Yogis go rogue: New styles, studios give downward dog new meaning

By on December 3, 2013
Melissa Patrick doing flying yoga in an OmGym hammock at Inversion. Photo: Mary Grossman
Melissa Patrick doing flying yoga in an OmGym hammock at Inversion. Photo: Mary Grossman

Melissa Patrick doing flying yoga in an OmGym hammock at Inversion. Photo: Mary Grossman

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Yoga is busting out all over Jackson Hole. Pearl Street Market is now Physique 22, a fitness studio that offers hot yoga, power vinyasa and ballet barre classes with sun salutations. Yoga therapists are healing the injured with one-handed downward dogs and ayurvedic remedies. And women business owners are offering pop-up yoga with art, devotional music, ayurveda and even horses in their backyards.

Inversion Yoga, one of the most popular studios in town, just revamped its space and began offering flying, or “aerial” yoga. And Akasha Yoga, the first formal studio here, also is seeing a lot of new interest without doing much marketing at all. Where does this leave the tried and true yoga studios in Jackson? Thriving.

“I think yoga’s growing because it works,” said Neesha Zollinger, who inherited Akasha from Margot Snowdon eight years ago.

A dancer who was introduced to yoga at Southern Utah University, Zollinger began practicing Anusara at Akasha in 1989 when it was called The Yoga Room and it was the only game in town. Anusara is a style of yoga that follows John Friend’s Universal Principles of Alignment.

As more studios have emerged, Zollinger has come to realize that she is running a business. “More choices makes us all step up,” she said. “The more you support each other the more will be created, and there is enough for everyone.”

Zollinger weaves the philosophy of yoga into all of the different types of asana classes that she offers. The first 100 hours of Akasha’s 200-hour teacher training, which she has brought to Europe on several occasions, is a yogic life intensive, stressing the history and philosophy of yoga. Her greatest reward is “seeing the light in people’s eyes after they practice.”

Teton Yoga Shala, a quaint studio in the Aspens, caters to a similar yet smaller community base on the west bank of the Snake River. Owner Adi Amar said she feels secure in her business because she and her partner, Angela Tong, bring experience to the table. Since they began offering teacher trainings four years ago, she said they have attracted yogis from all over the world and have become “the teacher’s teacher.”

Her business model includes more than group classes. “We do a lot of privates and workshops,” Amar said. “As entrepreneurs, we are trying to make our business life successful. But with yogis the crossover between business and yoga is challenging. Self-promotion is challenging. But we are riding it out and we will continue to play a significant role.”

Amar, who is pregnant, is excited about bringing her teacher, Eddie Modesini, from Maui to Jackson when the baby arrives in January. He will take over her Monday evening class for six weeks while she is on maternity leave. When she returns, she is interested in starting a mommy and me class.

Baby yoga is another burgeoning area for yoga growth. Yoga is a $10.3 billion industry in the U.S., according to a 2012 study by Yoga Journal.

Yoga studios all over the world are trying to meet the more than 20 million practitioners who are coming of age, having babies, getting divorced, going through menopause, cancer or a midlife crisis.

Pop-up yoga studio Intencións, a high-vibrational gallery and workshop space in the Harley Davidson building, offers specialized classes like yoga with live Kirtan music. This winter, it is considering prenatal classes.

This past summer, yoga popped up at the Painted Salamander art studio in Wilson, the Old Wilson Schoolhouse, and the National Museum of Wildlife Art, among other places.

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Tessa Byars demonstrating Barre stretch at Physique 22. Photo Mary Grossman

Tessa Byars demonstrating Barre stretch at Physique 22. Photo Mary Grossman

New Trends
At Physique 22, the music is light and airy, and the space is minimalistic and reminiscent of a studio you might find in New York City. Tom Haigh, chief sweeper of the front space, said opening Physique 22 with his wife Danielle Goldyn was “bigger than having a baby.”

Goldyn has an MBA in education and health administration and once owned a boutique in the trendy Cherry Creek neighborhood of Denver. She is combining her business acumen with her knowledge of the body to bring cutting-edge fitness to downtown Jackson.

