Downward facing dog, child's pose, sun salutation ... To anyone who has taken a yoga class, these are familiar phrases, recalling the more universal poses yoga teachers of all persuasions instruct their class members to strike. But yoga teacher and entrepreneur Nikki Myers, owner of Cityoga, comes at her work from an even deeper stance, one that stretches yoga's boundaries beyond its traditional New Age, self-help and bodywork monikers - even though the practice is age-old.
These days, after all, even small towns have yoga classes. Yoga's not just for the beaded or bearded; it's for beleaguered at-home moms, overtaxed athletes, high-powered executives (women and men) and all others beyond and between. For Myers, yoga is for absolutely everyone - no matter what walk of life they come from. Yoga, Myers believes, lifts you up - physically and psychologically.
"Breathe from the bottom up," Myers implores her students in the Yoga for a Better Back class at Cityoga's downtown location on Indiana Avenue. (Cityoga Midtown is located at 38th and Meridian streets.) "Good work, good work!" she adds, as the class strikes a simultaneous pose. "Beautiful work!"
This kind of enthusiasm extends outside of the classroom and reflects Myers' larger capacity for working hard and encouraging her students and teachers - and everyone else who crosses her path - to reach within to find their own gold. This includes individuals who are living with HIV/AIDS.
Myers offers this class, Yoga for HIV/AIDS, for free. Health workers as well as those living with HIV/AIDS attend yoga classes for the same reason anyone else does: to feel better within their own bodies - which is arguably an even greater challenge for those who are all too familiar with the pain of disease, and the stigma.
Myers believes yoga's healing benefits reach far beyond the physical. In fact, Myers came to yoga in the midst of her own health crisis with sciatica, but quickly realized yoga could help center herself beyond the physical healing she sought.
The five bodies
Cityoga, one of a number of yoga studios in town, distinguishes itself by offering most if not all forms and traditions of yoga in addition to unique classes such as the HIV/AIDS class and others such as Yoga for Nurses, Yoga of the Heart, Hip Hop Yoga, Yoga for Families and even Detox Yoga. These are offered in addition to the more traditional yoga classes, including Iyengar, Ashtanga, "hot" yoga, plus other types of bodywork such as pilates and even bellydancing. "We believe in many traditions," Myers says.
What all yoga traditions have in common is a philosophy that extends the practice beyond its more obvious physical benefits. "From a yoga perspective, yogis say that we're not one body, we're five bodies," Myers explains. First is the physical body or structure, second is the energy body, third is thinking or the intellect, fourth is our character or personality and fifth is the heart, as in joy or bliss. "If any one of these is out of balance, the system, the structure is out of balance. For me that's what differentiates yoga from anything else."
Being in the body - or out of it - is what yoga addresses more holistically than, say, weightlifting or running. Myers believes you can bring "a yogic state of mind" to any kind of bodywork. "You can take a yogic mind into bicycling, weight lifting, any of those things." As Myers describes, "[It's about] synchronizing breath and movement. Yoga, just like life, is a dance of our breath ... We all know that it's true; breath ties into our energy. We can use that in our off-the-mat times as well."
Myers believes yoga is a metaphor for creating space: "We're all about space; creating space in our bodies, creating space in our hearts and creating space in our minds."
Yoga's psychological benefits extend to those who are struggling profoundly with conditions like addictions. Cityoga offers the class Detox Yoga, developed around 12-step addictions programs. In fact, Myers says, "If you trace the roots of 12-step programs back ... you get to ancient India.
"Often with addictions the last place you want to be is in your own body," Myers says. "Once you get clean, [yoga] works very complementary to any of the A's. It's not at all meant to be a substitute. It is about bringing you back to your own body with a level of awareness, a level of acceptance. Love, gratitude, self-acceptance, contentment. Finding something bigger than you to focus on - so surrendering and seeing how those things work and feel in your body."
When yoga started becoming big in the U.S., classes filled up with upper-middle-class women from the suburbs. This became the stereotypical yoga practitioner, outside of the previous stereotypical hippie. But to Myers, yoga is truly for everyone - and it's clearly her vision to find those audiences for whom yoga can be transformative. Two of the participants in her class are African-American, representing a larger ratio than is usually found in yoga classes. "When I came back to Indianapolis, one of the things I saw was that yoga was pretty much relegated to the suburbs, and Caucasian women. I had this dream of bringing all the healing and transformative benefits of yoga to a wider audience."
Myers has been somewhat successful, and continues to reach out. Cityoga's population, she guesses, is about 27 percent minority. Out of Cityoga's approximately 20 teachers, six represent minorities. "That's better than 20 percent," Myers says.
But changing stereotypes is never easy. And while Myers has made great strides within her own African-American community, "There have been a lot of obstacles." For one thing, Myers recalls, there's a misconception that yoga is a religion. "We've been doing a lot of outreach" to address this, Myers says. She has reached out at Black Expo and at individual churches. She's also done on-site classes for Indianapolis Public Schools and the Indiana Association of Black Psychologists, plus a class at the Hasten Hebrew Academy and the Noblesville Juvenile Detention Center.
Here at Cityoga's downtown location, which opened just a year ago (Midtown has been open since June of 2002), the studio is decorated in a pleasing palette of tropical colors. The café flanking the studio offers drinks and snacks - of the healthy variety, of course - and glass windows all around give the natural light outside an opportunity to fill the space. Myers' hope is that the downtown location makes yoga even more accessible.
But Cityoga isn't just about students; it's also about teachers. "We call this a yoga school," Myers says. Cityoga offers teacher certification and continuing education workshops, including prenatal yoga instruction and yoga for kids. Myers also brings in yoga's big names (Doug Swenson just gave a workshop here), as well as specialized workshops for yoga teachers. And in September, Myers just announced, Cityoga plans to open up a school of massage. Myers is working with her daughter Myshjua, who runs Cityoga's operations and is enrolled in Cityoga's teacher training program, to bring this next phase to light.
Myers believes that it's all about relationships. "The word [yoga] translates into relationship," Myers says. "... your relationship with yourself, with other people in the world, the environment; with whatever it is you call divine. And the tools of yoga help you deepen those relationships ... Yoga always encourages you to find something bigger than you, but it doesn't tell you what that is. [It's] whatever you call the divine."
What moves Myers most is "Watching the transformation that happens to students, watching them start to take responsibility for their own bodies. Watching them begin to understand that they are more than a body. Watching them begin to put all these pieces into place to come into wholeness. And that gives me a thrill beyond anything that I can put into words."
For more information, visit www.cityoga.biz, e-mail email@example.com or call 317-925-7440 (Midtown) or 317-423-2409 (downtown).