Live Well, Travel Well: Yoga For All

Sarah Ruiz grew up traveling the world, visiting Australia for weeks over Christmas break with her family, camping through South America, traveling to Nepal. Her parents were avid travelers throughout their lives and instilled in Sarah a need to see the world.

On a trip to backpack in Kenya in her 20s, Sarah was passing through London when she met her husband, Felipe, and the two discovered they shared the same vision for a family, that they should grow up traveling and learn to love and appreciate all the cultures of the world. Her own parents—her mom from Ireland and her dad from New Jersey—had met while traveling through South Africa, so the love story was familiar.

“I wanted to marry somebody who had that similar vision, but also I wanted that for my kids,” she says. “So we continue to travel a lot internationally. It’s important for them to see that the world is a huge place, and the way people act culturally and in their home countries is so different than what they’re used to here. It’s also how we learn about ourselves and others, and how we appreciate other cultures.”

Born in Kentucky, Sarah’s family moved around quite a bit when she was young, and music has always played a huge role in her journey. Her grandmother was a musician, so Sarah grew up singing and playing guitar. She attended the University of Illinois to study music education and complete her degree in choral music teaching, and taught music and choir for many years.

Sarah’s husband, who is from Peru, moved to the United States in 2003 while she was getting her graduate degree at Florida State University studying Ethnomusicology (world music), where she learned to play Andean flutes and African drums, and wrote her thesis on African American gospel music. “Music is a form of communication of your inner soul. A way to express ourselves,” she says.

After marrying, the couple moved to New York City for Felipe’s job in finance. Living in such a large city proved challenging—in meeting people and making friends—since Sarah was not teaching at the time.

When Sarah’s yoga journey began, she was newly pregnant with her first baby. She found a prenatal yoga class at the hospital and began to make connections with people from all different backgrounds. “It was a great way to meet new people and not feel so alone in the journey,” she remembers. “When you’re first starting your family it can be very scary.”

She found the postures challenging, but more so the breathing. It was hard for her to slow down and be quiet and still, and yoga helped her center herself. Practicing yoga helped her to have a natural childbirth, which was important to her. Soon Sarah and Felipe decided the hustle and bustle of city life was not what they wanted for their young family, so they relocated to New Jersey.

With each subsequent pregnancy, she continued to practice yoga. It helped her with recovery from childbirth. She began to explore different variations like Bikram yoga (hot yoga). “It was really transformative because it allowed me to understand my body in different ways I hadn’t previously experienced,” she says. “It was a whole new way of moving. I had always been a runner before that, but this was a different challenge.”

In 2013, her dad, who lived in Peachtree City, had a major cycling accident that left him quadreplegic. And after six months of traveling back and forth, and balancing life with three young children, she and her family moved back to Peachtree City to help her mom care of him.

After moving to Georgia, Sarah discovered she was pregnant with baby number four but was disappointed to find that there was no prenatal yoga available in the area, without having to drive into Atlanta. She found classes she could take with some local instructors and modified the exercises. But she felt something was missing.

“I really wanted a home studio where I could practice, and a place that was just welcoming to people from all different walks of life,” she remembers. “I wanted someplace light and bright and open and accepting.”

She found that because of religious reasons, yoga wasn’t as readily accepted in the South, although that wasn’t a theory she agreed with. “I’m Catholic, and I find that I can be even more spiritual through yoga. I can say my prayers while practicing. I don’t find the two contradictory at all. I think it’s a big misconception that yoga is only for people who practice the Hindu religion because it originates in India. People from all different religions are practicing yoga, especially in 2020.”

Sarah’s husband was encouraging and supportive in her desire to open her own studio to fill the need she saw in Fayette County. So after finding the right space, and creating the right atmosphere, Sweet Tea Yoga opened in January 2018. “The craziest part was that I was not a yoga teacher at the time,” she laughs. “The biggest struggle at the time was finding the yoga teachers. I just absolutely loved yoga and I saw a need.”

She knew there were plenty of people out there who loved it as much as she did. She knew a few instructors and her network grew. She spent months attending different classes to meet the people she wanted to join her team and studying the styles she wanted to incorporate into the studio. She started with nine, and today, has about 18 different instructors teaching all forms of yoga.

Sarah believes that there is a form of yoga that will suit anyone, and strives to offer as many as she can to her community: gentle and restorative yoga for beginners, yoga Nidra (or yoga sleep) for relaxation, power flow and vinyasa where the room is set to 95 degrees, warm yoga stretch, pilates, and pranayama breathing workshops, just to name a few. “Yoga is breath with movement,” she explains. “Anytime you’re moving into a posture, you’re breathing into it.”

Each form has its own health benefits, she says, and is suited to different levels of practice. “Taking that one hour to concentrate on your breath and slow down during yoga Nidra, really hits the reset button.

And the hot yoga classes are cleansing, like sitting in a sauna and releasing the body’s toxins. They’re more fast-paced for a great workout and good for weight loss.”

“Ashtanga is a bit more intense,” she continues. Directly from Mysore, India, Ashtanga is a sequence of the same exercises every time. “Because you’re doing the same postures every time, you can see the growth and change so quickly. Even after a couple of weeks, you’ll realize you couldn’t do those things three weeks ago. It’s like with anything in life, anything you practice and stick with, you’re going to see results.”

“I feel like we really do have yoga for everyone. Yoga is for all ages,” she assures. She has some yogis who practice at her studio who are in their 70s and 80s (A yogi is “someone who truly respects all of mankind and the world’s creation. It all goes back to the principle of being a better human being and treating others with kindness,” says Sarah.). And Sweet Tea has even hosted kids classes before. But Sarah’s passion remains where her journey started, with teaching prenatal and mom and baby classes.

Since opening the studio, Sarah traveled to England to become certified as a yoga teacher. She says that the birthing practices in England are so different than in America because of the use of midwives and home birthing. The practices fell in line with the prenatal practices that helped her with her own birth experiences. It was the perfect place to round out her yoga studies and certification.

In the spirit of health and inclusiveness, Sweet Tea Yoga has a program through a nonprofit for those who are in addiction recovery because it is so beneficial to the mind, says Sarah. And one of her goals is to offer scholarships to women of color for her prenatal yoga class.

At the end of the day, she says, “people need to slow down and listen to their bodies. We begin and end every class with deep breathing, and it really is a reset for the mind. The health benefits to both body and mind are endless.”