Happy 15th Birthday, Wake Up Yoga!

corina.15years.shorthairFriday, April 12, 2002 was the first class ever at Wake Up Yoga. I taught a free class that day and the following to test out the operations and discover if any troubleshooting was necessary. The door was officially open for business on Monday, April 15. Fifteen years ago. Gulp. Sigh. Wow. 15 years.

When I first moved back to Philadelphia in November of 2000 there were precious few yoga studios in the area. I worked hard to teach at as many as I could, traveling to the Main Line, Manayunk, even Haddonfield, NJ, and banking as many private students as I could find. I taught yoga at the Sporting Club at the Bellevue, and upstairs at the store “Indigo” on 3rd Street in Olde City. I sent letters to law firms and businesses offering my services for “Chair Yoga” and “Yoga to Lessen the Stress.” I started a group called “PAYTA: Philadelphia Area Yoga Teacher’s Association,” in an effort to bring yoga teachers together so we could learn from and inspire each other. During that first year, I made a weekly pilgrimage back to New York City to plug into the mother ship and teach classes at OM Yoga Center. And I augmented my yoga teacher earnings with shifts waitressing at Vetri Restaurant on Spruce Street.

I was living in the 2nd floor apartment at 2329 Parrish Street above a vacant commercially-zoned space. The back door to this unit was accessible from the entrance of my apartment, and every now and then I would open that door, peer into the space and day dream. I would say to my then boyfriend, “This could be a yoga studio!” to which he would reply, “But you don’t have any yoga students. And we don’t have any money!”

I started scheming with two yoga teacher friends to see if they’d be interested in opening a studio with me. Simon Park was on board but had reservations that this space would thrive, tucked away in the residential neighborhood of Fairmount as it was. Gabby Yates was also excited about the possibility, but was inclining toward an out-of-state Master’s Program. In the end, I opened the studio without either of them, but honestly believe that those initial conversations on collaboration helped build my courage and fortify my determination; I’m not sure I would’ve had the gumption to consider opening a studio alone right from the start.

Within 8 or 9 months of settling in to the City of Brotherly Love, I got up the courage to ask my landlord if he would consider renting me the first-floor space. He hadn’t had any luck changing the zoning to residential, and with no businesses seeking out the space, it had morphed into something of a lackluster storage unit. Initially he offered to lease it to me for the same rent as our apartment ($700/month!), but agreed to a reduced rate of just $500/month for the first 6 months when I asked, saying, “I have no idea if this will work!” At the time, the deposit check with security, plus half the cost of installing the laminate floor was the biggest sum of money I had ever written on a check. It was ‘only’ a few thousand dollars or so, but to me that felt enormous. Savvas told me to go buy the paint and he would have the space readied. I was quaking with fear and uncertainty when I brought home 5 gallons of this very vibrant, golden yellow paint for the main room, salmon-coral color for the office and tangerine for the bathroom. These unconventional and bold choices surely made him think I was at least a little bit crazy.

Corina Lululemon posterA student I worked with privately at the time was an 85-year old man in Society Hill. He was an attorney, a partner at a law firm, and walked to work every day! After telling him of my aspirations to open a yoga studio, unbidden he offered me a one-year no-interest loan of $2,000. I didn’t even need the Magic 8 Ball to recognize that ‘all signs point to YES!’

The name “Wake Up Yoga” came to me early on. I loved the idea of answering the phone “Hello. Wake Up!” and the thought of people saying, “I’m going to Wake Up!” Of course, Wake Up refers to realizing

the Truth (otherwise known as Enlightenment, Awakening, Full Realization, etc.). Out in the world people would ask if we only offered morning classes to which I always reply, “No, you can Wake Up right now!”

A zoning variance was required, so I petitioned the neighborhood, sought the endorsement of the Fairmount Neighborhoods Association (to be true, they don’t endorse, but they voted not to contest my application), and I agreed not to open before 6 am and to be closed by 10 pm. I bought 15 ‘yoga kits’ from Marshalls, each consisting of a mat, block and strap, along with about 20 Mexican blankets, and I started handing out notices on the sidewalk to passersby. I’ll never forget running into Ann Curry, with beautiful green eyes and bursting enthusiasm who said, “(Gasp) … I saw the sign in the window! I’ve been waiting for you to open!!!”

