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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Creating Local Yoga Connections: Meet Teachers and Sample Studios During National Yoga Month

Aug 31, 2011 04:16PM ● By Linda Sechrist

Kiersten Mooney assisting student

Author and poet James Russell Lowe believed that creativity was not the finding of a thing, but rather the making of something out of it after it was found. A 2008 Yoga in America study conducted by the Harris Interactive Service Bureau indicated that 15.8 million people ages 18 to 55 have found their way to a yoga teacher and are practicing one or more styles of this ancient art. Chances are that these yogis and yoginis are not only creating healthier lifestyles as they practice, but are also experiencing a more integrated state of body, mind and emotions.

Since the 1960s, when B.K.S. Iyengar first introduced his style of yoga to the West, the discipline has grown in popularity and diversity. Throughout September, Southwest Floridians are encouraged to sample a variety of styles with local teachers that support National Yoga Month, which has enjoyed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ stamp of approval since 2009.

Yoga’s Multiple Choices

According to Kandy Love, owner of Health & Harmony, in Fort Myers, the reason for today’s variety of hatha yoga styles—anusara, ashtanga, Bikram, Forrest, integral, jivamuk- ti, kundalini, moksha, restorative, Sivananda, viniyoga and vinyasa—is the genius of American creativity. Love believes that the nature of entrepreneurial Westerners, who look for ways to make things their own, is responsible for newly branded twists on 5,000-year-old techniques. “While branding can dilute the spiritual nature of yoga, as well as the depth of the teaching, the flipside is that new styles appeal to many people who otherwise might not benefit from yoga,” she explains.

Bonnie Yonker
Bonnie Yonker
Bonnie Yonker, founder of The Yoga Sanctuary, in Punta Gorda, advises that hatha refers only to the physical aspects of yoga. “Hatha yoga classes include asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing practices), relaxation and meditation,” says Yonker. “All other physical styles of yoga fall under the hatha umbrella. The postures and the breath work are the same. How the material is presented is what changes.”

Choosing Styles and Studios

Alan Lowenschuss, creator of SunShine State Yoga Academy of Naples and Allow-ah Yoga, suggests trying different studios, teachers and styles before deciding on one. “Determine who and what you most resonate with, and be cautious about teachers that put down other styles in order to promote their own,” recommends Lowenschuss, who says he learned something from all the yoga styles he tried. Kiersten Mooney, owner of Bala Vinyasa Yoga Studio, in Naples, agrees, and encourages individuals to research what benefits different styles offer, prior to choosing.

Alan Lowenschuss assisting student
Alan Lowenschuss assisting student

Susanna Tocco, owner of Anahata Holistic Healing & Spiritual Center, in Naples, first explored yoga by accompanying a friend to a class. “It made me feel less anxious,” says Tocco, who discovered that no two instructors teach the same style identically. Confirming Tocco’s observation, Lowenschuss adds that if a beginner doesn’t care for a particular style, it might be due to the teacher’s approach. “Unless there is an immediate aversion to a style, try a different teacher of the same style before moving on,” he suggests.

When researching studios, Yonker proposes sharing your expectations with an instructor. “If an instructor knows what you expect from a yoga practice—more flexibility, better muscle tone, body/mind union—as well as what injuries or limitations you have, they can guide you to a class that best serves your needs,” says Yonker, who clarifies with two examples. An athletic student seeking a strengthening practice may be interested in ashtanga yoga, while a precision-oriented student may prefer Iyengar’s alignment approach.

Connecting with Teachers

Carla Olla, owner of the Love Yoga Center, in Naples, is grateful that she took time to sample yoga’s many flavors before extensively studying with instructors Sharon Gannon and David Life, the founders of jivamukti yoga. “They deeply influenced me and encouraged me to find my potential and highest self, which is what a yoga teacher is supposed to do,” she advises.

Finding the right teacher and style of yoga requires self-reflection and introspection, which is why Olla proposes that during and after class, students reflect upon questions such as: did I feel welcome; did I enjoy the class; did I feel skillfully guided; and how did I feel after the class? “I looked hard at my teachers and pondered if I wanted to be more like them physically, intellectually or spiritually,” advises Olla, who chose teachers whose qualities she wanted to emulate. “Qualities like joy, courage and kindness are important to me, and if a teacher walked into a class in a bad mood, was mean to a student or was ego-driven, I didn’t go back,” she says.

Individuals happy with one style of yoga may never feel the need to branch out. Others enjoy shopping around, because one teacher might offer the alignment training a student wants, while another provides a profound meditative experience. Because alignment instruction is just one part of an asana practice, students seeking more should find a teacher that offers the missing component. “Car shopping best describes my approach to searching for a yoga teacher,” says Mooney “I kept test-driving until I found Baron Baptiste, who met my expectations and needs,” she explains.

Love’s last style stop was Iyengar. Previously perplexed about how to make yoga’s abstract and ethereal spiritual dimension more concrete for her students, Love found that Iyengar’s method provided an orderly structure of postures, followed by breath work, relaxation and meditation, that molded and prepared the physical vessel for mind and spirit.

The Importance of a Personal Practice

Yoga is a way of life, not limited to a mat. More than just postures and breath work practiced in a studio several times a week, it extends

Francesca Simonelli
Francesca Simonelli
to self-examination and contemplation about how yogic principles can be applied in every action throughout the day. This is why, no matter the yoga style, a personal practice, continued education and living in the spirit of yoga are important keys to good yoga teachers.

“In our 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Program, we spend the first day setting up a home practice, because we feel very strongly that personal practice is both fulfilling on an individual level and an invaluable tool for enhancing an instructor’s skills as a teacher,” says Yonker. A teacher without a deep understanding of self is limited in what he or she is able to impart to students.

The founder of Divine Freedom Yoga, Francesca Simonelli, says her practice off the mat permeates everything she does, from how she speaks to others to cooking meals for her family with love and presence. “I approach and accomplish all my daily chores and tasks with compassion and patience,” she advises. Although Simonelli sometimes lacks the opportunity to practice asanas for an hour, she consistently integrates breath work, meditation or chanting into her day.

September is the ideal month to sample yoga styles and teachers, and experience the sense of community that develops around a studio. While students generally attend classes to be instructed, guided and challenged, they also build friendships and connect with other people. “The word yoga, which translates as union, is about connection, or union with the self, and when we are connected to our true self, we connect to others in a more profound and meaningful way,” says Mooney.

To learn more about yoga styles and where to find a yoga teacher and special workshops and classes, see the Natural Awakenings calendar and visit

Health & Harmony Center, 15951 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers 33908. 239-433-5995.

The Yoga Sanctuary, 112 Sullivan St., Punta Gorda 33950. 941-505-9642.

SunShine State Yoga Academy of Naples and Allow-ah Yoga. 239-592-0898.

Bala Vinyasa Yoga Studio, 6200 Trail Blvd. N., Naples 34108. 239-598-1938.

Anahata Holistic Healing & Spiritual Center, 945 Central Ave., Naples 34102. 239-262-0811.

Love Yoga Center, 4949 Tamiami Trail N., Ste. 204, Naples 34103. 239-692-9747.

Divine Freedom Yoga; 917-687-1420. Email [email protected].

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