Growing Mindfulness: Fairlee Duo Employs Barn for Yoga

  • Kyla Suarez, smiles at her partner Wesley Wolter, both owners of the Milldale Farm Center for Wellness, during snowshoe yoga at the Milldale Farm Center for Wellness in Fairlee, Vt., on March 2, 2018. Suarez and Wesley are both certified mental health counselors and have experience in leading “trauma informed” yoga and meditation. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Milldale Farm Center for Wellness which was transformed after being used as a cattle barn in Fairlee, Vt., on March 2, 2018. Kyla Suarez and Wesley Wolter opened the yoga center to develop a sanctuary where people, particularly people at risk, can come practice yoga. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Mariah Suarez, of Corinth, Vt., stretches during snowshoe yoga at the Milldale Farm Center for Wellness in Fairlee, Vt., on March 2, 2018. Due to the stormy weather attendees practiced yoga inside the newly renovated barn. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, March 05, 2018

Fairlee — Wesley Wolter and Kyla Suarez spent the last year or so working to transform a former beef cattle barn on Blood Brook Road into a well-decorated yoga studio. Now the couple hopes to help transform the way yoga is practiced in the area.

Both certified mental health counselors, the pair’s newly christened Milldale Farm Center for Wellness emphasizes inclusiveness. Those from all backgrounds are encouraged to participate in seeking yoga’s physical, mental and spiritual benefits there.

“Our mission is to develop a sanctuary here where everyone can become more attuned to their mind, body and spirit,” said the 33-year-old Wolter, known as Rama by students. “In our culture, yoga is more or less looked at as an activity for the privileged, but it’s very effective to treat all kinds of at-risk and at-need groups. It helps a lot of people with (post traumatic stress disorder) or other kinds of trauma, addictions or things like Seasonal Affective Disorder or just generally feeling isolated.”

Wolter and Suarez met while both were employed by Becket Family Services, a network of non-profit agencies providing various programs for troubled youth. They’re both experienced in leading trauma-informed yoga and meditation, helping practitioners mitigate a range of personal and internal conflicts.

Suarez, 29, first discovered yoga while a student at Oxbow High and said she dived much more deeply into practicing as a way to soothe symptoms of anxiety and depression when her father, Joseph Holmes, was diagnosed with cancer. Holmes died of mesothelioma in 2014.

“It was an important time for me to discover more self-awareness and clarity,” said Suarez, who also works as a day-student clinician at Connecticut River Academy in Bradford, Vt., part of the Becket network.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people who’ve been through similar situations who feel the same way.”

Although not a nonprofit, Milldale Farm Center for Wellness aims to be inclusive with sliding-scale class rates and by offering free or by-donation thematic events such as last Friday’s planned snowshoe yoga outing. Stormy conditions thwarted the snowshoeing itself, although a group of six — accompanied by Suarez’s and Wesley’s beagle-terrier mix, Amici — still gathered for meditation and yoga, followed by tea and cookies, in the couple’s refurbished barn that was previously a beef cattle birthing area run by Wolter’s grandparents.

Surrounded by landscape paintings, a Buddha statute, crystals and other spiritual guides, Wolter began by noting that the recent full moon, the last before the vernal equinox, is known as the worm moon in astrological circles.

“It’s the time of year when worms rise from their slumber,” Wolter told the group. “It’s an important moon. Mud season is coming, so it’s a time of transition, of hope and celebration. The moon itself is reflective, and so it gives us the opportunity to reflect on the winters we’ve just been through and for the cycles of growth ahead of us.”

Wolter then prompted attendees to think of a desired goal and led exercises meant to help manifest them, including visualization and mantras.

“In yoga tradition, positive affirmations manifest our dreams,” he said. “Once you bring to mind your goal or aspiration, visualize this dream and how you will accomplish it. See yourself accomplishing it, and visualize what your surroundings will be when you accomplish it.”

Meditation concluded with the intonement of the traditional phrase namaste, translating to “the light in me recognizes the light in you.”

After more discussion inspired by the full moon, the group moved into physical yoga practice. Appropriately, Wolter began leading with a crescent moon stance — outstretched arms in one direction while the torso shifts to the opposite side — followed by the five-point star, keeping intact the night’s astrological theme.

The group then bent their knees and elbows and sank into goddess pose, all the while remaining conscious of the breath, inhaling and exhaling deeply and fully.

The prone cobra and downward dog stretches came next before circling back to the five-point star and crescent moon. Practice concluded with customary chants.

The wind whirled outside, sometimes eliciting moderate chills.

“We’ll find all the holes in here and seal them up eventually,” said Wolter, half-jokingly.

Drafty or not, the barn is a whole new iteration since Wolter, Suarez and friends began transforming it last year.

“We probably spent about 40 hours total scrubbing the walls, and then we looked up and saw how much the ceiling needed,” said Wolter, who left his Becket position to engage full-time in realizing Milldale Farm Center for Wellness.

While the studio space is now perfectly serviceable, the couple intends to lead plenty of yoga and meditation exercises in the outdoors this year. Hikes to the top of nearby Bald Top Mountain for practice, paddle board yoga on Lake Fairlee and mountain biking outings that incorporate practice are all on the docket.

Some, like Friday’s intended snowshoe yoga, will be independent events, others part of the center’s second annual Vermont Be True camping and yoga festival this summer.

Held the first weekend in August, the fest includes a full curriculum of yoga classes, workshops and live music, plus outdoors activities and more as a benefit for the farm.

Wolter and Suarez intend to use some of the proceeds to help put together a program they hope to introduce at area public schools, as well as to invite guests for weekend retreats.

“Last year, the Vermont Be True festival allowed us to have a swami (master yogi) visit the farm, and a lot of people took advantage,” Suarez said. “And the weekend itself was great. We’re really looking forward to it again this year.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.


Wesley Wolter is a co-founder of the  Milldale Farm Center for Wellness in Fairlee. Wolter’s name was rendered incorrectly in earlier photo captions accompanying this story.