The idea of something being “new” or “innovative” in yoga may understandably elicit skepticism among loyal teachers and practitioners. Any modern iteration of a centuries-old practice could be seen as a departure from its essence, and some might say results in something different altogether. However, there’s no denying the powerful influence that advances in medical research and technology have on our understanding of the physical practice, as well as the unique ways that individual creativity and spirit have molded our current idea of what it means to be a yogi.
In a new feature on Sonima.com we recognized 50 people making a deep impact on the world of wellness, and these 10 yogis were among the names featured. With the eight-limbed path playing an ever growing role in how people from all walks of life care for their bodies and minds, these individuals’ contributions are bound to make waves beyond the sphere of yoga. Read on to learn more about the innovative and inspired men and women who are shaping the future of yoga.
UN peacekeeper and founder of Amanuddin Foundation
French-born Amandine Roche worked as a human rights lawyer for the United Nations in Kabul, Afghanistan from 2003 to 2014. During this time her colleagues were kidnapped and killed and she was forced to evacuate to save her life. Suffering from anxiety, depression, insomnia, PTSD, and more, Roche escaped to India to heal. Rather than move on, however, Roche returned to Kabul to teach yoga and meditation to women, children, and even Taliban members as a way to help them cope with the trauma of living in a war-torn region. In 2011, she founded the Amanuddin Foundation, which means “religion of peace” in Farsi, to promote these non-violent, mind-body techniques and help bring social justice to an impoverished, post-conflict country.
An authorized Ashtanga Yoga teacher and owner of Land Yoga in Harlem, New York City, Lara Land has been practicing and teaching yoga for almost 20 years. Land has traveled the world to some of the most impoverished countries, introducing yoga therapy to HIV positive children and adults. Land continues to support various social justice efforts in NYC. She started the Uptown Yoga Festival to bring free yoga to the community, has a huge benefit at the Red Rooster each year for yoga-related causes and started a non-profit, Three and a Half Acres, which brings yoga to vulnerable populations like homeless LGBTQ youth, and people living with HIV/AIDs. While many studio owners are a gentrifying force in their neighborhood, Land’s inclusivity, direction, and integrity has set a new standard.
Husband-wife duo Jeff Krasno and Schuyler Grant are akin to the royal family of the yoga world. While Krasno was pursuing a successful career in music, Grant gained renown as the owner of Kula Yoga Project, a premier alignment-based yoga studio in New York City. As Grant began taking her Kula method around the world teaching retreats, workshops, and trainings, she and her husband started to think about melding the joy of communal yoga with music festival trappings, and Wanderlust Yoga Festival was born in 2009. The global festival has ultimately served as the foundation of a unique and innovative brand that includes a media company, a network of yoga studios, and “wellness clubhouse” destinations, the most recent of which launched in Los Angeles last year.
Mason and Sarah Levey founded Y7 Yoga in 2013 when they moved to New York from Detroit, Michigan. They wanted to create a studio that would offer an alternative to the more lineage-based classical yoga studios they saw and were turned off by. Inspired by the innovation of the ridiculously successful and trend-setting SoulCycle—which even after its IPO continues to draw much critique from the cycling world—the husband-wife duo devised a similarly anti-establishment studio that was fun, hip, and appealing for all fitness types. The Leveys turned off all the lights, paired heart-pumping fast-paced yoga with hip-hop music, and a new trend was born: “A Tribe Called Sweat.” With five studios open and plans for more, soon Y7 may be as prominent as some of the other boutique fitness studios across the country.
Over the past few years, since founding her chic yoga retreat company Yoga for Bad People, Heather Lilleston has become somewhat of a household name in the wellness world. Rigorously trained through the Jivamukti method under Sharon Gannon and David Life, and later under Colleen Saidman and Rodney Yee, Lilleston has been teaching yoga for nearly 15 years, more recently become a lead teacher in training programs at both Yoga Shanti and Yoga Vida in New York City. Today, Lilleston brings her yoga teaching methodology alongside an approachable, non-judgmental, yoga culture to retreat centers in some of the most beautiful places on earth.
Tiffany Cruikshank is an internationally renowned yoga instructor, who has spent the past 20 years crafting a methodology for teaching and practicing yoga, wherein the practice is melded with Eastern and Western notions of medicine. Cruikshank’s teaching is held up by her work as a holistic health practitioner, acupuncturist, and sports medicine expert. Based in Seattle, Cruikshank teaches regularly for YogaGlo, and travels extensively around the world. She is also the author of the new book Meditate Your Weight. Her approach has helped thousands of yogis around the world see their practice in a new light as a result of Cruikshank’s innovative thinking and dedication to the practice.
Yoga teacher and founder of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition
Yoga’s representation in mainstream media often mimics the primary issues that fashion and beauty have propagated since their inception, equating perfection with thin-ness, whiteness, and a false confidence that is wrapped up in overt sexuality. The Yoga and Body Image Coalition, founded by Melanie Klein seeks to make yoga more accessible by speaking out against the harmful media paradigms that have caused so much exclusivity and shaming in the yoga world. Additionally the coalition seeks to create communities and environments that are welcoming of all practitioners regardless of physicality, race, and gender. Klein is a professor of Women’s Studies and Sociology at Santa Monica College and has written several books that have paved the way for body positivity in the yoga world.
Seane Corn is a celebrated Vinyasa yoga teacher who has developed worldwide recognition for the past 20 years. She has become a leading voice in merging yoga ethics with social justice values and is the founder of Off The Mat Into The World, an organization that engenders yogic values into social impact service work. Corn is known not only for her teaching, but her ability to speak passionately and powerfully about the need for action off the mat, and into the world. Corn’s impact has been profound, as she remains the loudest, most impassioned, and most innovative voice in the mainstream yoga world doing incredibly important and un-glamorous work to make this world more equal and more free.
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