By Mariah Beckman
To the untrained eye, yoga looks like little more than long, slow, deep stretches. The pace is slow and the moves are very deliberate, which are qualities that stands out in a culture of push notifications, productivity and multi-tasking. Quite possibly the biggest cultural export of India, the practice appeared on the scene in the United States during the late 18th century.
Today, yoga is best known for its indisputable benefits to health and the psyche, as well as the indelible mark that it has left on the fashion industry. Yoga is much more than the pants of the same name, though. Here in Tacoma, more and more students of yoga are discovering that yoga is right for just about everyone. Yogis are often portrayed as thin and delicate, graceful and without tension. Yoga instructors in the South Sound tell us, however, that that cliché just doesn’t hold true in their Tacoma studios. Yoga, they say, can change your life no matter what skill level, body type or motivation you might bring to the mat.
Within the last year or two, Erin Joosse of Source Yoga tells us, meditation, mindfulness and yoga have become more than just a fad or a “hippy thing to do.” Erin, who owns and operates two successful yoga studios alongside her lifelong friend, Melissa Paz, explains that yoga is for everyone. “The Seahawks and CEOs of companies do yoga and meditate. Athletes, bankers, business men, all walks of life and professions. People are realizing that yoga brings about physical benefits such as good health, strength and flexibility, but also an invaluable peace of mind, focus, concentration and self-awareness. Yoga practitioners find that they are able to make better decisions because they are more present in their own lives.”
Source Yoga, which opened in 2005, places a focus on mindfulness and meditation that sets the studio apart from other area courses and instructors. “I teach mindfulness in yoga,” Erin tells us, “but we also offer workshops and classes on the subject. So much of yoga is about learning to be present. Yoga is not about some time in the future; it is not about creating a goal.” Some women rave that yoga has helped them shed inches over a space of time. Erin adds that, “Weight loss happens, but it isn’t really the focus. It’s something that occurs over time, and yoga is not a quick fix for weight loss goals.”
Liz of Expand Yoga elaborates on the health benefits of the exercise, explaining that the breadth and scope of this practice are far-reaching. “Many people come to yoga hoping to lose weight and become more flexible. People also tend to develop better balance, coordination, and a better sense of where they are in space. They tend to take deeper breaths, lower their blood pressure, have more heart rate variability and better health outcomes than those associated with aerobic exercise for stress-related illnesses. Anxiety and depression tend to lessen and people tend to have an easier time sleeping well. I am not saying it’s a cure all, but the benefits are pretty wide ranging and pretty amazing.”
Liz, who operates Expand Yoga with her husband Matt, came to Tacoma by way of a pilgrimage from New York. In the style of an old Johnny Cash ballad, the two met while Matt was renovating a studio that Liz managed in the Big Apple. This carpenter-and-lady made a pilgrimage to Matt’s hometown, the City of Destiny, studying yoga across the country and falling deeper and deeper in love all the while. For this well-balanced couple, the first step toward learning to love yourself better is walking across that threshold for a session.
“At first it can feel a little bit like getting dropped into a foreign language class, but if you keep coming, soon it all starts making sense and you become as fluent as anyone. I encourage people to just come in and take a class! It is so easy to put off starting yoga by telling yourself, ‘Once I do this, then I’ll be ready to do that.’ I recommend coming to a class, and then coming back again within a day or two and then doing that again. Once or twice is definitely not enough. Also,” she adds, “if you don’t like one studio or teacher or style, try another.” Liz and Matt love yoga so much that the family even offers Teacher Training for aspiring instructors.
Expand and Source Yoga both host a diverse range of clientele. For instance, Source Yoga offers a robust range of courses for every body type, age and ability. Everyone from children to older adults can find a course at Source. This studio provides clean mats and towels for anyone who doesn’t own their own, as well as a calm and welcoming atmosphere. In addition to a comfortable space for practice, Expand offers a few peripheral charms. The studio hosts specialty classes four nights a week, and also offers a one-of-a-kind candle-lit session on Sundays that is accompanied by live music from local musicians Billy Pratt and Micaela Cooley. Both studios offer pre- or post-natal yoga for mothers and welcome military families.
The presence at Simply Hot Yoga in Tacoma, though, is unlike any other in the South Sound. That’s because the owner, Monica, is unlike any other yoga instructor. This enterprising yogi comes to the exercise from a fitness background, and she brings an energy to her practice that is catching. At the SHY Wellness Center in Tacoma, Monica offers hot yoga, yin and hatha, the occasional acrobatic yoga class, barre and an infrared sauna experience. The crown jewel of Monica’s studio, however, is an exclusive Yoga Boot Camp.
This auditor-turned-instructor credits yoga with helping her realize her strengths and true potential. “I was a personal trainer when I began my practice as a yoga student, and, for me, it became all about breaking the barrier. I didn’t have the “aura” of an auditor, I discovered, and I realized that I was living most of my days not being me.” Those days, however, are long gone: Monica’s classes are as exuberant and alive as she is and are unlike most hushed and still practices that we associate with yoga. While there is a peaceful element and focus at SHY Wellness, students can also experience a more aerobic yoga session through Simply Sweat (or the periodic Simply Sweat-a-thon, open to all), glow-stick black-light yoga, or even through a yoga field trip with Monica and her team of instructors to experience mindfulness in scenic Washington locations.
“All types, shapes and sizes are right for yoga,” Monica tells us brightly. “Maybe you just had a baby, or you have a really stressful job. Maybe you’re a runner who needs to stretch, or you’re not that athletic but are looking for a way to get into fitness. This studio is like a family, and some of our students make connections here that they are able to continue outside of the studio. Whatever you’re reason for getting into yoga,” Monica promises, “when you do come to a class, you’re gonna’ mess around and get addicted.”