Sophie Lyons '21 has found transformation and healing through practicing yoga.
Sophie Lyons’ Instagram feed glows like a ray of sunshine, radiating joy and calm.
“I am worthy of the life I have created for myself and that recovery has given me,” she writes in one post. “I wanted to share with y’all my gratitude today because if you’re struggling, here’s your reminder that it gets better.”
Helping other people gain a similar sense of wellbeing has become her life’s work.
Sophie received her Bachelor of Arts in Holistic Psychology and Wellness in 2021 and is enrolled in Lesley’s Mindfulness Studies master's degree program. But she hadn’t originally planned on pursuing this path.
“I was very focused on art schools—I was going to be a photographer. But during high school, I started practicing yoga. I remember looking at a Lesley class in yoga for emotional and mental health, and I thought ‘that seems kind of up my alley.’”
After a week of Lesley art classes, she attended a Friday class in Holistic Psychology, which started with a five-minute meditation.
“I cried and said ‘OK, cool—I’m switching my entire major,” she recalls.
Sophie wasn’t certain that her family would support her decision to change directions.
“I didn’t tell my parents for six months.”
But her Lesley professors encouraged her on her new path, and she flourished.
“I met Neal Klein who runs the Holistic Psychology department. We clicked right away and he’s been a really big mentor in this whole process.”
She started teaching yoga at Lesley her sophomore year. In high school, she had struggled with an eating disorder and she was interested in how she could help other people who were experiencing mental health challenges.
“Yoga was a big part of my recovery—it really helped me heal myself. So I knew that I wanted to in some way teach others or hold space for them.”
A Lesley internship and a supportive community
Through Lesley she did an internship at an eating disorder center, teaching yoga as part of a behavioral therapy program, which helped her hone her focus further.
“I learned that that was the population that I wanted to work with, because eating disorders and substance abuse go hand in hand.”
During a brief stint working at Lulu Lemon, she learned about The Phoenix—a nonprofit that uses accessible fitness classes to support people in recovery from substance use disorders.
“It’s a sober active community,” Sophie says. “Classes are free to anyone who has 48 hours of sobriety, whether you’re a person in recovery, or someone who just chooses to be sober to join the classes.”
She started teaching at The Phoenix, joining a community that grew even stronger when the pandemic hit in 2020, putting a stop to in-person classes and meetings.
“It just shifted everything,” she recalls.
Initially Sophie resisted teaching remotely, but as she started making YouTube videos and teaching Instagram Live classes, she discovered advantages to remote teaching.
“You realize that more people can show up—some students are more likely to check in from home than they would be to get themselves to a meeting or to a class. And we’re reaching a broader population than we ever taught before. I’m teaching people from Colorado, Canada, the UK, Ecuador—because you can be anywhere. It’s not strictly in person. It’s really crazy and I love it. It totally reorients your whole sense of community.”
She misses in-person classes and teaches weekly outdoor classes on the Cambridge Common. As The Phoenix’s virtual program coordinator, she’s working to make yoga more accessible and creating spaces for community time and conversation to help foster recovery.
“I think that people feel more comfortable doing what feels valuable in their bodies, because either the screen isn’t on, or it’s on and I’m practicing with them. No one’s looking at what they’re doing so they feel more comfortable doing whatever they want.”
Using Mindfulness and ‘trauma-informed yoga’ to promote healing
At the beginning of her junior year, Sophie’s advisor, Assistant Professor Uma Chandrika Millner, suggested the accelerated master’s degree program in Mindfulness Studies where undergraduate students take a few graduate-level courses and start working toward their Lesley master's degree.
Within a week Sophie applied to the accelerated master’s program and will complete her degree in 2022, taking advantage of the 12 free graduate credits for alumni, called the Lesley Dividend, “which gives you a major discount—it was the only reason I knew I could afford to do grad school,” says Sophie.
“Yoga therapy is my end goal. And I’m not sure what that looks like yet, because it’s still a very new field.”
Through the Mindfulness Studies program, Sophie explores broader topics of yoga therapy. It’s also impacts the way she teaches, expanding her focus on the social justice aspects of yoga practice and how it can help people who have experienced trauma.
“I teach trauma-informed yoga—everything’s an invitation,” she says. “I give people options to pick what feels most useful in their bodies, because I don’t want to tell people what to do, necessarily, because it’s their practice and their bodies.”
Neal, an associate professor of Psychology who has taught at Lesley more than four decades, sees a groundbreaking work ahead for his former student.
“She is so intentional and so focused. She doesn’t give up—she’ll make something happen,” he says. “To be able to work with both yoga and mindfulness to address trauma—I don’t know if there’s anyone else who has that combination of skill sets yet. I think that she’ll be at the forefront of a totally new field, and she seems very open to exploring where it’s going to go.”
Sophie is looking forward to an internship at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center doing Reiki and Mindfulness for cancer patients and medical staff and she’s considering other teaching roles in the future, including at Lesley, where her passions took root.
“One day I’d really love to teach at Lesley as a professor,” she says. “That’s one of the reasons I decided to get a master’s degree.”
She’s still excited about the possibilities of expanding a supportive, healing yoga community online and reaching people who might not join in person.
“Hopefully it'll be an opening up of opportunities and a blossoming of things that we weren't expecting.”
Learn more about Mindfulness Studies
In addition to our low-residency master’s degree program, you could also pursue a 15-credit graduate certificate program in Mindfulness Studies. Many of our students start with the certificate and continue through to the master’s degree program.
Like Sophie Lyons, Lesley undergraduate students majoring in Holistic Psychology and Wellness, or Art Therapy, can begin their Mindfuless Studies master's degree through an accelerated program.
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