The retail items are select and the walls are bare until you walk back toward the three studios, where a sign on a white wall reads: “What Inspires You?”

“We are not a yoga studio,” Goldyn said. “We are running a business. We want people to walk out of here with the best physique possible.”

Keith Virostko, a recovery room nurse at St. John’s Medical Center, overheard the conversation and was sold.

“Having nice clean digs is really appealing,” he said as he purchased his introductory $99 unlimited monthly membership.

Clients like Virostko now have two major hot studios to choose from: Physique 22, where the temperature is 96 degrees and 45 percent humidity and Inversion Yoga where hot classes are 105 degrees with 50 percent humidity.

At Inversion Yoga, where Goldyn started teaching Barre, yogis can choose from Hot Fusion, Kundalini, Power Vinyasa, Prana Flow, Maui Yoga, Power Hour and now a host of “flying” options.

The OmGym, a hammock used in flying yoga, has three levels of arm straps. It is a therapeutic tool to help access the core and assist in inversions that some never imagined they could find.

The atmosphere in a flying class at Inversion is giddy. The shifting of s-hooks to adjust the height of the sling and straps occasionally interrupts the flow. Lying in the hammock can make one seasick. Owner Louise Sanseau envisions a Flying Mysore class where an instructor leads individuals in their own practice. Mysore, a region in India known as the founding place for Ashtanga Yoga, is a practice that cultivates a student-teacher relationship through the mastery of a sequence of poses.

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Inversion Yoga owner, Louise Sanseau demonstrates Aerial, or Flying, Yoga. Photo Lynsey Dyer

Inversion Yoga owner, Louise Sanseau demonstrates Aerial, or Flying, Yoga. Photo Lynsey Dyer

Yoga Therapy
Yoga therapy offers an opportunity for small or private classes with more intense instruction, a perfect addition to the yoga scene. The studio, JH Yoga Therapy, will open later this month in Wilson. In this small private practice, Cameron Barker of JH Yoga Therapy is trying to build a bridge between the medical community and the yoga community by offering Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy. Ayurveda practitioners use subtle energies of five elements to diagnose imbalances and treat patients with herbal remedies, diet, asanas, breath, mantra and meditation.

Barker, who teaches functional yoga at Studio X, restorative practice at the Senior Center, hot yoga at Inversion, and private yoga at Physique 22, will be offering individual and semi-private classes based on referrals from allopathic and wellness doctors who use a homeopathic approach. She also will have two OmGym hammocks at her new studio across from the Wilson Medical Clinic.

By “blending the scientific with the ethereal,” Barker aims to help people discover why heat benefits some and harms others, and teach them which yoga practice will benefit them most.

“I want to help guide people,” she said. “It’s an exciting time! … Yoga in all different forms is seeping through the cracks and crannies of this town. Yoga therapy is a sensitive approach that serves both current practitioners of yoga and those who never even imagined they’d be trying yoga to relieve chronic pain and other ailments.”

Bhakti Yoga and Kirtan
After experimenting with Yoga for Equestrians for the past two years, Diana Walter, owner of Padma Mountain Studio, is focused on Bhakti yoga.

Bhakti is Sanskrit for devotion to Hindi gods and goddesses.

“I have a very slow, integrative, holistic approach to yoga,” said Walter, who opened Padma 10 years ago after 10 years of teaching at the recreation center. “I am teaching meditation at the same time. The purpose is to yoke and find union with the divine. All of these fads, I’m not always sure they are good for the body. There is a risk of hyper extending. There should be an absolute sense of ease coming into yoga.”

“I believe in the eight limbs of yoga,” she said. “To get to that state it can be through mudra (hand gesture), mandala, asanas or mantra.”

Yogis believe Kirtan, or chanting mantras in call and response, is one of the quickest ways to enlightenment.

Chanting “Om Namashivaya” 108 times is a Hindu mantra that is supposed to lead to transformation.

