Yogi Roots

YogiRoots is Portland’s hub o’ yoga on the internet. Following the Yoga Journal article on Portland, YogiRoots contributor Liz Weber contacted us with an interest in fleshing out some of the ideas so quickly presented by Yoga Journal. 

Though this will come as no surprise to yogis currently practicing in the Rose City, Yoga Journal recently named Portland one of “10 Fantastically Yoga Friendly Towns”.   The article proposes that our “evolved ideas about sustainable living and community welfare” and our free-thinker friendly culture add up to an inclusive and thriving yoga community.

The article states that “the conscientiousness that makes Portlanders aware of how their actions affect one another as well as the planet” is one of the reasons why the spirit of service is so present in the practice of yoga in Portland.  Two high profile local yoga non-profits, Living Yoga and Street Yoga, bring yoga to prisons, rehabilitation centers, and homeless youth and are clear examples of service in action.  The article makes clear, however, that it is not just non-profit groups that are trying to make yoga accessible and available to everyone in the community.  It gives the examples of The People’s Yoga, which offers $8 drop in classes and was “established as a response to members of our community who feel yoga is financially out of reach” and also The Bhaktishop, which offers weekly free and by donation classes and just reduced their regular class prices.

Yogi Roots was very fortunate to connect with Michelle Sarchiapone of The People’s Yoga and Lisa Mae Osborn of The Bhaktishop to ask them to elaborate on their thoughts about why simplicity and service are critical parts of a yoga practice, Portland’s DIY ethos, and the future of our local yoga community.

Both Michelle and Lisa Mae agree that Portland has benefited from being a smaller, less influential yoga city than a place like New York City, whose teachers and studios played a large role in yoga coming to the west.  Michelle says, “I think there are cities that became hubs of the western yoga movement, and as a result they have become how we define yoga in our minds. Places where you may find the yoga community feels a bit inaccessible due to the consumerist slant the west has branded onto yoga.”  Lisa Mae echoes this idea and one of the points in the article that the Portland yoga community is “not about pretention, but about inclusion”.  She elaborates that, “There isn’t a righteousness about being part of a yoga community or center here that makes others that aren’t ‘in the club’ feel unwelcome or inferior. I think that Portland yoga centers are doing a great job at making sure that the exclusivity factor is beginning to be wiped away from the playing field, and for that I am grateful. To welcome everyone into the practice, that is the idea.”

In order to preserve this sense of inclusion both teachers think it is critical to be mindful of the deeper, less commercial, principles and practices of yoga.  Michelle says, “I think the move back towards the simple, brilliant, true roots of the practice is as easy as scaling back our expectations of the yoga culture to let the practice thrive. Let it thrive in open, simple spaces.”  Lisa Mae suggests a concept from the Bhagavad Gita, one of yoga’s fundamental spiritual texts.   “We have to see the wider implications of the rarity of human life, and seize the chance to do something positive. Yoga is one of the paths to that possibility, and I think that Portlanders see the implications of sharing with each other in this deep and far-reaching way.”

Looking toward the future, both Michelle and Lisa Mae see opportunities.  With The People’s Yoga’s focus on low-cost, community classes, Michelle has learned that consistency and dependability have been incredibly important in creating and maintaining a strong yoga community.  She says, “People wanted a place that would consistently be there as the novice yogi’s practice moved from uncomfortable and unfamiliar to full, life-giving and spreading beyond the mat.”  She is “looking forward to expanding the capacity of our programs so we can support class offerings for other marginalized populations or populations whose body shapes haven’t been openly embraced by our culture.”

Lisa Mae’s vision for the future includes more collaboration between studios and across styles of practice. She is working towards getting “studios to unite a little more, doing things together and sharing the vast wealth of knowledge and amazing teachers that we are so lucky to have.  I envision a series of ‘Master Classes’ with some of the top teachers in town, sharing what they know in a forum outside of their own studios.”   She and an owner of another yoga studio have even thrown around the idea of embracing Portland’s quirky DIY culture through a Yogi Kickball benefit where local teachers would play against each other and raise money for a local non-profit.

“Yoga is just one way people learn to be more mindful with themselves, their thoughts, the world,” says Michelle.  “Whatever their practice of mindfulness is, mindfulness moves us all to be more kind, compassionate, and reasonable with ourselves and others. If everybody did yoga? Well, we’d all definitely be more flexible in mind and body!”  As Portland’s yoga community grows and reaches even more diverse populations, we might have a chance to test her prediction.

Lisa Mae offers a hopeful summary as well.  “There is a spirit of service that is awakening in people as they realize the far-reaching implications of MORE people practicing yoga consciously, and Portland’s community, with its great people-first mentality, is poised to be blazing some trails there.”