Inspirational yoga teacher bows out

Carol Day capped a 49-year career as a yoga instructor for the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Department. She leaves behind a dedicated following, including some students who have taken her classes for 40 years or more.

Monday and Wednesday morning yoga classes at the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center often started with a little dance party. Instructor Carol Day would turn on upbeat tunes and encourage everyone in the class—from the 20-year-olds to the nearly 90-year-olds—to move, before switching to more serious yoga practices.

Every class was different, but each ended with participants lying flat on their backs for 15 minutes of deep relaxation and meditation.

“Once you left, you felt invigorated,” said Sorlee Chetlin, 89, Academy Place, a member of the class for more than 40 years. “It was Carol. You’ve got to have the right instructor leading the class. For me, that was Carol… She always had a smile on her face and she wanted to know things about everyone in the class.”

After 49 years, Day, 80, retired from teaching Pilates and yoga at the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center in 2021. Today, she and her husband, Charlie, travel the country in the back of their RV, visiting clients for their actuary business along the way.

“It took me a long, long time to decide not to teach anymore,” Day said. “I really loved it and it was hard to leave such a loving and enthusiastic group… I am just so grateful to have known all of these wonderful people.”

Day’s interest in yoga started in 1970, before Mt. Lebanon’s Recreation Center was even built. She was teaching German literature at the University of Pittsburgh and, at 29 years old, took her first yoga class at Gimbels Department Store in downtown Pittsburgh. After class, she immediately told her husband, “I’m going to become a yoga teacher.’”

“I was never so relaxed and never felt so good before…. You move at your own rate and never put yourself in any kind of dangerous situation,” she said.

At the time, Day said, yoga was somewhat controversial, as people suspected it was somehow associated with the devil. “The people who came were very brave…. Some churches wouldn’t even let me have classes there,” Day said. “But now, everybody loves it and knows how valuable it is.”

Day, who lived in Mt. Lebanon for 40 years and raised five kids here, trained at a beachfront yoga center in Paradise Island, Florida. The Shaler native was drawn to Mt. Lebanon by its “fine schools and beautiful parks.”

She began teaching yoga in 1972 at Mt. Lebanon High School on the smelly wrestling room mats and was ecstatic when the recreation center opened in 1977 and she had the opportunity to teach in the “gorgeous room, overlooking the park.”

Twice a week for 44 years, Day taught a morning Pilates class followed by yoga for health and fitness in that room. Many of her students came and went throughout the years, but she has a core group that stuck with her through the decades.

“She is so open and friendly and has such a generous heart,” said Marisa Smith, Lakemont Drive, a participant in Day’s class for many years.  “She takes a personal interest in her students. She lives life to the fullest and she practices spiritual healing.”

Day incorporated the Feldenkrais Method into her yoga classes, which focuses on slow movements that connect the body and brain. For Day, the moves were life changing.

“After every session, I have a different body,” she said. “I’d have (my class) do a yoga position, like the twist, then we would do a Feldenkrais sequence, then return to that twist and magically, it would be so much better,” Day said. “I thought the combination (of yoga and Feldenkrais) was magical.”

Her students loved her class. But mostly, they loved their instructor.

“They’re so inspired by her,” said Cindi Ballard, who filled in for Day as she traveled over the last few years and ultimately took over teaching the Monday and Wednesday morning yoga classes for Day last year. “She has such a way of looking at life—so joyfully. She really finds the best in life.”

Likewise, Day found inspiration from her students. On days that she didn’t feel like working out, she still went to class for her students.

Day also taught aqua yoga at the Mt. Lebanon pool for 25 years. She even published a book, “Aqua Yoga,” and was featured in Vogue, Women’s Day and Seventeen, sharing her knowledge of water exercise.

Yoga improved her life, Day repeatedly said. Before yoga, she was never very physically active. After starting yoga, she took up all kinds of sports, including tennis, golf, ice skating and skiing.

Today, Day can often be found traveling across the country—whether to California or Florida—in her RV. In 2004, she moved to Sewickley, after dreaming of someday living on a golf course. But she still comes back to Mt. Lebanon frequently. She continues to work out at least an hour each day and admittedly doesn’t feel a day over 62.

“I just hope that people know that they can move joyfully,” Day said. “There’s so many options for doing that. Moment by moment, it will change their life.”

Photography by Elizabeth Hruby McCabe