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Fit For You: Apothecary Yoga

Being stuck indoors can make it difficult to stay fit and healthy. Some have turned to online classes, vitamin supplements, and exercises that can be done easily in smaller spaces — like yoga.

Credit Lucien Jung
Molly Sommerhalder leads the group session of apothecary yoga at Tippecanoe Herbs. This session was held before social distancing was mandated.

Milwaukee instructor Molly Sommerhalder got hooked on yoga 20 years ago after taking classes at the YMCA. Through her daily practice, Sommerhalder says she's significantly healed her irritable bowel syndrome, decreased chronic anxiety and come to better understand herself.

"If you're not happy in your mind, you're not going to be happy in your body," she notes. "And you're gonna have this disconnection, and so yoga brings those together — as well as all the other wellness practices I do."

Sommerhalder's wellness practices blossomed into her business, Swan in the Lotus Yoga and Wellness. She recently has taken on a new way to deliver wellness: apothecary yoga.

Sommerhalder teamed up with Kyle Denton from Tippecanoe Herbs to create sessions that detoxify the body and give participants a complete wellness experience.

"I don't just want to do a yoga class," notes Sommerhalder. "There's yoga classes everywhere ... let's do something different. And I wanted to take [Denton's] knowledge and know what he does so well as an herbalist that when you go you're having a wellness experience."

"Yoga and herbal medicine were born together." - Kyle Denton, Tippecanoe Herbs

For each apothecary yoga session, Sommerhalder and Denton choose a theme that influences an herbal meditation. Denton creates and brews a tea specific to each theme, and Sommerhalder leads a physical yoga practice.

Credit Lucien Jung
Lake Effect's Audrey Nowakowski holds a child's pose during the apothecary yoga session with tea made from burdock root close by.
Lake Effect's Audrey Nowakowski speaks with Kyle Denton, co-founder of Tippecanoe Herbs.

"Yoga and herbal medicine were born together," says Denton. He notes that herbal medicine was created for yogis in the early days of ayurvedic medicine 5,000 years ago to help sustain their bodies so they could master their work and practices.

The most recent apothecary yoga session held at Tippecanoe Herbs (before mandated social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic) featured the burdock root for a spring detoxification theme. According to Denton, the burdock root is used as a nutritive, mild herb to use in formulas for grief and anger relief. Traditionally, the organ that's associated with storing anger and grief is the liver, so Denton made a tea using the root to help bring up and release the stress and emotions people can experience amidst uncertainty.

"Just like with yoga, when you’re breathing, when you’re mindful, when you quiet your mind — you can feel the way that the herbs move through you just as you could feel the way the energetic movements of the asana practices in yoga work as well," he explains.

Credit Lucien Jung
Kyle Denton of Tippecanoe Herbs (right) leads the class in an herbal meditation focused on burdock root, which is a nutritive, mild herb to use in formulas for grief and anger, according to Denton.

While herbal medicine is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration or regulated in the United States, Denton hopes the future will bring a larger herbal medicine community to keep accessibility open. "I really want to help the community find their comfort in working with herbs on their own as laypeople. That's my role," he says.

Teas, oils, tinctures, and cooking with herbs — Denton says encouraging the use of herbs into daily life comes down to bridging the educational divide.

"A couple of generations ago, everyone seemed to have this knowledge [of herbs], and it's gone," he notes. "So I think it is kind of an important part of being human is to interact with nature and to understand it and just bring it back again."

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.