Personally, I laughed inside when the teacher first chanted in my yoga class. The sound of the Hindu words were so foreign, they sounded like x-rated propositions rather than Bhakti. I imagined the chant, which I was hard pressed to repeat without getting tongue-tied and laughing out loud, was making fun of everyone in the room. Now they sound familiar, and I even understand the meaning of some of the chants. And I love to sing along.

“I think there is a wave of interest in Kirtan,” said Amar. “I am really interested in learning more about it. I definitely think we are evolving into doing more of that.”

Most classes at Akasha and the Shala are taught the traditional way, without music. Conversely the newer studios, like Physique 22, are investing in good sound systems that create a loving vibe.

“Music does help people get out of their head, but are they checking out?” Amar asked. “Are you using the music as a distraction or are you using it to go deeper? The Kirtan music seems to help people go deeper.”

Body-Mind Community
Mind-body healers have always been attracted to Jackson. But the recent growth is so strong that it has led to a new semi-annual magazine called Teton Spirit Connection, which also hosts a membership based website and yoga directory. Most of the major yoga studios contribute to the yoga circle in the magazine.

“The trend that I see in yoga is a trend away from core power where there is a 90 percent turnover rate to people wanting to connect to a community and to practice self-realization,” Sanseau said.

To that end, Inversion also is encouraging Kirtan or Nada Yoga, the yoga of vibrational sound. One of the most popular classes in town is taught by Niki Sue Mueller at Inversion on Sundays. Mueller, who taught classes on the seven Chakras this fall to a sea of yoga mats lined up with more than 30 people, has been chanting, ringing chimes and playing the crystal sound bowls at her classes. Now she invites musicians to play at her “Sacred Sunday” class.

Whether it’s the sound of “om,” the scent of essential oils, the soft voice of the instructor, the energy of the community, or the way one’s body feels when it is asked to expand and contract into a triangle pose, people of all ages are flocking to yoga. Students like Renee Kanoke drop right in once they feel the heat and humidity of the room and the familiarity of the hot series.

“I do it more for my head than my body,” Kanoke said.

Dharma, not Drama
Brendan Ryan, an avid outdoor athlete, has backed off other sports and made yoga his lifestyle. “It’s not a sport or an activity. It is a way of being that is respectful to yourself and the universe,” he said. “It’s much more elegant than other things people pursue. You can do it anywhere, anytime.”

As a teacher at Inversion, Ryan also considers himself a student of unity. “Walking in the door you begin the yoga practice, walking out the door you begin to practice yoga.”

He is excited about the abundance of yoga offerings in town and the possibilities at pop-up studios like Intencións and JH Yoga Therapy, which also operates a hot studio on Glenwood St.

“It’s about dharma not drama,” Ryan said. In Hinduism, dharma is the moral code or natural order of life that enables humans to be happy. “It would be nice to have a community yoga unity pass where you pay one monthly fee and punch it at any studio. Then people can go anywhere they want.”

Sanseau, who has collaborated with other studios to bring Kirtan and other special events to town, said it would be difficult to do a unity card because of the different prices studios charge. While she is glad to have the competition, she is concerned that the finite population of Jackson can only attract so much yoga.

“I think we are spiraling toward more collaboration,” she said. “But it is still a business.”

The Path of a Young Yogi
Upside down in Maui Yoga Class, Kira Brazinski, 21, looks like a natural as she strikes a handstand. A strong athlete born and raised in Jackson, she began skiing at age 3 and horseback riding at 4.

At 8, she asked her parents to amputate her foot, which protruded from her shortened leg as a result of a birth defect that left her without a femur or a knee.

“I always had to wear baggy pants and I wanted to wear cute skinny pants,” Brazinski said, adding that her parents left the decision up to her. “I said, ‘Mom, Dad I want to get my foot cut off.’”

In 2011, Priscilla Marden, her boss at Horse Warriors, where she learned to ride, took her to Inversion Yoga. Later, Kelly Barr, another Horse Warrior colleague, gifted her a private class with Ariel Mann.

“I was totally hooked,” Brazinski said. “Now they are calling me an asana addict.”

