The spurts of laughter inside the Yoga Yurt on Kalifornsky Beach Road during a Monday evening aerial yoga class confirmed that participants were getting more out of it than just exercise.
Amber Harrison, the owner, roped the class back in order with verbal instructions as she swung in her own cloth hammock, called a silk, suspended from a metal hoop mounted to the roof of the yurt. Aerial yoga, a type of yoga in which practitioners perform poses using long cloth hammocks suspended from the ceiling, can be as tough or as relaxing as someone wants it to be, she said.
“(If someone’s joints hurt) you can use it as anti-gravity movement to keep some of the pressure off the joints but still go through some of the range of motion you might not be able to do in a normal mat class,” Harrison said. “Or if you’re looking for a workout, it’s like TRX yoga and aerial arts meet, and you sweat a lot and you laugh a lot and it’s really fun.”
Harrison opened the Yoga Yurt, located on the corner of Poppy Lane and Kalifornsky Beach Road, this summer. A native of Nikiski, Harrison said she originally got into teaching yoga while employed at the Kenaitze Indian Tribe. She taught yoga for the tribe and then began teaching for high school sports teams and several other yoga studios, adding it onto her full-time work schedule.
The dream became a decision during a yoga teacher training session she attended in Greece, she said.
“I had a lot of time to journal and establish what my priorities were in life and space to breathe without the normal hustle and bustle of daily life,” Harrison said. “…In Greece, when I was able to prioritize, that’s when I decided OK, I’m going to do this.”
The decision to set up in a yurt was sheer practicality. Aerial yoga requires reinforced ceilings and more space for safety. Additionally, setting up a business in a brick-and-mortar shop takes leasing or purchasing land and a building, passing inspections and paying rent every month on both. At the end, if the business closes or moves, the owner has to start over. In this case, Harrison and her husband, who own the business, can just pick up the yurt and move it.
“(For a) five-year plan, we’ll move off of the main grid now (when) we’ve built a clientele that’s maybe willing to drive a little further so we could have it in a more serene environment,” Harrison said.
For the less vertically inclined, the studio also offers other yoga classes, though some are just as adventurous: Harrison said she also taught paddleboard yoga this summer. Participants head out for a local lake with paddleboards, mount up and conduct yoga as they normally would, with the added incentive to keep their balance of a lake below. Weather didn’t cooperate this year, but Harrison said she hopes to teach more of it in the future. In the studio, she also teaches mat yoga classes, the more recognizable yoga with mats and stretching poses.
The popularity of yoga has grown immensely in the U.S. in the past few years. The approximately 36.7 million American practitioners spend about $16 billion on classes, gear and accessories annually, according to the 2016 Yoga in America Study from the Yoga Alliance. About 75 percent of the approximately 3,700 respondents to the survey said they had been practicing for five or fewer years.
In Kenai, the five-month-old Tides Yoga Studio on Frontage Road offers a variety of yoga classes but adds some of its own flair, including a style called Buti yoga, which is a more intense workout than other types of yoga, said Sohnya Johnson, who co-owns the studio with her husband Chris Johnson. Buti yoga is new to the studio, she said.
Tides Yoga Studio also offers pilates, zumba and pole fitness classes. The latter, a growing trend in many cities across the country, is relatively new to Alaska. Participants exercise in patterns drawn from pole dancing, and though it has long been associated with the dances performed in strip clubs in America, many formal pole fitness programs now operate. Johnson said she recently attended a conference in Las Vegas to learn more about teaching pole fitness in Kenai.
With a background in personal training, Johnson said she wants to offer something for everyone at the studio.
“If you’re doing anything with movement with the body, you’re doing something with the spirit, with the mind,” Johnson said. “… You don’t have to be bendy to be a yogi.”
She said she hoped people would continue to open businesses with new offerings, reaching new people and pursuing their passions.
Harrison said she wants the Yoga Yurt to provide yoga that’s accessible to everyone, regardless of age, size or income level. She said her goal is to create a place where people feel welcome and experience positivity so they will carry that positivity out to the community.
“I feel like making yoga, movement, whatever it is to you, accessible to everybody, that you’re going to impact your community and see small little changes,” Harrison said. “And whether you go to my yoga studio or the other yoga studios doesn’t matter. Do what makes you feel good. Go where you feel welcome.”