Yoga Durango: Hot Yoga is HOT in a Small Cowboy Town.
Right now, the bulletin board in the lobby of the Yoga Durango studio in southwest Colorado is peppered with red heart-shaped post-it notes on which students have written phrases explaining why they love yoga:
“Profound acceptance of my body, others, emotions, the process.”
“Yoga teaches me to honor my limitations.”
“Finding peace of mind in poses I struggle with.”
“It gives me the power to heal.”
The first class I took at Yoga Durango was an evening Anusara class with 5 people in attendance. The next morning, I went back for Hot Yoga, taught by a woman named Stevie. The room was packed – there were probably more than 35 people there, all dripping sweat after 15 minutes of vinyasa. Petite and muscley, Stevie sported colorful tattoos rippling over her shoulders and biceps. She taught with direction and power, pitching her voice loud to be heard over the blasting music. I certainly got a workout that morning, and as I sat in my wet clothes putting on my shoes afterwards, I listened to people chatting about weekend plans as they left in twos and threes. Several stayed behind to make personal training appointments with Stevie. Most everyone in the class was athletic – bikers, skiers, runners, people familiar with the mountainous terrain outside the large windows of the studio. Although I appreciated the challenge, this Hot Yoga class was not the kind of classical alignment-based asana training I’m used to, having studied with Tias Little in Santa Fe, Richard Freeman in Boulder, and Annie Pace in Crestone. But these classes are incredibly popular, at least from what I saw that weekend.
A few months later I had breakfast with Sheryl McGourty, one of three owners of Yoga Durango. I wanted to know what kept yoga so popular in such a small town, even during the recent decline in economic resources. The yoga studio in Pagosa Springs, where I currently live, had just closed down from lack of funding, and yet Yoga Durango classes seemed to get bigger and bigger. What was the deal?
Sheryl, now 36, began yoga as a college student in New Hampshire, when she was studying Outdoor Education. She calls herself a yoga-mutt, explaining how she’s not one of those people who find their particular yogic lineage and stick with it. Rather, she’s open to all styles. After three and a half months in India, part of which time was spent studying at an ashram, Sheryl began teaching at the Durango Yoga Center (DYC) four years ago. This was where she met Michelle, Katie, and Bob, the three other original owners of Yoga Durango. DYC had passed hands several times and was dwindling in success, so these four came together, put collective energy and commitment into the center, and with their renewed energy and dedication, they began to outgrow their small space. So they decided to take a leap of faith.
The current Yoga Durango opened on Feb 1, 2008 in a large second-floor space looking out on snow-capped mountains on the edge of town. Their first workshop was taught by Christy Burnette, an Anusara instructor, while the carpet was still being installed on the stairs. Despite the remodeling mess, however, Sheryl says it was a huge success. Since then, classes have continued to swell. Sheryl attributes their success to a number of values she and her co-owners hold. First of all, Yoga Durango is inclusive of all styles of yoga, offering Kundalini, Anusara, Power, Hatha, Vinyasa, and Hot Yoga classes. Their instructors are empowered to make classes their own, creating their own unique teaching styles for all levels of students. Then there’s the aspect of interpersonal relationships: Yoga Durango fosters a sense of community and connection. According to Sheryl, everyone knows each other; before and after class it’s sometimes hard to get people to quiet down, they’re so busy chatting and catching up. Durango is tight, she says, and a lot of her business comes by word of mouth. After a year in their new space, they have a consistent base of enthusiastic students, some of whom, I imagine, wrote those insightful phrases on hearts on the bulletin board.
When asked about the type of person drawn to Yoga Durango, Sheryl explains that Durango people are the kind that aren’t satisfied with only climbing a 14,000 foot mountain, they turn around and run a half marathon afterwards. Although Yoga Durango caters to a diverse crowd, the dominant characteristic of Durango’s population is competitive and athletic, which explains the popularity of Hot Yoga. But Sheryl says that Yoga Durango is also helping people slow down and appreciate the softer, more gentle benefits of yoga. Once they attend one of the free Basics classes offered once a month, or Anusara, Hatha or Kundalini, people seem to open to other kinds of yoga that are not so power-based. Sheryl sees it as a progression; the sweat and heat draws people initially, but as they go deeper, they realize the stillness and wisdom inherent in slowing down. Deep practitioners, she says, realize that the challenge comes from physical exertion in part, but also from mental and psychological exertion. Yoga cultivates an inner awareness, allowing us to take inventory, step back, and examine ourselves. If we are to believe those red heart-shaped post-its, Yoga Durango is helping students do just that.