Moments With…Michelle Gigante of Shakti Buffalo
Master Yogi Michelle Gigante, along with a supportive team, hold space for people to come together to experience the rhythm of breath in their three thousand square foot studio, Shakti Buffalo, located in Buffalo New York. Shakti provides guidance and wisdom through the time-honored practice of yoga, qi gong, meditation and pranayama. All sessions promote internal balance, mental clarity, and physical restoration. “We hold space for people to come together to experience the rhythm of breath.” Michelle was kind enough to spend some time with me to conduct a fully present and spontaneous phone interview. It was a wonderful and moving experience, and I will do my best to summarize the interaction.
1.) You came to yoga from a theatre background, right? Could you tell me a little bit more about your personal background and introduction to yoga practice?
Michelle’s background in theatre gives her the skills necessary to execute a class with clarity and precision, as well as empathy and intuitiveness. Her many years as a dancer allow her to create sequences that are creative and playful, cultivating deep breath-work and encouraging a natural rhythmic flow, making each class an entirely holistic experience. To Michelle the combination of theatre and yoga was a natural fit as back in the day both were part of the avant-garde culture of the bohemian NYC scene. Nowadays Yoga is no longer the fringe activity it was when it began trickling into public consciousness in the early 1970s. The recent growth is not a fad, but rather a reflection of the rising acknowledgment of yoga as a valuable means for finding balance in life. Exhaustion and burn out run rampant in our modern culture, and after experiencing it firsthand while running a thriving theatre in the big city, Michelle made the decision to leave it behind, and begin a new wellness journey, opening her own yoga studio in Buffalo New York.
2.) What is the Shakti Yoga origin story? How was the Shakti Yoga studio started and what were the early years like?
Michelle first founded Shakti Yoga over 10 years ago. She was an early Western New York pioneer that believed in the potential of Buffalo, and specifically investing in Grant Street early on, purchasing a former bank building and launching a business that uplifts the local community and culture. She transformed the 100-year-old, 3,000 square foot construction into a safe haven for yoga, live music gatherings, meditation, and many other healing modalities. She offers countless classes, guest lectures, and even retreats. Needless to say, the studio has been a resounding success, and has helped to pave the way for others to begin their own journeys on Grant Street.
3.) What originally motivated you to do this work and what continues to motivate you? How, if at all, has that motivation changed over time?
Michelle was called to do this work and considers it a great blessing to hold space for others and their healing journeys. She has seen her students experience profound peace and begin to move towards liberation and acceptance. Michelle has stated about Shakti Buffalo, “This is a home, a haven, a house for creative energy.” She believes that yoga is a transformational experience that opens the mind and frees the spirit, and her motivation to provide the haven where this can occur remains consistent. She continually strives to uplift the collective consciousness and support her community as they grow and heal internally.
4.) What does “Shakti” mean to you?
When I spoke to Michelle regarding the namesake of her studio, she stated that “Shakti” translates to “creative energy”, and for her that was just the perfect fit, given her background, talents, and desires for the future. It just came to her, and once she discovered the definition, there was nothing else that would do.
5.) I know that you practice other healing modalities in addition to yoga. Could you tell me about the other veins of your work, and what a session with you might be like?
In addition to and conjunction with yoga Michelle also works in the modalities of Qigong, Pranayama, Reiki, and crystal healing. Private treatments with Michelle are concentrated sessions to promote realignment, the unblocking of energy channels, and the creation of a more efficient internal flow. Spiritual guidance and sage advice based on intuition are provided to steer clients on a path of wellness. Adjustments in routine, additions to diet, or suggestions on a daily ritual might be offered. In her own words Michelle states, “People come in the door and they’re carrying the stresses of the day. But within five minutes on the mat, those tensions and holdings dissipate. It de-stresses the body.”
6.) How has your relationship to yoga evolved over time?
Over her thirty-year practice Michelle has engaged in an ever-evolving journey of self-discovery, healing, and acceptance. In January 2021 Michelle experienced a severe accident which took a great physical toll on her body and required dedicated rehabilitation. She shared with me that she experienced her first plank, down dog, and cobra, all on her yoga mat, before she could even walk without a walker. Yoga came first, and it brought healing.
Michelle stated that she has never enjoyed teaching as much as she does right now. The pandemic and then the accident have given her so much to work with. As an Instagram caption Michelle made the following powerful statement:
“As much as I appreciate everyone’s compassionate heartfelt response and as unfortunate as this situation is, it is simply something that happened. We have the choice to walk through life with grace or not. If we see ourselves as victims rather than participants, we don’t have a chance in grasping the full realm of our reality. It is all in how we look at it. Through surrender and support we are capable of so much. Everything changes in its own time. Impermanence prevails. Time is a great healer. Bow to what is. Often it is not easy surrendering to what is, but always helpful on a path of trust, devotion, and faith.
The pandemic has taught me to let go of where I want to be and let myself simply be. Being present presents such richness. Residing in this richness can dissolve the need to know what is next. Humbly I’ve come to realize that it is not my job to set up where we all go next. I do not have the answers. I hold space for the questions that arise.”
7.) What do you believe lies in the future for the Shakti Yoga Community?
Shakti was, and still is today, dedicated to holding space for people to grow, open, and heal. In recent times that has even come to include beaming love and light through technology by offering live stream classes, to keep the community engaged and connected. Michelle stresses that there is no concrete plan moving forward, just grace and deep gratitude for divine guidance and community support. Both she and Shakti Yoga will “keep on keep’n on”, just as they have from the start.