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The yoga connection

Whitney Geiger takes part in an outdoor yoga class held at the Community Garden in Steamboat Springs led by Chelsea Call and Charlie Chase.
John F. Russell

Tips for beginners

Attempt to let go and quiet the mind

Don’t forget your yoga breathing; it’s vital to the practice

Have an open mind, and listen to what your body is telling you

Go once a week for six weeks to foster consistency, enjoy the full benefits and build a strong foundation

Yoga is an individual practice; do what works best for you to make it your own

Popular yoga venues

Sundance Studio

  • Steamboat Pilates Yoga and Fitness
  • Align Pilates, Physical Therapy
  • GeneticSynergy
  • Virv Yoga
  • Rocky Mountain Day Spa
  • Buddhist Center of Steamboat Springs
  • Sridaiva Wellness Center 
  • Moonhill Schoolhouse Community Center
  • Community Gardens 
  • Yampa River Botanical Park 
  • Strings Pavilion 
  • Base of Mount Werner 
  • On a stand-up paddle board

— Think of yoga as the top of a mountain. 

As an old Buddhist saying goes — through various interpretations — the summit is the same for everyone, but the trails leading up to it are all different. 

In Steamboat Springs, yoga is offered in a number of styles for a wide range of ages. Anything from hot yoga, restorative yoga, earthing yoga and even standup paddle boarding yoga are available, and each has a uniqueness that comes from the place and person in which it’s taught.



“I think we are very athletic here,” said Libbie Mathes, yoga teacher for the past 20 years who has lived in Steamboat since 2002 and teaches at the Buddhist Center of Steamboat Springs. “Yoga has been discovered to be a rewarding physical pursuit. It’s not an intimidating practice, but builds as you are able to do more. That’s why it’s become so big … because people find that it’s a great aid to whatever they do.” 

It can help cyclists become stronger, dancers refine their movements and skiers regain focus, concentration body awareness or alignment. It all seemingly starts with the physical asana (poses), but then, after time and practice, it becomes something more.



“We now see a new style or combination on every corner,” Mathes said. “People are integrating yoga with the rest of their lives. They are more comfortable with yoga, so they experiment. We have to find what works for us. We have to own our yoga practice.”

The teaching community in Steamboat has more than doubled in the past 20 years, Mathes said, and the interest in yoga has exploded. There are now specific varieties of yoga for golfers, swimmers, skiers, etc. These varieties have evolved as the result of practitioners finding sequences that work well for their needs and then giving names to those specific styles, like “Yoga for Life” or “Yoga for Health.”

However, the community of yoga instructors and students has also undergone an evolution through the years. 

THE CLIMB

Tips for beginners

Attempt to let go and quiet the mind

Don’t forget your yoga breathing; it’s vital to the practice

Have an open mind, and listen to what your body is telling you

Go once a week for six weeks to foster consistency, enjoy the full benefits and build a strong foundation

Yoga is an individual practice; do what works best for you to make it your own

“The culture itself hasn’t really changed; what’s changed is the way in which it is presented in this community,” said Lynda VanTassle, a yoga instructor here for 18 years. “We started doing yoga at the old library in the basement; that was one of the first yoga classes here a long time ago in the 1980s with maybe five people in the class.” 

VanTassle recalls encountering resistance to the practice of yoga early on before it was widely accepted in the Steamboat Springs community. 

Owing to confusion over whether yoga was a religious event or an activity, questions were raised, and the number of venues at which to practice were accordingly sparse.

“About 10 or 15 years ago, when you tried to ease yourself into different venues, many said, ‘nope you can’t have it here,’” VanTassle said.

In 1992, Victoria Strohmeyer began teaching yoga in Steamboat Springs along with Linda Sheean, first at the Sundance Plaza gym, then at the Yoga Rx Studio at the Bear River Center in 1993. 

Then, yoga was introduced to Old Town Hot Springs and Colorado Mountain College, and what was once the Bear River Center became the Yoga Center of Steamboat Springs. It was then owned by Jeanne Upbin, Nina Darlington and Patty Zimmer and is now owned by Alex Mathisen. 

It was at these venues that future teachers like VanTassle and Jill Barker were introduced to the practice. 

“At first I didn’t want to be an instructor,” VanTassle said. “But I went because I wanted to change certain patterns in my life, and I had some medical issues and thought it would be a good way to immerse myself in a practice and change patterns of who I was at that point.” 

Van Tassle wasn’t alone.

“When I first started, there were no books, no DVDs, nothing,” Mathes said. “People sat in a pretzel, and that’s all I knew.” 

As a young bride in India who was much too thin and weak, Mathes found yoga with her guru, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya — one of the foremost Indian yogis of the 20th century and teacher of many of today’s most influential teachers including B.K.Sas. For Mathes, the practice was therapeutic at first. But then, it became something more, something deeper. 

JOURNEY TO AND FROM

“I think there is one word that defines the American culture and that is speed,” said Mathes, who teaches yoga in the Krishnamacharya/Iyengar lineage at the Buddhist Center of Steamboat. “It’s a society that is constantly needing instant messaging or instant gratification. It has to be now and in an instant.”

Yoga is a way for people to slow down, feel present and find their breath.

