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Oct 27, 2016 12:39PM

Free Range Yoga: Macomb center offers classes and services for body and mind

By Natalie Dal Pra
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Anne Dixon, Dawn Piper and Kindra Martin of Free Range Yoga.
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Anne Dixon, Dawn Piper and Kindra Martin of Free Range Yoga.
Dawn Piper may own a successful yoga studio now, but back in 2000, she was just as intimidated by yoga as any other novice.

Prior to attending her first class at Western Illinois University's Rec Center in Macomb, Ill., "I was worried it was going to be this weird class full of people chanting in a language I didn't understand, with billows of incense floating in the air and people standing on their heads," Piper says.

But it was nothing like she had imagined, and soon, yoga became her stress reliever. "I fell head-over-heels in love with it," she says. "I love how it settled my overactive and often anxious mind."

Piper took the class until the instructor, Pat McClean, told her she needed to take over herself.

A native of St. Charles, Mo., Piper ended up in Macomb after serving as an AmeriCorps Vista Leader in Anchorage, Alaska, for two years. Western Illinois hired her to run an AmeriCorps program for the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs. She received her master's degree at the college, and started teaching yoga classes at WIU from 2007 through 2013. She also taught a college-level yoga class for physical education majors.

Piper's training covers all areas of yoga therapy and fitness, including anatomy, pranayama, functional movement, sport and exercise psychology, motor behavior, and wellness program development and administration.

After toying with the idea of opening her own studio for years, Piper finally took the leap and opened Free Range Yoga in Macomb in 2013, while still working her job with the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs.

"After several years of me debating with myself, my dear friend, Anne Dixon, and I talked about it and took the plunge together," Piper says. "After a month of doing both jobs, my husband, Tim, said 'go for it.'" She and Dixon were hosting successful classes with amazing students, she says, so "I took a big breath and made the leap, and quit my full-time job at WIU to run the studio and teach yoga classes."

Piper has suffered from depression since her teenage years, and she knew she wanted to offer what she had been given all those years before in her first yoga class: a way to improve mental health and wellness through physical activity.

"My dream was to create a community wellness center on the Square in Macomb so that we could help people get stronger, healthier and happier," she says.

"Yoga was a big piece in me getting myself back from depression. Pam's classes threw me a lifeline and I am so grateful. That's why I decided to teach. I realized it was my life purpose — to help other people get healthy, mind, body and spirit; ... to feel good about themselves and love themselves again so that they could do more good in the world."

Piper says the name of the studio represents to her the idea that anyone can get healthier, no matter what shape or size. "I wanted to help people ... find new ways to stretch themselves and grow beyond the limited sense of who they were," she says. "Tim and I own free-range chickens that get to roam and do their own thing, so it just made sense."

It wasn't long before Free Range began to outgrow its space. Piper wanted to expand not only to allow for more classes, but to implement the second half of her vision: a community wellness center that could include massage therapy and other mind/body services.

A Go Fund Me page was set to help fund the expansion, and Free Range's north wing officially opened this summer, adding Community Wellness Center to the name at 118 and 122 N. Lafayette, Macomb.

Besides standard yoga classes, Free Range class offerings include dance; conditioning; personal and strength training; walk/run training; nutrition education; trauma-sensitive yoga; Tai Chi and Qigong, as well as a series of online classes to help reach more people.

"It is hard work, and the hours are long," Piper says. "But even when times are really tough, I know this is my life's mission — to help people grow healthy and strong and find their own sense of power; their own light."
Natalie Dal Pra is a regular Radish contributor. For more information about Free Range Yoga and Community Wellness Center, visit freerangeyoga.us, or call 309-333-5069.

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