April 4, 2011

Barefoot Yoga Beginnings. ~ David Benninghoff

Early Mysore Days.

In 1996, during a six month wanderlust traveling experience in India, my partner Kelly LeFebvre (founder of Barefoot Yoga) and I made the sudden decision to practice yoga for a spell in Mysore with Ashtanga Guru Pattabhi Jois.

My strongest memories from this time in our lives are riding bikes through the backstreets at daybreak, hearing the flower wallahs’ rhythmic sales song, school children shouting “what is yo-wah-da name?” as we sped by, and witnessing countless colorful expressions of life on that mile ride to yoga.

We entered the basement of Pattabhi Jois’ house six mornings a week and waited on the stairs, sometimes nervously, for our practice space to open up in the 12’ x 12’ yoga practice room. Sanskrit chanting, asana commands, laughter and the chorus of Ujjayi breathing all around us in our foggy morning state of mind. Suddenly, ”One by one you come!” and I’d jump up, take my place, and begin the 1-2 hour Ashtanga journey.

With Guruji and his grandson Sharath’s assistance, the daily sweat producing practice melted my years of inflexibility (and my, was I sore).

After practice each day, we’d pedal to Nagaratna’s home down the street. She had found her niche by taking care of wandering western souls like ours, serving us and the international group of yogis chai, bounties of fruit and homemade breads. One by one we arrived after practice. There were lots of laughs, discussions about the practice and stories of our day-to-day encounters in this small southern Indian town of one million.

All of this before nine a.m.!

Afterwards, we roamed the streets of Mysore which teemed with beautiful fabrics, color, scents and sounds. We had some time on our hands to think, and thought a lot about what we would do when we returned home someday.

Kelly always had an entrepreneurial spirit and was constantly inventing. She drew by hand the original “yoga mat bag” in our room at the Kaveri Lodge, and gave the sketch to a local tailor on one of those long, dreamy days in Mysore.

Inspired mainly by riding to class and trying to tie her mat onto the bike, this simple concept—a bag to free up your hands, shaped like a yoga mat that you could strap across your body—made of beautiful, authentic Indian fabric later launched Barefoot Yoga Co. Her original design, drawn in that small room, in that small town in southern India, is now seen and used everywhere in the world.

Kelly’s innovations are reflected in Barefoot’s many first-to-market products: Mysore practice rugs, Bamboo blocks, Rosewood blocksSari zafus and Silk Sari eye pillows among others. Our Yoga Mat Bags remain simple, well-made and authentically Indian as ever.

The exuberance of those early mornings in Mysore is sometimes ignited when I do my first Chaturanga Dandasana on my Mysore practice rug these days. It is gratifying to know that 15 years later, many of our worldwide customers experience a similar connection with our products.

Here’s to the practice and its many gifts that keep on giving.


David Benninghoff
Co-Founder Barefoot Yoga Co.

David Benninghoff was born in New York City, and grew up in Riverside, CT. Prior to Barefoot Yoga, David spent his entire career in the film industry both in NY and LA as a set designer. He was responsible for props and set dressing in films such as Malcolm X and Sabrina, as well as the sitcom Spin City. David attended Boston College where he received a BA in Communications. He lived in San Francisco for seven years in the 90s, where he practiced yoga and gained experience as a yoga teacher between traveling and attending yoga workshops worldwide. At Barefoot Yoga, David enjoys talking to people from all over the world about their enthusiasm for Yoga, and loves to contribute his part in promoting the practice to everyone he meets. David lives with Kelly, Barefoot Yoga’s founder, and their 4 year-old daughter Sibella in Seattle.

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