From the outside the Chicago studio, Yoga Now looks like any other brick building. But inside, the studio's richly textured walls are sculpted almost entirely of cob, an adobe-like material made of sand, clay, and straw.
In building the studio, certified yoga instructor Miguel Elliot wanted to create a natural sanctuary in the midst of the city. He sees a strong connection between the cob walls of the studio, which were mixed and sculpted by hand, and the practices within. "In cob building and in yoga, there's a resonance with body, heart, mind, and spirit," he says. "There are no tools or machinery. It's just you."
An ancient building material, cob has sparked renewed interest in recent years because of its sustainability, affordability, and nontoxicity. For Elliot, working with this centuries-old construction medium feels as natural as incorporating the ancient wisdom of yoga into modern life. Exposed to yoga at an early age by his grandfather, who practiced Sivananda Yoga, Elliot discovered cob in a workshop at the Cob Cottage Company in Oregon. Inspired by what he learned, Elliot traveled the world exploring cob's humanitarian uses, building kindergartens in Patagonia and orphanages in tsunami-torn Thailand.
Building with cob takes patience and skill, says Elliot, but the rewards are both spiritually and physically gratifying. "Having your hands in the earth is so real," he says. "We live in such an artificial world. Feeling the earth is like going home."
After a trip to Thailand, Elliot began to incorporate earth-based imagery into his yoga teaching and to refer to his own practice as "lom" yoga. The Thai word lom, which means wind, and the English word "loam," or fertile earth, both have deep resonance for Elliot. "In lom yoga, the top of the body is free and flexible; the bottom of the body is connected. As we do our practice, we are reminded that we are rooted to the earth."
For Elliot, people are drawn to build with cob for the same reasons they practice yoga. "With everything speeding up, we need to take moments as they are," he says. "Cob, like yoga, encourages one to slow down. It's about enjoying the processes more than being concerned about the result."