Lisa Lauritsen assumes one of her Yoga poses at Canal Side.

by Dave Warner

Lisa Lauritsen is a Houston girl who moved to New York and the Albany/Schenectady area when she was eight. After attending school in both New York and Massachusetts, she ended up in a relationship where farming was the focus.

“We ended up in the area looking for beautiful inexpensive land to farm,” said Lauritsen.

As they were looking for houses in the area, she had a chance to experience Little Falls, and it was like a magnet to her. “I feel like there have been a couple of places in my life where I felt real certainty, and Little Falls is one of those places. Part of me felt very sad to be buying where we ended up buying,” she said. “Because I felt so connected to this place.”

Lauritsen initially studied anthropology in college and lamented that colleges aren’t even offering that subject anymore. After having three children, she decided to go back to school. “I studied human development and human services. Those subjects made me a little more employable,” she said.

She said that she learned a lot of skills along the way, based on her own personal needs. Writing and Yoga came to mind quickly. She said “For me, it’s easier to write than to speak. I’m getting better, but I get a little bit choked up when I speak. But I really enjoy writing.”

Looking back on her early life, Lauritsen said “I think one of the most important things for a mother to have is a community. You need other women, people, and friends and I really didn’t have that back then on the farm. We didn’t make it into town very often. We made our own food.”

Lauritsen thinks that the experience on the farm made her children much more dynamic for understanding hard work and where things come from. Basic understanding like “We don’t get eggs from the store, they come from a chicken, or when you eat a goose, it’s one that was your buddy. It’s very humbling and kids get that. It’s weird how they really understand that on a deep level.”

“We were vegan before we were farmers, so we went from eating no animal products whatsoever to raising bees, chickens, and goats,” she said.

One of the things that Lauritsen really wanted to do when she lived on the farm and was feeling lonely, was to volunteer at the Co-op in Little Falls. “I just couldn’t wait to get there. And then I’d read about the local churches and some of the great things they were doing and I just thought there’s just so much action happening out there and so many good people and that’s where I want to be.”

Because of that need for community, Lauritsen decided to move into Little Falls seven years ago. Her resume was so dated, she felt she was almost unemployable. “The skills that I had obtained a decade before were sort of useless. I was energized and ready to be a fully independent person, but I didn’t have the things that I needed.”

Lauritsen started networking but was intimidated by all of the things that she didn’t know. However, she pushed through and got her first job at the Crystal Chandelier. “I didn’t have a car, so I would ride my bike out there, three days a week, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Those were the only three days that I didn’t have my children, and I was in fantastic shape,” she said.

She said that she ended up working with people who had been in that industry for a long time that really weren’t happy with their jobs and she was like a 16-year-old. “I was happy to be getting a paycheck, I was happy to be making tips, I loved everyone I worked with and I just felt like I belonged.”

Some of her co-workers wanted her to turn it down because nobody could be having that much fun. “They thought I was mocking them, but I was having the time of my life,” said Lauritsen.

She had never hired a babysitter, so for her, it was the first opportunity to hang out with adults in a long time.

Lauritsen also waitressed at Beardslee Castle. However, “My light dimmed a bit over time as I was going back to get my degree,” she said.

Oscar Stivala became a friend of Lauritsen’s and convinced her to get involved in the community. He had told her to come to a Main Street First meeting, but she put off the decision for many weeks. “I kept thinking that I have to do this, but I was a little shy.”

“I was out getting dinner one night by myself and was sitting at the bar and I started talking about this Main Street First thing with this guy who’s sitting next to me. He said it sounds pretty cool, maybe you should go. But, I was trying to convince him to go, while I was really trying to convince myself,” said Lauritsen.

She finally went the following week and the guy who had sat next to her in the bar turned out to be Rob Richard, the President of Main Street First at the time. “He never let on to me. He had just said, yeah I think you should go and maybe I’ll check it out. It was so embarrassing.”

She started going to Main Street First meetings and that’s how she got acclimated to the community. “It gave me a place to put that energy to do good work, and to be known as someone who wanted to be helpful,” said Lauritsen.

