Three years ago when I moved to Norfolk, I visited all the local yoga studios within a three-mile radius of my new apartment in Ghent. Having moved every year for about the last decade, I was in search of a home. When I say home, I mean the feeling you get when you walk in the door of somewhere you feel safe, supported, cared for. This isn’t limited to the conventional four-walls-and-a-roof that houses all your belongings, but rather can be anywhere you feel at ease and accepted exactly as you are. When you’re home you simply know it—you feel your body soften, a deep full-body exhale, and all the unnecessary weight you’ve been carrying drops away.
To any of the Norfolk yogis, it will come as no surprise that each and every class I took was authentic, informative, thoughtful and designed with care to be of benefit in it’s own unique way. For entirely personal reasons that I can’t quite put into words, I settled upon Satya—a cozy little studio nestled in the cobblestoned streets of Freemason. Many others in search of this same feeling have found their ways to Breathe, The Yoga Room, My Yoga Spirit, The Space Above, Hot House and the dozens of other studios scattered throughout Hampton Roads.
One of the things that surprised me most about the yoga community in Norfolk was the support and respect each studio had for one another. I remember talking to Logan, the owner of Satya (who later became my teacher), about trying out studios and her telling me I absolutely had to check out Breathe, because the owners were such incredible people. She also had nothing but kind words and a big smile when she spoke about the other studios in the area. Her reaction was, I think, very reflective of the yoga culture here—one that appears to be filled to the brim with compassion, harmony, fellowship and the desire for mutual success and that leaves no room for rivalry (disclaimer: I’m not saying it doesn’t exist—jealousy, scarcity, and competition are all very human feelings—but it’s certainly not defining). So while Satya was the physical establishment I retreated to whenever I needed to reconnect and re-fuel, it has been the yoga community of Norfolk as a whole that has supported me, the spirit of yoga, and really, the city of Norfolk.
When Satya closed as our beloved teacher moved to the west coast, I felt like a piece of my heart closed along with it. After a few (okay, more than a few) weeks of wallowing, I decided I did not want to remain homeless any longer. Right around that time a few of my fellow Satya-trained teachers and I started a pop-up yoga collective that we branded “The Bhav Brigade,” which would offer all-levels donation-based classes all over the city at local landmarks, businesses and outdoor spaces. Though our city has no shortage of talented and knowledgeable yoga teachers housed by numerous qualified studios, the Bhav Brigade has helped to unite the periphery of our yoga community—those who had always been secretly interested in yoga, but a little bit too unsure of themselves or today’s yoga culture to try, those who had practiced yoga previously, but at some point or another had fallen off the wagon, those who tip-toed at the fringe of our watering hole but were a little too afraid to jump in. All the reasons “why not” were addressed by our decision to offer yoga in a form that did not require memberships or strict arrival or departure times or mats or particular clothing or even money.
Although I’m teaching now with the Bhav Brigade and my fellow teachers have become family, it’s still an absolute necessity that I find space to nurture my own practice. I’ve started practicing regularly at Breathe with Meaghan de Roos and Gill Elhart and their slew of incredible teachers, but since it’s been a few years…I decided it might be a good time to revisit that yoga tour I took around Norfolk when I first arrived.
My first stop to ring in the New Year was Breathe for a 10 a.m. intention practice with Stephanie Grubbs. A yoga class has to be really, really good to get me out of bed before 9 a.m. on a weekend and this one didn’t disappoint. We started by contemplating our intentions for the year ahead as Stephanie explained the meaning of sankalpa, or “seed,” and how this would inform our practice for the day. After about an hour of a perfectly blended mix of energizing and restorative asana, we found ourselves on our backs for the most delicious yoga nidra. I can’t think of a better way to start off a new year.
Next, I visited My Yoga Spirit, and this was an extra special stop because my friend and international yoga teacher, Vanessa Fleming, was in town guest teaching between trips to Morocco and Thailand. She taught a beautiful class centered on jalandhara bandha—an energetic lock activated by bringing the sternum to the chin, the chin to the sternum, and drawing the neck up and in, which she explained beautifully. The class was punctuated by a variety of poses that built upon one another to engage this bandha, like halasana—“plow pose”, reverse cat cows, setu bandha sarvangasana—“bridge pose,” peaking with salamba sarvangasana—“supported shoulderstand,” which was perfectly counterbalanced by matsyasana—“fish pose.” Who doesn’t love a good yoga class that just makes sense? Vanessa’s world travels have certainly rubbed off on her teachings. This class was refreshing, creative and full of wisdom.
Looking for a little yin to a week full of yang, I sought out Laura McCorry’s 4:30 p.m. gentle and restorative class at The Space Above. I’d never met Laura before, but her voice was remarkably soothing (and not in a breathy-new-age-y kind of way) and I instantly felt comforted in her presence. What made this restorative class stand out from many others, in my opinion, was that it started with several minutes of gentle vinyasa before moving seamlessly into the more static restorative poses with longer holds. The flowing introduction eased the transition from busy everyday life to the stillness of restorative yoga. The class also made great use of props and boasted the best supported matsyasana I’ve seen yet. As a bonus if you plan accordingly, you can maximize the bliss by following-up your practice with an in-house massage—which is exactly what I plan to do next weekend.
I enjoyed The Space Above’s restorative class so much that I decided to take another, this time at The Yoga Room. Lucky for me, there was a Monday night offering taught by the Diane Malaspina, studio owner and licensed psychologist. Given Diane’s background, this class was (not surprisingly) therapeutic. The poses were soft, well supported by props, and instructed in a way that was clear, concise and founded in a deep understanding of anatomy. Diane teaches with a confidence that only comes from many, many years of teaching and that instantly puts you at ease. This newly renovated studio also has great ambiance, adding to the overall experience, with a peaceful, clean, earthy feel.
My last stop brought me back to my roots for heated vinyasa with Kasia Litwak on Thursday night at Hot House. Having practiced hot yoga almost exclusively throughout high school and college, it’s been about four years since I’ve practiced and, on a 28-degree night, it felt especially good to be back. Having acclimated to a room-temperature practice, I expected to feel exhausted, out of breath, and to be struggling to keep up. Well, I certainly was sweaty, but surprisingly energized, and Kasia taught at the perfect pace, reminding us to drink water along the way. As a perk, an hour of hot, sweaty vinyasa will earn you the best sleep you’ve ever had, and that’s a promise.
Together, all of the local studios—established and mobile, heated and room-temperature, those derived from Jivamukti, Ashtanga, Tri-Yoga and many, many other lineages—collectively provide a home for our diverse, colorful city and I’m so grateful to be a part of it.
Originally written for Alt Daily, here.