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History of Yoga

Early Yoga Studios Thrive

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People have been practicing yoga for thousands of years, but in the United States it’s a relatively new pursuit. Even newer are yoga studios. Most were created within the last 20 years; some of the more well-known chains, less than a decade. But some pioneering studios, dating back to the 1970s, not only still stand, but are thriving in a very different business landscape than when they began.

Back then, the founders often opened shop without business plans or longterm goals—or, really, any thought that teaching yoga could be a lifetime, even profitable, career. (Nevermind any inkling that yoga would become the multi-billion dollar lifestyle industry it is today.) They did so out of their devotion to the practice and the desire to share it with like-minded seekers.

Thirty-plus years later, we honor these early houses of yoga and their founders for having paved the way for all of the studios that have followed, and for bestowing the practice upon all of us.

The Yoga Studio
In 1979, Carolyn Heines opened the doors of this Grand Rapids, Michigan, studio. She recently told that back then, people thought she was saying “yogurt” when she told them her profession. The studio has changed locations several times in order to expand, but it never left its hometown. Iyengar-focused, the studio also includes an all-women staff of seasoned instructors. Heines is still at the helm, along with her business partner and fellow teacher, Kat McKinney.

The Yoga Institute
This Texas studio started in Houston in 1974. At the time, it housed one of the largest supplies of books, props, and tapes (yes, tapes!) around. Founded by Lex Gillian, it’s now run by one of Gillian’s early students, Rae Lynn Rath. It was an Anusara studio for some years and has gone through other permutations, but now classes in a variety of yoga traditions are taught. A second location opened in Clear Lake, and has hosted guest teachers including Ram Dass, Lilias Folan, Judith Lasater, and Deepak Chopra.

Unity Woods
John Schumacher, one of only 13 Americans to hold the title of certified advanced Iyengar Yoga teacher, founded Unity Woods in 1979 in a temporary location in Washington, DC. By 1985, he’d found a more permanent home in Maryland, making it the Beltway’s first full-time yoga studio. Today there are three Unity Woods locations, in Bethesda, Woodley Park (DC), and Arlington (Virginia), making it the largest Iyengar studio in the country.

Yoga Phoenix
This Kundalini Yoga studio has been around since 1970 and is actually one of the oldest Kundalini Yoga centers in the world. Located in Phoenix, it has expanded over the years and now exists in a yoga complex that includes an art gallery. The studio is part of 3HO, or “Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization,” a not-for-profit initiative created to spread the teachings of Yogi Bhajan, the founder of Kundalini Yoga, to anyone who wants to learn the practice, regardless of their financial situation.

Ashtanga Yoga Center

Encinitas, California, has long been considered the American home of Ashtanga yoga; it’s where Sri Pattabhi Jois, Guruji to his followers, first came to teach with this son Manju, and where he returned many times before his death in 2009. This yoga center, originally called the Ashtanga Yoga Nilayam, was founded by Brad Ramsey and Gary Lopedota in 1978, and taken over by Tim Miller in 1981. Renamed the Ashtanga Yoga Center, it has changed locations throughout the Encintas area, but remains one of the most respected and influential Ashtanga Yoga studios in the country.

Honorable Mention:

Last year Yoga Buzz featured one of the “youngins'” of these early studios, Piedmont Yoga in Oakland, California, when it celebrated its 25th anniversary.