This little light of ours...

Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down to a (virtual) interview with my friend and local Portland Realtor Andy Harris of  Portland Homes and Lifestyle and Home Team Realty, as he decided to share the local spotlight that he shines every so often on local businesses with us here at the Shop.

Here's a transcript of that 'lil interview and the great questions he tasked me with answering. I had all of you, our students and community, on my mind as I answered them, as well as my eye on the larger culture of yoga as it evolves and spirals (in sometimes not-so-great ways.)

Its always kind of nerve-racking to speak out loud on topics related to yoga and its evolution and movement in the west, but here's what I was thinking about last week. Your comments are welcome and I hope you are all well and healthy and balanced in these complicated times.

Enjoy!

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1. I know the depth and breadth of yoga is immense, but can you give us a brief introduction to yoga and what the benefits are to those who practice it regularly? 

Yoga is a spiritual, holistic practice originating from India that gives specific directions for actualizing our fullest nature in transcendence while making the most of our embodied human life. It is the same root word as the English "yoke." Two basic meanings are implied by this, which are to unite with, as in  the individual with the whole, and to place ourselves under its discipline or training. So the word and practice of yoga is a method of training one's mind and body and heart, designed to lead to integration/union with divinity, which comes in many forms.

2. When did you open your studio, what was the motivation behind it and what makes your studio unique? 

When I opened the studio, I saw a need for a community that wasn't there yet. There was not a lot of philosophical discussion about the roots of yoga in town, and I wanted to try and fill that need. It's been nearly 12 years and things have changed quite a lot, though that does remain one of the main tenets of The Bhaktishop - teachers with strong ties to their own practices/teachers that honor tradition, and that maintain a respect for and dedication to the wisdom of these practices at their origin. I think we are unique in that we specialize in a small-class culture and intimacy, and celebrate each student as they are and why they might be drawn to yoga. We are also unique in that our teachers are incredibly well-trained in many disciplines beyond yoga, all of which inform their teaching in deep, reflective ways.

3. Is there a style or styles of yoga that you specialize in?

What if I said "the slow, introspective kind?" Because honestly that is what we do here. There is time for quiet reflecting and self-inquiry in every class, and there is no loud music to disrupt your quiet space. We are realizing that for a lot of folks, this is their only quiet hour or two that they get all week long, with no device in their face. We take our time here, and truly take the time to educate about the physical aspects of the practice including anatomy and current science-based movement theory as it applies to the asana practice, as well as real, authentic breathing practices and meditation, as well as chanting. We really take our time here, so that the practices are accessible to anyone and so that each person can come away with the healing they need to take themselves into whatever they are raising their hand to do in this life with their whole, complete heart. Or you could just call it "Hatha" yoga. We don't really care what its called, which is why all of our classes are just labelled "yoga".

4. Your website states that you are "striving for equity and inclusion". Can you tell us how that looks for you as a studio owner and what the Bhaktishop is doing to contribute to those ideals?

We have recognized over the years the sad state of exclusiveness of the yoga practices in the west, and several years ago began asking ourselves "who is not here, and why not?" and beyond just hanging up a sign that says everyone is welcome, we really wanted to challenge ourselves to ask those questions about whether our space truly was welcoming and safe for all people, and whether we had the depth of understanding to make sure that this was true. As a community we have created a structure and strategy to build capacity in this arena, from deeply challenging and educating our staff in this type of anti-racist work to committing to give revenue to organizations that support people of color of all kinds, to training teachers of color and other underrepresented or barriered groups to teach yoga wherever they feel called to do so, to committing to hiring teachers and staff of color, to offering equity pricing to anyone that is experiencing income inequity. We host anti-racist trainings and workshops for the community and for the yoga teaching community in particular, and are really attempting to walk this talk day after day. We have a long, long way to go to realize what we have set out to do, and we make tons of mistakes all the time. Currently even our teaching staff is not reflective of this goal, but we are working toward it with authenticity, cultivating real relationships that are growing every day. Accountability for our mistakes matters to us, and we are grateful to be able to welcome the learning and discomfort that anti-racist work brings. We also welcome all conversation and commentary about this work, how we are doing, and how we could be doing it better.

5. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities in the yoga world today in Portland and/or the United States?

I think we as a yoga community (speaking for the white, cis-gendered, able-bodied majority of western yoga, that is) are coming face to face with a colonialist/settler history and the truth of cultural appropriation and racism. I think that work is deeply uncomfortable for so many and the popular ideas of appropriated yoga have simply said that we can meditate it away or wrap it in love and light and it will go away but the truth is that if we are to make any progress at all as humans, as spiritual beings, and people that are attempting to practice what yoga teaches, we are going to have to stand up. "There is no such thing as love and light without truth and justice", as Layla Saad eloquently said. You can't even take the first step without it. And honestly, yoga posits a path to realization by way of the path of service, of serving humanity and fighting for justice wherever we can. So this is a baseline step for us if we want to get to the love and light places that yoga offers. It's a huge task and it's long long long and hard hard hard but the struggling and truth-telling and self-reflective pain is worth it. And so we try to come together to stabilize ourselves for the work of true justice, heal where we must so that we can all be whole as we move forward in this life, and practice to grow not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of all beings and the un-doing of suffering and injustice in this life.

6. If people are interested in starting a yoga practice, how can they get started? 

There are lots of avenues to begin a practice at The Bhaktishop; let's start with the classes for the able-bodied. The best way is to show up to a Foundations 1 class and just dive in, which we offer multiple times a week. We also offer exquisite Restorative classes to soothe the rattled nervous systems of our time. If there are injuries or physical adaptations that are necessary, or aging bodies that need extra attention, we have a very gentle chair-based class that offers so much freedom to modify and adapt for all types of bodies on Tu/Th at 2pm, and our center is equipped to be accessible for any type of mobility device for these classes. If there are barriers to access financially, we offer Equity pricing. If folks want to enjoy the relaxation benefits of meditation, restorative yoga and sound healing, we also offer classes like that twice as week as well as workshops on Ayurvedic medicine and wisdom, Beginners' series and many more ways to start. Just start!

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BE SURE TO CHECK OUT OUR PORTLAND HOMES & LIFESTYLE FACEBOOK PAGE FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A FREE 2 WEEK INTRODUCTORY YOGA PACKAGE FROM US HERE AT THE BHAKTISHOP!

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Andy Harris is a Portland area real estate agent, who first started in real estate in 2004. If you are looking for buying or selling residential real estate help, don't hesitate to drop him a line at 503-504-2369 or andy@hometeamportland.com. If you are a small business owner and would like to be featured on this series, please contact andy@hometeamportland.com.