Main Street First was looking for all kinds of volunteers at that time, so it worked out for her. She was also one of the first people to get involved with Think Local as it was being formed.

Lauritsen now works as a behavioral specialist at The Kelberman Center in Utica. “I work with children that have special needs and autism in particular. Many of my students are non-verbal. So, my role in the classroom is to study the behavior and try to help them eventually live a life of their own design,” she said. “The job is so inspiring.”

Despite a challenging job in Utica, Lauritsen still felt like she needed something. “I felt emotionally imbalanced and kind of uninspired.”

She had been familiar with Yoga in the past but had also started running and that got really exciting for her. “If you had told me the benefits I would get emotionally and mentally from running, I would have never believed it.”

When she started running, it was to burn extra energy and to reflect on all her choices in life. “It took me away from all the distractions of my home, all the ways I was spending, some of the friendships I had…just being out on the bike trail, surrounded by nature with no one to blame but myself,” Lauritsen said.

At 32, she had finally figured out a way to clear her head and get the negative thoughts out of it. “Of course, then I wanted to run all the time! I went from a person who could run 2 1/2 to 3 miles to running to Middleville and back. And of course, that led to injury real quick.”

Photo by Dave Warner - Lisa Lauritsen (right) with two of her three children prior to the start of the Green is White snowshoe race held at the golf course in February.

Photo by Dave Warner – Lisa Lauritsen (right) with two of her three children prior to the start of the Green is White snowshoe race held at the golf course in February.

After 10 miles of straight running and feeling good one day, her IT band flared up and she couldn’t walk for a week. “So this thing, that had helped me get out of my head a little bit, was lost. I was in pain and mourning the fact that I had no place to run from myself,” she said.

She saw on Facebook that Yoga training was come up and thought that it would help heal the IT band. “Of course, that’s never what it’s about and it evolves into something greater than that.”

She started doing Yoga at home and learned a lot from just YouTube videos. She also decided that she wanted to see if she could get her certification. She read research about emotional regulation and awareness and wanted all of those benefits.

“It was transforming and it continues to evolve to this day. Now, I’m really into the wholeness aspect of Yoga, where when I started, I was more into the physical endeavor,” she said.

She now has a two hundred hour universal certification in Yoga. “There are different schools of Yoga, and I have the Universal approach. I do Hatha and my classes have evolved based on my own needs, but it’s really more of a mindful approach.”

Lauritsen offers classes both in Utica and Little Falls. She has a grant-funded class called Yoga for Youth at the Little Falls Public Library, which is funded through the Community Foundation. “It’s for tweens and teens and you don’t have to be a resident of Little Falls to come to the classes,” she said.

They get a good turnout for the class and she’s now also teaching at CrossFit. “I do more mobility style there where we focus on breathing techniques that calm the mind. That’s an interesting class because it’s both for the beginner and the athlete,” stated Lauritsen.

“The two things that limit our range of motion are not using our range of motion and repetitive motion. I want people in that class, especially the adults, to increase the capacity for breathing,” she said.

For most of us, she said, we need a way to know how to calm our breathing down. “It’s an investment that you don’t really know the worth of until months later when you’ve been practicing it and all of a sudden life hands you a surprise and you have access to that calming breath. Then, you make a decision that you feel is the best you can do at that time.”

For the children in her classes, she tends to focus more on muscle memory. “If you imagine a depressed person, you see the shoulders hunched, the chin drop inward, the spine is curved. We want to put in the body the lifted shoulders, the raised chin, we want to raise the arms. It’s almost fake it till you make it with this kind of training,” she said.

“I get children who don’t want to play sports or they don’t want to hang out…probably spend too much time on their phones or devices. I put them in a warrior pose and all of a sudden, they are with us, they are onboard because it just feels good.”

Lauritsen says “We practice making choices all the time. Knowing where your edge is and playing with that, but not putting yourself over it as I did, is what we’re looking for. It’s about making choices that we’re comfortable with.”

The grant funded Yoga for Youth program is on Wednesdays at the Library from 4:30 to 5:30 pm. For more information call (315) 823-1542 or email littlefalls@midyork.org