Living in Portland, Oregon, for the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to try out quite a few yoga studios in Southeast. I just never could seem to find my yoga home. But then I found Yoga Bhoga. It’s the only studio that has consistently impressed me and made me really want to keep coming back. Here’s my review of what I think is the best yoga studio in PDX east of the Willamette River.
To my mind, there are three things that make a great studio. First, it needs to have great teachers. Second, it needs to have a full schedule with plenty of options. And third, the studio should have a great tone.
Yoga Bhoga gets high marks on all of these things. I’ll break down each point in some detail, and explain why and how Yoga Bhoga is doing it right.
Yoga teachers are everywhere in Portland — throw a rock, and you’ll likely hit an RYT, if not two. But good yoga teachers are extremely rare. What distinguishes a good yoga teacher from the rest? In my experience, the best yoga teachers are the ones who have a deep and nuanced personal practice. But it’s not enough to really love doing yoga, or to be really flexible and strong. Good yoga teachers, in my view, really pay attention to their students and are not teaching to show off or inflate their own egos. They have a deep understanding of anatomy and sequencing. And frequently their commitment to yoga extends beyond the mat, and beyond the fitness/health aspects of asana.
At Yoga Bhoga, I get the sense that the teachers all teach from a foundation of experience and a strong personal practice. Most importantly, for me, I don’t get the sense that the teachers are talking down to me or pontificating endlessly. As I discussed in a previous post, I don’t think yoga class should be a sermon, and I don’t think a yoga teacher should behave like some sort of shaman or priest. What I want is someone who realizes the simple power of breath and asana. A yoga session is supposed to be preparation for meditation, so the class should emphasize quieting the mind. But when a yoga teacher launches into ten-minute lecture, this is often noise, not quiet. For whatever reason, Yoga Bhoga is one of the only studios I’ve been to in Portland where the teachers don’t start and end class with lots of chatter. We chant “Om” three times, and maybe a quick invocation. But that’s about it.
In terms of the actual teaching, I find the instructors at Yoga Bhoga to have the right balance between the impulses of Iyengar and Ashtanga. This really appeals to me, as someone who came to yoga through YogaWorks in SoCal, and the lineage of Maty Ezraty, Chuck Miller, Annie Carpenter, etc. I like this approach because it emphasizes smart asana — i.e., paying attention to alignment and safety — while still maintaining a high level of physical challenge, and connecting that challenge with Ujjayi breath.
Of all the teachers at Yoga Bhoga, Emily Hicks is the one I most highly recommend. I also have enjoyed classes with Meghan Maris, Sarah Trelease, and Scott Lennartz.
Too many yoga studios try to do too much. They want to make everyone happy, and in the process they end up making no one happy. There’s no need for a yoga studio to offer Hot Yoga, Vinayasa, Anusara, Iyengar, Bollywood Dancing, Zumba, Pilates, Pre-Natal Yoga, Kundalini, Yoga-for-Runners, etc., all under one roof. I see a lot of places like this in Portland, and maybe some of them are great, but in my experience these studios tend to be like restaurants that have phonebook-sized menus… It’s probably better to do just a few things well, rather than lots of things not so well.
Yoga Bhoga has a full schedule. The classes tend to be Hatha or Vinayasa. There are definitely opportunities to do “advanced” things in class, but this studio does not generally label classes as such, and I think for good reason. This brings me to the topic of tone at a yoga studio.
The tone of a yoga studio is somewhat difficult to put your finger on. But it’s also something that you feel almost as soon as you walk in the door. Certainly, by the end of your first week at a studio, you get a sense of what kind of teachers are there, and what kind of students they draw. You also find out pretty quickly if there’s a real community there, or if it’s a more profit-driven and impersonal studio intent on making as much money as possible.
At Yoga Bhoga, the tone is communal without being cliquish, and professional without being corporate. In all the classes I’ve taken there, I’ve never felt like I was invading someone else’s turf. (This sometimes happens when you go to a yoga studio that has a tightly knit group of core students and teachers who socialize together outside of class.) And although Yoga Bhoga is clearly a business, they don’t try to sell you something every two seconds. I don’t know how many studios I’ve been to where the teachers can’t be bothered to ever learn my name, but they’ll always make sure to tell me about some $200 juice fast or $2000 retreat. This is really off-putting to me. Thankfully there are still some studios like Yoga Bhoga where yoga and people, not profits, are the lifeblood of the place.
OVERALL GRADE: A-
I give Yoga Bhoga an A- instead of an A only because of their location. It’s on the wrong side of the tracks, quite literally. The studio’s new location is on Water Ave., which is sandwiched between the Willamette River and the train tracks. So what ends up happening quite often is that you will get stuck behind a long line of freight trains on your way to class, or when you’re leaving class, or both. Otherwise, I really love this place and am sad to leave Portland only a few weeks after finding this great studio. (I just moved to Chicago, and am now exploring the yoga scene here…)