His hips hurt, back hurt, he had injuries in the past that were really weighing heavy on his body now. He had first started taking Silver Sneakers aerobics class, for older people or people recovering from injuries. He also started taking some aerobic classes and then yoga classes. But it was yoga that drew him in. Within weeks, his chest was more open, there was a light in his eyes, where there wasn’t before. He expressed constantly about how good he felt. He doesn’t do Silver Sneakers anymore, because he progressed past that. It has transformed his spirit as well as his body,” she confirms.
Cheryl has a passion for yoga because she knows there is a healing aspect to it.
“Yoga becomes more than just the movement. We come into yoga – especially in a gym setting, expecting a workout. You are going to get a workout in one form or another but you have to get out of your own head and learn to connect to your body, I can lead you around by the nose in an aerobics class all you want – you are going to work up a good sweat and your muscles are going to work, but you aren’t going to pay any attention and you are not going to notice differences in what your body is doing,” she says.
“Come out of your own head – learn the difference between breathing correctly and incorrectly. Give yourself time and patience. Once you start paying attention to your body, in how it moves and how you breath you realize that during the hour of taking this yoga class you have not thought about work or the stuff at home… you realize that what is making you feel so good is not just the movement – it’s the connection.
“Yoga gives the ability for the brain to focus on one thing and that is really hard for our multi-task oriented lives with constant over-stimulation. Yoga teaches us not just in the class room but in our lives to slow that pace down which will, by the way, heal you and give you a youthful outlook on life and take years off your spirit.
“Yoga is not going to fix a broken leg or cure cancer - you need acute care for that; yoga can come in and help you when your leg is healed but you are still a little wobbly, yoga can help when you are a cancer survivor – but that is trauma to the body, trauma to the spirit and trauma to the heart. Yoga can help heal those other things - physical, emotional and mental. It goes together. It is not substituting, it is working with. I want to work hand in hand with doctors, when they turn one of their patients over to me after physical therapy. I have worked with several clients that have had injuries or illness – the doctors do what they can and then release them,” Cheryl declares.
Cheryl tells her clients, “Keep coming, there is going to be something in yoga that makes a connection for you. It may not be the yoga that I am teaching - they may need another style of yoga; I am not going to hold my students to me. I am going to turn my students loose on the world.”
Contact Cheryl at: firstname.lastname@example.org