“It (yoga) has the ability to take people inward,” Mathes said. “When you have that inner strength and awareness of who you are and discover that inner stillness, that’s the gift to the modern world, being constantly aware of that inner place. You may achieve it one day, or you may not, but you are always going to it.”

However the practice is just that, a practice. There is always something different to work on each day. 

“It plants a seed for that feeling,” said Jenny Gabriel, another local instructor who teaches at Old Town Hot Springs. 

Gabriel tells beginners to go at least six times in a row to an all-levels class.

That consistency allows for a return of yoga’s beneficial effects on the body and the mind.

“I do believe that the practice we choose to do will help open us up. (It) really needs to be joyful and something we are connected to because there is this opening of the heart, being vulnerable and authentic and discovering our own unique voice that unfolds through the practice,” said Cristen Malia, who studied and taught alongside Rusty Wells and has been a teacher here for seven years now. “That’s the great thing and why it’s so wonderful that there are so many ways to do this physical practice. There are common links in it all.”  

But it’s not easy. Malia admitted it is hard to sit in peace and quiet, but that’s why practitioners continue to return to the practice. 

“Everyone is at yoga for a different reason, and everyone else understands that, which could very well be why more and more people are starting,” said Adam Shiltz, a Steamboat local who began practicing yoga in 2007 for fitness reasons, but has since evolved his practice. 

In summer 2013, April Bruder, who was recovering from cancer surgery and treatment, started attending a few of Nina Darlington’s specialized classes at the Yoga Center of Steamboat. 

Darlington, a cancer survivor herself, teaches this particular class specifically for those who have had cancer, are recovering from surgery or need a gentle yoga class. The postures and mediation exercises focus on restorative practices with a lot of lymphatic system work. 

“I think what I noticed right away was how much better I felt about myself,” Bruder said, “that it was okay to go slow and that taking time to heal was very important. Nina really encourages the journey of healing. She really inspired me to focus on my health and get stronger and not to be frustrated, as it is a process.” 

Eventually Bruder moved on to more challenging classes after gradually working up to that point and constantly practicing her recovery and healing on and off the mat.

SUBMERSION OF A NEW LIFESTYLE

“It’s a consistent, constant process every day,” said Ashley Kaszynski, who took her first “formal” class in 2005, then continued two years later to complete a 200-hour teacher training at the Nosara Yoga Institute in Costa Rica. She is now one of the instructors at the Yoga Center of Steamboat. 

Owing mainly to word of mouth, practitioners are becoming teachers who are then looking for new venues to share their teachings. The list of other local studios now offering yoga include Sundance Studio, Steamboat Pilates Yoga and Fitness, Align Pilates, Physical Therapy, GeneticSynergy, Virv Yoga, the Rocky Mountain Day Spa and the Buddhist Center of Steamboat Springs. 

“In America, there are so many variations of yoga, and I think that it reinvents itself to be new to other people at different times, and that’s appealing to many people of different backgrounds and ages,” said Kristen Rockford, owner of Sundance Studio for the past two years and an avid yoga student for 16 years. “I think that’s the key with yoga is that it has to now be appealing and approachable for people to try it out.” 

In 2012, Yoga Journal reported 20.4 million people in the United States practice yoga, with the top five reasons for starting yoga being flexibility, general conditioning, stress relief, overall health and physical fitness.

“Things ebb and flow in life, but yoga is the anchor; it keeps you going. It’s your constant,” Kaszynski said. “Being able to get back on the mat every day keeps me going. You learn so much and can transform. Some days are better than others, but no matter what’s going on in the head and heart, you have that.”

Derived from the Sanskrit word, “yuj,” yoga is meant to unite or join, which is why many are drawn to the practice in one way or another: To become part of something bigger than themselves, something connected.

“It’s almost like this valley has that energy that attracts more of that spiritual connection to nature, a higher power or ourselves,” said Zimmer, who will facilitate the Yoga on the Green classes this summer.

No matter the reasons for starting yoga, it’s the overall feeling of well being and community one receives from the practice that keeps people coming back. 

“Yoga is about community, and (through) this connection people have here through yoga, they are able to see each other, really see each other,” Malia said. “This yoga community not only helps facilitate that, but people in our community and the nature of our community are drawn to that aspect of yoga. It’s important to them to live a healthy, active, connected life.” 

Whether it’s for healing from an injury or personal obstacles, yoga is sought out as a resource. It is a holistic practice rooted in self-inquiry that enhances, strengths and helps with individual weaknesses. It creates an awareness and clarity. It’s a practice that influences life on the mat and off.

“Yoga is who I am,” Van Tassle said. “It is not separate from my life; it is my life. It just, makes me who I am.”

Popular yoga venues

Sundance Studio

  • Steamboat Pilates Yoga and Fitness
  • Align Pilates, Physical Therapy
  • GeneticSynergy
  • Virv Yoga
  • Rocky Mountain Day Spa
  • Buddhist Center of Steamboat Springs
  • Sridaiva Wellness Center 
  • Moonhill Schoolhouse Community Center
  • Community Gardens 
  • Yampa River Botanical Park 
  • Strings Pavilion 
  • Base of Mount Werner 
  • On a stand-up paddle board

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