Classes were slow to build. Many had no students, some had 2 or 3. Since most of our students were relatively new to the practice, the smaller class sizes allowed for lots of individual attention and opportunities to break the poses down and really teach about alignment, actions and breath. I’ll never forget the Saturday morning that Michelle Marks called to tell me that 15 students came to her class that morning and she wanted to know if we should start limiting class sizes! (that’s mostly adorable because we’ve since managed to get 29 students on yoga mats in that studio for regular classes … as many as 35 for fundraising events!)

And now. Wow. 15 years later. I think of all the people who have practiced at Wake Up Yoga (Fairmount, West, South and now Rittenhouse!). I remember all the students who have gone through Teacher Training: many have stayed closely connected to the cOMmUNITY, others I haven’t seen since their graduation. I think of the couples who have met at the studios … there have been a few weddings, with at least a couple of human births resulting from these unions! I know that lasting friendships sprouted at Wake Up Yoga. I’m so genuinely proud of much of the work I’ve done here and feel that if this is “all” I ever do with my life, I’ve made a meaningful and worthwhile contribution to my small corner of the planet.

Yoga itself has changed a whole bunch in this time. It used to be hard to find yoga classes, so students were more motivated and diligent. It seems to me now that yoga is casting a much wider – but shallower – net. It seems that sometimes the physical challenge becomes competitive, and the sophisticated poses are pursued like conquests. Expensive yoga clothing and hip hop/rap playlists have made the practice seem much more cool, yet the inquiry into “Who am I” and/or the pursuit of Truth aren’t so appreciated as cornerstones to this ancient practice. Even the fact that it is an ancient practice having much more to do with the mind than ‘just’ the physical body is largely unrecognized. It’s interesting to believe so whole-heartedly in this practice, maintain an idea of what is its purpose and work very diligently to remain faithful to that intention, AND give up believing that it’s my job to protect and save yoga. As if I’m the one who really knows. It continues to be a very interesting journey.

And I consider how much I’ve learned and grown in this time. The many different hairstyles. The healing modalities (rolfing, hypnosis, biodynamic psychotherapy, cranial sacral, rebirthing, chakra exploration, etc). The trainings (300+ hours with Paul Grilley; 300 hours in Yoga Therapy; studying the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali with Paul JJ Alix and Manorama; trainings with Shiva Rea and Rodney Yee, etc.). The meditation retreats (10 Day Silent Vipasana Retreat, (2) Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma Retreats, Shambhala Warrior Trainings). I’ve gotten married and divorced since opening the studio; have moved house 5 times since living in that apartment.

I am much kinder now; much more patient, much more tender. It almost pains me to recall how unrelenting I used to be, how certain I felt. My idea of discipline had a punishing tone to it, which I surely conveyed, at least unconsciously. I regret all the things I didn’t know, but feel grateful for the experiences that taught me what I needed to know.Corina.15years

I feel so incredibly fortunate that this is how I get to Spend My Life. Literally, this is where I invest my life-force. This is where I am growing old(er): Wrinkles. Gray hair. I feel my body shift and change …. things I so easily took for granted are much more challenging now. It’s as if I have to practice twice as frequently in order to not lose ground, forgetting all about the possibility of exploring ‘new’ (physical) territory!

Wake Up Yoga has offered sanctuary and respite to so many people, and yet paradoxically has been the source of so much of my own stress and anxiety. The physical practice on the mat has taught me so many lessons about how to engage life: find breath, quiet the mind, feel sensation, stay present, persevere, show up, keep trying, do my best, don’t judge or evaluate, kindness (or non-harming) is the foundation upon which every choice must rest. Yoga has also taught me about the importance of acknowledging impermanence: THIS WILL NOT LAST (whatever “this” is). So enjoy ‘it,’ (whatever “it” is!), cherish it, give it your full attention, your complete awareness. It’s all so beautiful. This being human. This planet Earth. These relationships: sometimes sweet, sometimes spicy, or sour or bitter. Always rich.

To all the people who have practiced at Wake Up Yoga … all the teachers who have lovingly contributed to its vision … to everyone who has shared an email or referred a friend or simply contributed to Wake Up Yoga by practicing even just one time at one of the studios … to all of you I bow. Humbly. Gratefully. By engaging with Wake Up Yoga in whatever ways you have, you helped create the conditions in which I could learn and grow, feel useful and contribute in what I sincerely hope has been a meaningful way.

Happy Birthday, Wake Up Yoga. Many happy returns. Jai!