For decades many small yoga studios were peppered around major metropolitan and collegiate areas. Many of these small studios are becoming obsolete as Baptiste vinyasa studios and Bikram “torture chambers” buy them up. One small studio that’s been around for a while is the Hatha Yoga Center, located in an old church, 5 blocks away from the University of Washington. It is owned by Bob Smith and his wife Ki McGraw. Not only do these two have one of the most beautiful practices I have ever seen (just look at some of their pictures on their webpage… isn’t this what it is all about?), but they have trained thousands of students since the center’s founding in 1977. HYC has an equal mix of young twenty-something students from campus and senior citizens that have been practicing with Bob since 1980. The overall sense of community and the vibrancy that many of the young students see from the older students are truly inspiring. HYC’s classes, as with many studios before vinyasa flow was introduced, are strongly based in the Iyengar tradition. Bob and Ki carefully tailor modified poses toward the older and less experienced students. For example, in their class, it is not acceptable to take shoulder stand or full foward bends until the rounding in the back is removed through other asanas.
Towards the end of their short 75-minute classes, they often introduce some partner work. One of the many fun things at this studio is the props. Bob and Ki have swings attached from the three-story ceiling so one can lay in a makeshift swing and take a supported inversion. It is similar to performing acrobatics, except the limbs are relieved of all muscle strain and gravity. They also use tennis balls to roll around on the foot, working though knots and calcium deposits on the foot, which elicits an intense feeling of simultaneous pain and pleasure. The most famous prop, however, is a basketball — one person is draped over a basketball, assuming a modified fish posture, as his/her partner steadily presses down on the shoulders. A short shoulder massage follows this intense heart-opener. Bob usually ends class with a short Sufi style meditation. Many of the students know each other by a first name basis and stand around and chat a bit, unlike at some of the larger studios.
So what are the owners thinking about doing as studios like theirs lose out to the more aerobically inclined forms of power yoga? Bob and Ki are thinking about moving permanently to Bali where they own a home and offer a very thorough teacher training during the summer. I see this happening more often, as young twenty-somethings with ballet, martial arts and other acrobatic backgrounds take over teaching for many of these older teachers. Maybe this is the inevitable movement of yoga in America, but at least for one student, teachers like Bob and Ki will be missed.
– August R.