The Story of Uttara Yoga

Hi friends!

Thanks for checking in on my (neglected!) blog and most of all, thank you for supporting Uttara through our MOST recent… *sigh* … move.

You know, there used to be a time, not that long ago, that I knew all of you. Everyone who walked through the door at Uttara, I met you or interacted with your name. I taught you, or my instructors told me about you; I saw the receipt where you paid for a class or bought an unlimited or a mala. I entered your email into our email list. I washed your mat and mopped the floor you practiced on. I had my finger on the pulse of everything.

Those days are over, as I suppose they should be.

Now days, Kimberly Vest (who is not only an incredible yoga teacher but also an excellent organizer and one of the hardest working human beings that I know) takes care of a lot of office and management tasks. A small but dedicated crew of karma yogis clean the Studio (a monumental task); wash the blankets, mats, etc. I barter for social media help. And I have a team of the most loving and talented yoga teachers that somehow found their way to live in Roanoke, Virginia.

When I sit back and look at it all sometimes, I am astonished. Seriously. Let me be the first to tell you, I understand all the rules of manifestation, and this is not what I set out to do. I truly just set out to do the thing I love; and share the thing that saved me. The thing that made the world make sense to me, the thing that helped me stop the lifetime war I had going on with my relationship to my body.

Yoga.

Many of you have been following this blog and know the story; but some of you are new to Uttara and new to me. We are entering our 11th year this month — and in some ways, this is just the beginning.

I came to yoga late in life; sitting on the couch, seeing a television show called “Inhale” with Steve Ross, nursing my second baby in two years. That’s how I started practicing yoga. Those of you whose first experience of yoga is online or videos, I feel ya; it’s a good start.

Fast forward a few years and I decide to do yoga teacher training; a work-study program through The Temple of Kriya Yoga in Chicago. I literally found the training from an ad in Yoga Journal magazine. It was a one-year program, distance study with several four-day intensives to get contact hours and immerse. Talk about a life changing moment; from stay-at-home Mom of three children ages 8, 6 and 3, to learning a new career. Well, actually not a career; a new way of life and living.

It was my (now ex-) husband who first said to me “Why don’t you open a studio?” Freshly graduated and inspired, there was nowhere in the area I wanted to teach. No place that expressed the love and acceptance of the practice that I knew. No place beautiful and precious enough for the spiritual transformation that takes place as a natural function of the physical practice. No place with a freakin’ basic set of props.

I went about it as I go about most things; FULL ON. No stopping me; knowing that my work ethic was stronger than any obstacle; that the fear of failure would push me to succeed. That the strength of my will would at least make me break even.

There were many successes; and much crashing and burning. Owning a business is like birthing a child; your plan is constantly changing, frequently thwarted and has very little to do with what YOU want. Especially when you are trying to bring yoga to Roanoke, Virginia twelve years ago ….

I started out volunteer teaching at Bethany Hall (a local rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol addicted women); and from there went to offering $5 drop-in classes in the basement of my church, with all money going toward the same group. I eventually rented space from a local dance studio and began offering “real” (paid) classes there a few times a week.

Eventually found a beautiful space down on Kirk Avenue downtown; we were there for four tumultuous years. A beautiful space, beautiful views; and a seriously leaking roof; an “antique” heating system; zero parking; and many other challenges.

Off to Southwest Roanoke; The Sanctuary; a renovated church building. We occupied the community room level of the building. That was also four years; and more beautiful moments and more challenges. The day the City removed the 2-hour parking signs and suddenly the blocks surrounding our building were completely parked up with employees from local businesses. The first launch of our yoga teacher training program. My divorce.

I swear, if I haven’t been moving Uttara, I myself have been personally moving. In the past 12 years I’ve moved my household three times and my business five times. That? That’s a lot, my friends.

We had to leave The Sanctuary because it was impossible for them to rent the upstairs of the building with us inhabiting the downstairs. We need quiet AND we need to be able to make noise; a yoga studio has many specific requirements, and we couldn’t make it work. The guys who owned the building were wonderful, great to work with; but it was time to go.

We moved to Albemarle. Right as my post-divorce relationship collapsed. It was good and it was not good. The new Studio space was great but also a little confining and small. Things were flowing along. And then suddenly, they were NOT flowing along. Verbal agreements were violated; we were receiving bi-monthly letters filled with demands and threats. Our lease was broken; we hired an attorney. Someone took a shot at the backdoor of the building.

It was time to go. Again.

I thought my heart would break.

I swear I have looked at every commercial space in the Roanoke area; truly; it’s an odd set of requirements we need for a yoga studio. We almost landed at Towers Shopping Center because I just could not find any place else; and then we settled on 401 Highland Avenue, SE.

It’s a gamble, as all real estate is. Most of the parking is on-street parking; it’s close to downtown and yet not downtown. But it had two compelling features; a go-getter landlord who was willing to help us make it work, and space. Space. It’s almost 3,000 square feet that is all ours. No one above us, no one below us. Space for both the 200- and 300-hour trainings; space for simultaneous classes; space for people to come and go; space for multiple teachers to run private sessions; space to sublet to like-minded businesses.

Room to grow.

Of course, all this unfolds with Divine timing that I gotta say seemed a lot less than divine. Our lease ended before the new space was available. Magically the good folks at Ferguson Fitness heard about our dilemma and graciously made space for us to sublet a room from their facility; we had a temporary move and then another permanent move.

And all this goes down within the framework of me being diagnosed with congenital hip dyplasia and being told I needed two total hip replacements.

Right.

Somehow the wonderful instructors and students (and especially Kimberly Vest) stepped up and made it all happen; even when I couldn’t lift a thing; even when I was dragging myself around with a walker. Everything happened. People I scarcely knew stepped up. People made generous donations to help with the build-out; people cleaned and organized; the Uttara community made it come together.

Have you been to the new space? It is a sacred space, a safe space. A place to learn and grow and love and evolve. A space filled with the coolest people you will meet in Roanoke. A place we hope to call home for a very long time.

Shanti,

Jill