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    United Methodists of Upper New YorkLiving the Gospel. Being God's Love.

    news article

    Community yoga opens church doors to new faces

    December 7, 2023 / By Shelby Winchell, UNY Director of Communications / .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Breathe. Don’t just inhale and exhale. Take the kind of breath where you can feel your diaphragm contract and your lungs expand. Become one with your breathing.  

    Deep breathing is a part of yoga, an ancient practice that not only can improve strength and flexibility, but also helps reduce stress. Yoga can also be used to manage pain. Disbelievers may hear the word “yoga” and think ‘that’s not for me.’ The poses may look like they’re only for the young at heart, too complicated, and impossible to achieve. The balance and strength required may in itself be a turn-off. Who actually has the ability to make their body bend and contort in the shape of a pretzel?  

    “Yoga is about building a relationship between mind, body, and spirit. As we build a relationship with ourselves, we open our hearts to others,” said yoga instructor, Noele Brabon.  

    Noele is a lifelong and active member at Malone: Centenary United Methodist Church (CUMC). Her involvement is personal. She grew up 10-miles from Malone in North Bangor, NY, was baptized as a child at CUMC, went away to college, and came back. Her roots are grounded deep in the soil of New York’s North Country.   

    “The best thing my parents did for me was introduce me to Jesus Christ.” 

    In October 2023, Noele offered to teach a series of free community yoga classes in the Fellowship Hall at Malone: Centenary UMC a few times a month. She didn’t have high expectations at first. She knew her mom would be in attendance along with the church’s pastor, the Rev. Rich Hanlon, a few friends, and some others. That first fall night, much to Noele’s surprise, the Fellowship Hall was overflowing with people. There were so many attendees, people were spilling out into the hallway.  

    “When seventy people showed up, I knew the small voice that said ‘go for it’ was the Holy Spirit leading me.”  

    Since the initial class, attendance has remained strong. There hasn’t been a class that has had fewer than 57 people, ranging in age and abilities. More than 90% of the participants aren’t even members of the church. Noele says giving back to her community is something that was modeled by her parents.   

    “This program gives our community members an hour of peace with no strings attached. To me, that is the definition of love and what God would want for our world. Yoga is about being peaceful. Jesus came into the world as the Prince of Peace.” 

    While the community yoga program is free, participants have the option of supporting two vital church food ministries. The food pantry and free lunch program at CUMC serve a combined 100-200 meals each week. Rev. Hanlon says that the church’s food pantry has been and continues to be one of the most vital ministries in the Malone community. Now, thanks in part to Noele and her community yoga, it’s overflowing. 

    “The free community yoga events that Noele has been leading for the Malone-area at Malone: Centenary UMC has had a more profound influence than anyone anticipated. It gives participants the opportunity to do something healthy and something good. Social isolation is a major issue that this and many areas face. Noele’s free community yoga is one of the very important ministries in our neighborhood because participation cultivates connection with self, connection with neighbor, and fosters an awareness of community needs and how neighbors can work together to meet them. As pastor of CUMC, I’m grateful for Noele’s courage to use her gifts for good, and I’m excited for the next session of free community yoga,” said Rev. Hanlon. 

    “Franklin County is one of the poorest counties in New York State and we serve hundreds of lunches a week. Feeding others is the basis of safety and is close to my heart,” said Noele.  

    Feeding others and being able to provide some sort of food security is something that hits close to home for her.  

    “My grandfather, Eldridge Brabon, grew up in an orphanage during the Great Depression. At the age of nine, he asked a visiting pastor at the orphanage if he would take him home. The pastor and his wife adopted him, took my grandfather home to Bangor, and raised him as their son. My grandfather, as a child, would hoard food as a trauma response. With enough warmth, love, and safety, he grew into a young man that walked 12 miles in a snowstorm to see my grandmother. When we have safety, warmth, and food, we lead our life from our hearts. It’s my goal to make my yoga students feel safe and provide food to our community so we can all lead life from our hearts.” 

    The program is more than just exercise. Noele is using the sessions as a way to build community just as Jesus once did.  

    "We are not pushing religion on our community members during these sessions. We are simply giving them a space to feel safe and warm so they can go into the world with an open heart.” 

    The bimonthly sessions are designed for people with all abilities, something she calls “accessible yoga.” It’s through these classes that she can share her love for God while growing her own faith.   

    “There are no restrictions to the love and peace of Jesus. As I practice yoga and meditation, I become closer to God as I accept all parts of myself as He loves all parts of me. I am not perfect, but I am able to lead my life rooted in faith that God has my best interest in life. God gives me the courage to lead in love, and not fear.” 

    When she’s not teaching yoga or volunteering at Malone: Centenary UMC, Noele spends her daytime hours working as a licensed clinical social worker and has a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Albany. Her goal is to bring good mental health services to the North Country.  

    Noele’s yoga and meditation journey wasn’t love at first sight. Through perseverance, she now uses her yoga poses that she does on her retail-store purchased mat as a life-changing practice. Listen to her talk about it in an episode of The Brie Pod by clicking here.  

    TAGGED / Communications / New Faith Communities / Vital Congregations / Districts

    With more than 100,000 members, United Methodists of Upper New York comprises of more than 675 local churches and New Faith Communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our vision is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."