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Yoga keeps participants bright on the inside
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Yoga instructor Heather Swint demonstrates the Apanasana pose. Swint says the exercise stretches the lower back and spine. - photo by KATIE DUNN

HOSCHTON — Heather Swint is living proof that a childhood dream can be more than just wishful thinking.

Swint, 35, recently celebrated the opening of her own yoga studio, Soul Shine Yoga and Wellness, in Hoschton.

The faint aroma of incense and the calming gurgle of a decorative water fountain filter through the small studio, located in the Towne Center Shopping Center.

A few candles, a wooden bench, a small desk and a pile of mats, foam blocks and blankets are all that occupy the studio’s hardwood floor.

The walls are a soft blue and white; wispy curtains shield the tranquil spot from the hustle and bustle of the outside world.

Dressed in black sweat pants and a black T-shirt with her studio’s name splashed across it, a barefoot and bubbly Swint said opening the studio is the culmination of a dream she’s held on to since childhood.

Starting at the age of 4, Swint began dancing and continued until she was 25. So it only seemed logical for her to one day open a dance studio.

"Being in a studio, owning a studio, that was kind of always my childhood dream," Swint said. "I got away from dance as I got older and I got into yoga, so this is like the adult version of my childhood dream coming true."

The Hoschton resident drew inspiration from the song "Soulshine" by singer/songwriter Warren Haynes when naming the studio.

The song was played during the funeral of her best friend’s father, who died from lung cancer — a disease Swint is now dealing with in her own life.

Her sister Hailey, 31, of Jefferson was diagnosed with a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor almost two years ago. She is still undergoing chemotherapy.

"I started this with people like her in mind," Swint said. "My goal as a yoga teacher is to help people feel better not just on a physical level, but a mind, body and spiritual level as well.

"Whenever you get that way, your soul shines — you’re shining from the inside out and that’s the most wonderful kind of beauty you can possibly ask for."

Swint’s friend and fellow yoga enthusiast, Elaine Brady, 26, of Jefferson said she began practicing yoga to alleviate anxiety in her life. In the process, it has also helped her to lead a healthier lifestyle, strengthen her body and enhance her spiritual life.

Brady said yoga can hold different meanings for each individual, but one factor always remains true.

"It can be as spiritual or as less spiritual as what you want," she said. "But yoga does really link your mind, your body and your soul together and helps you to unify yourself so that you can be a more whole, complete person."

Swint began practicing yoga 12 years ago in college, but it wasn’t until recently that she found a space where she could share her love with others like Brady.

Before opening the studio, Swint taught yoga lessons across the street at her church, New Community Church.

With the help of two other instructors, Swint offers 12 sessions a week that include beginner and advanced classes, sessions to tone and strengthen the body and "restorative agape" classes that focus more on meditation and relaxation.

Yoga is supposed to increase flexibility and strength, foster relaxation and better posture, and reduce stress.

It is for this last reason that Hoschton resident Cyndi Smith began and continues to practice yoga. Smith, 40, also attends New Community Church and began taking lessons from Swint more than a year ago.

"I’ve got two small children, and I have a full-time job and all kinds of stress in my life and I was kind of looking for something to help deal with the stress factor," she said. "I’ve never given yoga much credit, but after my first class, I was hooked because it was more relaxing than getting a massage."

Yoga doesn’t require people to attend class at a studio, either. An array of videos, books and other how-to guides are available. Swint said for those practicing at home, a mat or towel, foam block and blanket are all the ingredients needed for a session.

Always practice yoga barefoot to prevent slipping or falling when trying poses, she said. Additionally, each movement and pose should be done slowly and a person’s neck should always be supported.