Where Are We Going, Where Have We Been?
If you have ever had the pleasure of taking a class from Michelle Allgaier, Yoga Community’s founder & original owner, you may have heard the creation story. YC was one of two studios in the Tri-Cities when yoga was mostly taught in health clubs. First located next to Aqua Tropics, when you walked in to the studio you could never be sure what you would find; a corn snake in the bathroom, a kangaroo rat dropping in though the ceiling, various and sundry crickets. If you’ve ever wondered how YC got from there to here, you’re not the only one. This month I indulged my curiosity with an interview of Yoga Community’s current director & owner, Heather Anastos. What I discovered was purpose and passion…in perfect alignment!
Christy: I thought I’d just get you thinking on these things: I want to tell the story of Yoga Community, how it grew from its humble origins to where we are now, and of course you are a big part of that story! It started with Michelle, did Karin Pierce own the studio for a while? Heather: Michelle is the founder and owned the studio for 3 years. Karin bought it from Michelle and had it for about a year. I bought it off of Karin in June 2007.
C: I’ve heard about your personal yoga journey, didn’t you start doing yoga at Curves? H: Women’s Only with Michelle. A friend dragged me to yoga – I wanted to go to kickboxing. The rest is history!
C: Have you always been fitness oriented? H: I was never athletic…I took my PE credits in college (volleyball and racquetball) as pass/fail because I didn’t want to mess up my GPA. When I moved to Washington after college, I joined the gym and started weight training and doing aerobic classes – I loved step and a combination step-weight training class.
C: What really set the hook for you with yoga? H: When I was in that first class with Michelle, we did downward facing dog – and Michelle did the normal assist – pulling my hips up and back to lengthen the spine. As she did that, I just felt everything move into place – I felt energy surge through my whole body – it felt amazing. That’s when I knew that yoga was something more than just another fitness class.
C: It’s something you are obviously quite passionate about, and have dedicated the past few years of your life to its study, and teaching. Why? H: Yoga has changed my life for the better. Mostly, I study because I want to learn more for my personal journey and growth, but, of course, it also makes me a better teacher.
C: What made you want to teach, and then be the owner of the studio? H: I didn’t, at first, it just sort of manifested. I took my first one week of teacher training because I wanted to understand more about how to practice on my own. Soon after my first yoga training, I started my Ayurveda training. In fact, I “taught” my first class to my Ayurveda class when the electric was out and we had some free time before we could start our class. While I was in that program I started to realize how complimentary yoga and Ayurveda are as healing arts, and I thought I’d like to have a wellness center someday that combined the two. Then I found out that Karin couldn’t continue to manage Yoga Community. I was a little unsure – I only had one week of teacher training!! But I was a manager at Hanford working on multi-million dollar contracts – I knew I could manage the business aspect. So I talked to all the instructors – and they were all interested in staying, they just didn’t want to manage the business. So, I decided to do it – and signed up for a 200-hr teacher training program as soon as I could!! After that, the 500-hr training just fell into place. I’m still grateful that the previous instructors and both previous owners stay involved at YC, it’s especially cool that Michelle created the mural for the new entry way. It’s a nice to keep the history of the studio while we move forward and grow.
C: Now, besides the physical practice alone, there are workshops on Ayurveda, and yoga philosophy. Talk about that. What is your vision, or intention for Yoga Community? H: I want Yoga Community to be a place dedicated to traditional yoga practices. It seems like so many classes are diluting the practices, trying to make them more “western” but perhaps losing touch with the rich, long traditions of yoga. I want us to have the opportunity to let yoga evolve for modern times, but without forgetting the depth of the knowledge that yoga has developed over the centuries. I want a space where we can chant, discuss philosophy, and practice with a connection to that past knowledge. It’s also a space where yoga is allowed to be whatever you need it to be – it can be just an exercise class or it can be part of your personal spiritual growth. That aspect is one that often gets “diluted” out of classes – but I’m celebrating it. Just check out our entryway mural – the OM symbol is a representation of the spirituality that can be present in your yoga practice. Yoga can change your life. It certainly improved my life. I changed jobs, improved my diet, and became a better person. I don’t think that would have happened without the positive influences of yoga.
C: Where do you go from here in your own practice? H: Who knows? It’s been a fun journey – I can’t wait to find out what the next stop is!! Though I must admit, my original intent with Ayurveda was to get my Masters Degree…and that’s still a possibility.
C: What advice do you have for the person just beginning their yoga practice? H: Relax, don’t try so hard, and be open to the possibilities that present themselves.
C: What about the advanced students who want to deepen their practice? H: Sign up for some workshops. Doing 10-12 hours of yoga in a weekend is a liberating experience. Incorporate more than just asana into your practice – explore pranayama and meditation. Read some of the yoga texts – or better yet, come to our philosophy discussion groups!!
C: How much do you think a person needs to put in to reap the benefits of practice? H: Like most things, the more you do it, the more benefit you get. But I see benefits in my beginners’ class where they are practicing just once a week for eight weeks. So any amount is beneficial – don’t think that you have to have a certain amount of time set aside to practice, just use the time you have and the benefits will be apparent.
C: What about the remodeling… you chose bamboo flooring (lovely, btw!), for environmental reasons? H: Yes – I wanted to redo the original wood floor, but it was just in too poor shape. The bamboo was a nice, green alternative. We also added the cloth towels in the bathroom – they create a sense of luxury and indulgence, and they are a greener alternative.
C: Anything else? H: Just that I love directing the studio. It creates a sense of balance in my life and gives me back so much more than I put into it. I tend to be a workaholic – and yoga tempers that. The work I do for the studio doesn’t ever feel like work. When I took my 500-hr training, we had to talk about ourselves and tell our peers about ourselves outside of yoga – when I said that I’m a chemist full-time at Hanford and also a studio owner, my teacher (Kathryn Payne) asked “What do you do for fun???” – I honestly answered, “This – I’m taking a 500-hr training program. This IS fun for me!!”