Brazinski takes off her left prosthetic leg in flying yoga like others take off their sweatshirts. She says she has never felt discriminated against in class, but has noticed that “teachers who don’t know me are afraid to give me adjustments.”

She has only been practicing for two years, but she seems light years ahead.

“I used to have goals to do poses,” she said. “Now I am listening to my body more and backing off. My goals are more about the mental, emotional and spiritual side of yoga.” It took this reporter 10 years to learn that and to feel the emotional benefits from asana practice. Now I consider it my therapy.

Brazinski hasn’t read a yoga text yet, but she left Michigan State University to pursue her passion in asana, the physical practice of yoga and do a teacher training at Inversion Yoga. The training, which begins in April, will be with Niki Sue Mueller, Sarah Kline and her favorite teacher, Mann. For now, she is content checking people in at the front desk and in the studio where she takes up to 12 classes a week.

She is working on remembering names, and she makes sure everyone is hydrated, especially if they are going to hot yoga. She has seen the nausea from hot and dizziness from flying yoga first hand. But she has never experienced it.

“People always ask me if it is hard to do poses with one leg,” she said. “I say ‘I don’t know, is it hard to do with two?’ Balancing poses on my left leg are not going to happen. So, that’s what walls are for. No one can do yoga poses to the full extent. We all have to work with our bodies.”

In the future, she said she would love to teach yoga and horseback riding to the disabled, veterans and people who have lost limbs like her.

“If you come to yoga, you know you are going to feel better,” she said. “I wish more people did yoga.”

Kira Brazinski makes a handstand look easy. Photo: Courtesy Kira Brazinski

Kira Brazinski makes a handstand look easy. Photo: Courtesy Kira Brazinski

Web extends JH yoga worldwide
Jackson’s yoga teachers are not exactly a well-kept secret. In fact, four of them are teaching classes all over the world from high rises in Dubai to New York City walk ups thanks to YogaToday, a subscription based website that offers dozens of yoga classes filmed beneath the Tetons.

With 70,000 free members and 12,000 active members who recently began paying for content, YogaToday is branding Jackson’s yoga teachers and putting Jackson Hole on the map. Aproximately 60 percent of the viewers are in the United States.

“Having this beautiful backdrop that complements the practice is a differentiator for us,” said Kim Whitman, YogaToday’s president and executive producer. “There’s been a herd of elk, and even a bison stampede in one of Adi’s classes. It adds to the stickiness of the content. Internationally, yoga is expanding like crazy. We are poised for a growth phase.”

Whitman said YogaToday, a division of Think Tank Holdings, chose Neesha Zollinger, owner of Akasha Yoga; Adi Amar, of Teton Yoga Shala; Inversion Yoga teacher Sarah Kline; and Amanda Botur, a Jackson native who recently moved to Boulder, Colo.

“They are all about 10 years apart in age, offer different styles and have dedicated their lives to the practice,” Whitman said. Neesha practices Anusara and vinyasa, Adi practices Ashtanga and vinyasa and focuses on alignment, Sarah is known for her Kundalini and hot practice, and Amanda for her Prana Flow.

It is both an honor and a financial privilege to be selected as a YogaToday teacher. Not only do they pay teachers better than the studios, which offer anywhere from $20 to more than $100 per class depending on the number of students, but the teachers get the branding benefits.

The production quality of the yoga classes results in still photos that can be seen on most local yoga studio websites. In addition to the studio sites, individual yoga teachers often have their own websites, blogs and workshops to promote.

YogaToday offers people an opportunity to practice at any hour of the day from their own living room or hotel room.

“We never intended to take away from people’s studio practice,” Whitman said. “But for $90 a year or $9 a month, it’s a great supplement. A lot of people are intimidated to go into a yoga studio. There are a lot of stereotypes in yoga that we are trying to strip away. People who are overweight or lack flexibility.”

The relaunch, which was completed last month, allows yogis to log in with one click and watch the same class from any device. It also offers a beginner series and rotates class selections to 14 per day so browsers don’t have to sift through all 450 classes in the archive. Also added were quick tips on practices like spinal flow and a 30-day free trial membership.

About Julie Fustanio Kling

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