Downward Dog Days: Yoga takes root in Chicago
Yoga is in. Actually, yoga has been around for many a millenia, but lately it would seem not a week goes by without a new yoga venue opening up in Chicagoland. What was once the province of a spiritually-minded, counter-cultural fringe, has spilled vigorously into the mainstream with the advent of yoga gear, yoga vacations, yoga multimedia and even yoga superstars. With unofficial celebrity endorsers ranging from supermodel Christie Turlington to popmeister Sting, yoga is now being taught at a host of city and suburban schools, health clubs, field houses, hospital programs, and libraries. Faced with such a panoply of offerings, finding a suitable class may seem like a daunting task to the uninitiated. Here is some sound advice from a selection of groundbreaking, certified yoga professionals in the Chicago area.
Come as you are
A glance around one of Tracy Lynn Pristas' regular weekly classes confirms yoga's essence as a practice open to all without exception. Mirroring her background as a highly-praised visual artist and yoga educator, Ms. Pristas' classes have been drawing to their folds a strikingly diverse population for the past 10 years. As one of only a handful of
Chicago-based instructors certified in the White Lotus tradition of yoga, being able to accommodate the widest possible range of abilities and expectations is integral to Ms. Pristas' approach to teaching. A creative outlook is markedly at the heart of her talent as an educator. Regardless of the disparities students may present as far as flexibility, strength or capacity for concentration, as well as the myriad group dynamics that may develop, she believes it is a teacher's basic responsibility to "integrate your class so that everybody is going to have a good experience from the practice." In order to rise to that challenge, she adds, "you have to find the way to engage the person in a safe, non-threatening, playful, comfortable, educational way." Reflecting on the vast, multi-dimensional nature of the practice, Ms. Pristas reports on how the experience of yoga will often bring unexpected changes to a person's life. "Even people who do come to it just because of the physical workout aspect realize there's a lot more to this than just the workout. And maybe they start treating their spouse a little more lovingly, or maybe they don't have as much road rage, or they start to change their diet or stop smoking."
Ms. Pristas teaches Hatha, Vinyasa Flow and the challenging, high-energy White Lotus Flow Series at three locations around Chicago - including weekly classes at Global Yoga & Wellness Center, a pioneering yoga studio in the now "hot" Bucktown/Wicker Park area. Her Hatha Yoga Basics Course, a series designed for the novice but attended by many an experienced practitioner seeking insightful pointers on the fundamentals of yoga, is offered throughout the year at the Belle Plaine Studio in the North Center Area. In addition to group yoga classes, personalized instruction is available for corporate and private clients.
Yoga with Tracy Lynn Pristas, RYT
Call for locations and a complete schedule of classes
Support your local yogini
Known as the "yoga of awareness," Kundalini Yoga has not quite reached the level of popularity Hatha Yoga has attained in this country over the past few years. Perhaps hindered by scant marketing efforts and an overall "foreign" esthetic that espouses flowing white garments, turbaned crowns and decidedly unfamiliar spiritual names, it remains to a great extent a word-of-mouth type of experience. Right in the heart of the Loop, Kundalini Yoga teacher Susan Kezios is hard at work seeking to change this perception among Chicagoans. A longtime runner turned yogini, Ms. Kezios (a.k.a. Shakta Kaur) has transformed a former cafeteria on the 5th floor of the Fine Arts Building into a midday haven for the city that works. Quite fittingly, Kundalini Yoga was designed in India especially for "householders", busy people with jobs and families. Ms. Kezios pays homage to this tradition by offering a schedule of lunchtime and after-work classes catering to the 9-5 lifestyle. A class also gathers every Sunday from 10:30 am to noon. While the longer weekend class allows for deeper explorations into meditation, the Kundalini style is particularly renowned for its fast-acting effects on body and soul.
"Kundalini Yoga is quicker than most other yogas, because it works on your glandular system," explains Ms. Kezios. While the postures may look deceptively simple, the accompanying rhythmic breathing, mudras (hand positions), dristis (eye focus) and mantras (vocal sounds), all add up to a deeply restoring, empowering experience. "When you consciously alter your breath, and put your body in some of these very different yoga postures, you're breaking up patterns, habits and emotions that are coded in your body," informs Ms. Kezios. "Kundalini Yoga is not about solving problems, you're supposed to dissolve them." Not that pragmatism takes a back seat to spirituality, mind you: in less esoteric terms, she will simply instruct her students before class, "this is your trash can, dump your stuff here." But what about those white robes? "White is a combination of all colors. It actually increases your electromagnetic field," reports Ms. Kezios. "You can automatically increase your aura just by wearing white." Sounds like that could come in handy, back in the office
Kundalini Yoga in the Loop
Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Avenue, Suite 514, Chicago
Make it a family affair
The term "child pose" takes on a whole new meaning at Sweet Pea's Studio, a family yoga center located in the Lakeview area. In newly expanded facilities, complete with a private bodywork room, the studio specializes in prenatal and postpartum yoga and massage. Addressing all phases of a woman's fertility cycle through ongoing classes and monthly workshops, Sweet Pea's Studio is a one-of-a-kind resource for anyone looking for self-education and the support of a kindred community at a time filled with joys and challenges. In the prenatal and "Baby & Me" postpartum yoga classes, making space for a new baby takes on a mental, physical and emotional dimension.
"We really try to allow a sacred space for this alteration that takes place in that very short time," states founder and co-director Jennifer Barron Fishman. "Your mind, your body, your heart, your community, everything changes so much. Even the most grounded of women can lose their footing." Trained as a yoga teacher, massage therapist and labor support Doula, Ms. Fishman was motivated to create a single space for her work when she felt ready to start a family. Now a new parent herself, she draws on both formal training and daily experience to assist other women in their passage to motherhood. The comforting, de-stressing virtues of yoga play an essential role in "helping them to stay balanced, helping them to work through that landscape of change." The school's curriculum continues to develop, guided by the needs expressed by its students. In addition to weekly yoga classes, current offerings include a support group for new moms, a birth preparation course, a breastfeeding clinic, and a yoga and fertility course. September courses will feature prenatal couples yoga, infant massage, and a new dads group. In the works is a yoga and menopause series, to be offered in the fall.
Sweet Pea's Studio
3717 N. Ravenswood Avenue, Suite 213, Chicago
Parents of older children are sure to find a visit to Bubbles Academy worth their while. Located in a newly converted 10,000 square foot space where imagination reins free, Bubbles Academy offers children ages infant to seven a range of programs that allow them to explore the magic of yoga, art, creative movement, music and foreign language.
1504 North Fremont Street, Chicago
Sweet Om Chicago
Whether you are a techie, an artist or a stockbroker, a breadwinner or a homemaker, and whether you call downtown Chicago or the suburbs home, chances are you will find nearby a yoga class that fits both your schedule and temperament. Listed below are some additional resources you may wish to explore along your path to yoga wellness. Namaste!
Here are a few other places to learn yoga in the area:
Bikram Yoga Chicago
1344 North Milwaukee and 2736-A N. Clark St., Chicago
Chang's Martial Arts
1534 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago
Norris Mini Courses
Northwestern University, 1999 Campus Drive, Evanston
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2004 issue of Chicago Learning Guide Magazine.