Pilates & Yoga: My Companions Through It All, More Than a Decade and Beyond

I remember riding on the bus from the airport to our retreat center in Costa Rica, sitting next to Sara Dunton. She looked so familiar to me but I couldn’t figure out where I had seen here before until she mentioned having gone to law school at William and Mary. That’s it! We went to law school together back in the early 2000s. Crazy!

What I knew then of Sara and know for sure now is that she is a fantastically disciplined person with an amazing sense of adventure and incredible follow through. I am not surprised that she had accomplished all that she has in the past twenty years.

I know from my own experience that having a consistent body/mind/spirit practice like yoga or Pilates to turn to during times of great transition is invaluable. For me, yoga has been a constant through thick and thin. I truly don’t know what I would do without it. More importantly, having a community of like-minded souls, like Sara, who show up on the mat and inspire me to do the same is the glue that holds everything together. Thanks Sara for showing up time after time. It’s a gift to have you as part of the Sangha.

Sangha means spiritual community in Sanskrit, spiritual in the sense the practice of yoga encourages us to cultivate compassion and kindness towards ourselves and one another. I think we can all agree the world needs more of that!


by Sara Dunton

I hesitated with this title because it makes me sound older than I feel. I am lucky to report that despite being in my 40s and the constant chaos of raising four children, I feel fantastic!

It all started when I discovered Olivia Sheldon’s yoga class in 2004 and reconnected with Megan Brown in 2005. Megan and I go way back. We were born just months apart in 1974, attended rival high schools in Vienna, and had mutual friends at University of Virginia, where we graduated from college the same year. In 2005, when I ran into her, I had an infant and she was pregnant. She told me about a Pilates class she was going to teach for pregnant women. At the time I was really into Pilates, but had no idea it was possible to do it during pregnancy.

Then I found out I was pregnant with my second child. I looked Megan up on the internet and soon began taking Prenatal Pilates with her. She was fantastic and I convinced a number of my friends to join me. I did regular Pilates and Prenatal Pilates classes with Megan for the next five years, through three pregnancies. I had three natural childbirths, with two labors that were so fast the babies were born at home. There was definitely a correlation between yoga, Prenatal Pilates, and the ease I experienced in childbirth.

Fast forward to 2011. I had four kids under the age of seven and I had taken time off from exercise. My body, mind, and spirit needed a major reboot. I started slow with just one class per week. That class was Megan’s infamous Pilates Boot Camp on Saturday mornings. I still had some good muscle memory from Megan’s Pilates Circuit classes years before, so the Pilates Boot Camp class came naturally. It didn’t take long for me to start feeling better. I loved getting out of the house for much needed me-time, exercising, visiting Del Ray, and popping by the farmer’s market.

When Mind the Mat’s class offerings expanded, I began doing yoga and hot yoga. Yoga was great buffer against the stresses and challenges of parenthood. Also, Mind the Mat offered week-long, food-based cleanse diets. I took one in March of 2013, which led me to a week-long class at the Raw Food Institute in July of 2013, which in turn, led me to pursue a Master’s Degree in Health Promotion at Maryland University of Integrative Health in April of 2014. What a journey!

In 2014, I went through a divorce and needed to look for a house. I gravitated toward Del Ray, home to my yoga and Pilates tribe at Mind the Mat. In 2015, Mind the Mat offered a yoga and Pilates retreat in Costa Rica. The retreat, under Sara VanderGoot and Megan Brown’s guidance, solidified my love of yoga and Pilates and the Mind the Mat community. As a bonus, my inversions, handstands, and headstands improved tremendously!

Being on the sand next to the ocean and doing yoga with amazing instructors was like divine inspiration. When we returned from the retreat, several people suggested I do yoga teacher training. I laughed at the time because I was busy with graduate school, kids, and rebuilding my life. A year later I signed up for the Fall 2016 Mind the Mat Yoga Teacher Training. I devoted nearly 100 percent of my free time and weekends to yoga for six months, while finishing my last year of graduate school and adjusting to single parenting every other weekend.

The end of teacher training in February 2017 coincided perfectly with my last semester graduate school internship, in which I developed a wellness program for a small group of employees, and taught monthly yoga classes. While that experience was immensely rewarding, I prefer to take yoga classes, instead of teach them. I could have taken yoga classes for another twenty years and not understood the practice of yoga as I now do from having been through yoga teacher training. The training took my practice and understanding to such a deep level. It involved personal growth and perseverance, with benefits that will last a lifetime, including a consistent meditation practice (still working on the consistent part).

I have no idea where I would have been all these years without Pilates and yoga, Olivia, Megan, Mind the Mat, and yoga teacher training. I’m still not exactly sure where I’m going with my yoga teaching skills, Master’s degree, or Certified Health Education Specialist designation. What I do know is that practicing yoga and Pilates over the years has served me well in all stages of my life. There’s no doubt I’m going to keep practicing these disciplines for many years to come.

I’m  grateful to have found yoga and Pilates and amazing instructors early on, before yoga and Pilates were trendy. Yoga and Pilates have been such important constants for me over the years as I’ve gone through so many transitions and transformations, from practicing law, to getting married, to leaving the workforce, to staying home with kids, to getting divorced, and finally to completing three years of graduate school.

Overall I am grateful to not only feel well and be in good shape, but honestly, to be in better shape than when I was younger. The 40s rock! I credit much of my wealth in the health department to Olivia, Megan, Mind the Mat, and the inspiring wellness community in Del Ray.

I am so happy to call Alexandria my home, a home where I feel connected to myself and the people in the community around me.


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co-owner, CMT, e-RYT 200, RYT 500 | Mind the Mat
Sara VanderGoot, CMT, e-RYT 200, RYT 500, is Co-founder of Mind the Mat Pilates and Yoga and Director of Mind the Mat Yoga Alliance certified teacher training program. Sara is an experienced Registered Yoga instructor with Yoga Alliance. She studied Interdisciplinary Yoga with Don and Amba Stapleton in Nosara, Costa Rica and at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Sara is Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, licensed by the Virginia Board of Nursing. Sara has been practicing massage therapy, including specialties Prenatal Massage, Postpartum Massage, Deep Tissue Massage and Thai Yoga Massage, in Del Ray, Alexandria for over 15 years and a yoga instructor for 7 years. At Mind the Mat she specializes in Prenatal Yoga, Postpartum Core Yoga, Mommy and Me Core Yoga, Partners Yoga, and Hot Flow Yoga. Sara frequently acts as a birth companion for many of her clients, doing massage and yoga during labor and delivery to facilitate comfort during both medicated and unmedicated births. Before becoming a massage therapist and yoga instructor, she was a lawyer in the Washington D.C. area and found that the healing practices of massage and yoga brought a balance to her life that she had been searching for.

Mind the Mat Pilates & Yoga was founded in 2008 by Megan Brown, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Polestar Certified Practitioner of Pilates for Rehabilitation and Sara VanderGoot, Nationally Certified Massage Therapist and Registered Yoga Teacher (e-RYT 200, RYT 500). In their private practices as physical therapist and massage therapist respectively Megan and Sara observed that many of their clients were coming in with similar needs: relief for neck and shoulder tension and low back pain as well as a desire for more flexibility in hips and legs, stability in joints, and core strength.

Together Megan and Sara carefully crafted a curriculum of Pilates and yoga classes to address needs for clients who are pregnant, postpartum, have injuries or limitations, who are new to Pilates and yoga, and for those who are advanced students and are looking for an extra challenge.


2214 Mount Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301


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