By Kathy Eaton
For the Hollywood Star News
Soft music plays and windows let in natural light while students practice Iyangar Yoga taught by Libby Ramirez at Harmony Yoga studio in the Hollywood neighborhood. Ramirez, who’s been teaching at Harmony for seven years, guides the class through meditation and stretching as students decompress to release tension as they prepare for asana or more active poses.
Although Hatha yoga became a popular system of physical exercise in the Western world in the twentieth century, yoga is rooted in Eastern religions and culture. A commonly held belief is that yoga was developed for monks to allow them to sit and meditate for several hours at a time. The term yoga literally means “joining together.”
Rose City Park neighborhood resident Greg Smoots studied yoga in 1984 and five years later was teaching it in his own studio on Northeast Broadway. In 1999, he founded Cascade Yoga Center on Northeast Sandy and 44th Avenue and taught there until illness forced him to close in 2004. His instructors Moline Whitson, Bud Skiba, and Barbara Steif wanted to continue offering a yoga practice in Hollywood and opened Harmony Yoga nearby on Northeast 41st and Tillamook Street. Many of Smoot’s clients followed; when his health improved in 2007, Smoots returned to teach at Harmony Yoga, where today his classes are popular.
Smoots teaches Iyangar yoga, emphasizing proper alignment. His students use props such as blankets and blocks for support and to avoid injury. Although his students average 50-60 years in age, he characterizes his classes as vigorous, not slow. “Students experience a variety of yoga classes here, including different techniques and styles,” said Smoots.
Before trying Bikram or hot yoga, Whitson who lives in the Concordia neighborhood, practiced Mo Duk Pai Kung Fu martial arts for 20 years and has a second-degree black belt. In 2000, she trained with Yogi Amrit Desai and in 2004, became director of Harmony Yoga. Whitson practices Amrit yoga and offers seven classes a week at Harmony, including a free class for military veterans. She also teaches a one-hour noontime class on site for Multnomah County employees.
Hatha Yoga styles:
Amrit: Each of 29 poses is followed by short meditation.
Iyengar: All poses focus on proper alignment.
Svaroopa: Props are used to release tension with support.
Vinyasa: Fluid movement in dance-like manner.
Bikram: All the 26 poses take place in a hot room (not offered at Harmony Yoga).
Harmony instructors are independent contractors teaching yoga as well as Tai Chi and Qigong to approximately 125 students per week. “All Harmony instructors pay attention to proper body alignment and safety,” said Whitson. According to Whitson, students practice yoga to gain strength, work on balance and maintain mobility.
Cyr Foote has been practicing yoga at Harmony on Saturdays since the studio opened. She’s seen all skill levels here and said the teachers observe and adapt poses for their students. “Moline includes an element of spirituality to the practice,” said Foote, who lives and works in Northeast Portland.
Dana Denny moved to Portland from Hailey, Idaho, where she practiced Yin yoga with poses that specifically target connective tissue. “Yoga wasn’t so much for exercise as improving my flexibility,” said Denny, who was searching for a studio within walking distance when she first moved to Portland in January 2014. She liked Harmony Yoga because of its affordable classes and sense of community. “Moline is a kind soul who listens to each person’s needs,” said Denny. “She gives really clear and gentle instruction.”
Libby Ramirez, who previously taught high-school volleyball, was drawn to Cascade Yoga after the birth of her son. “Greg Smoots was instrumental in helping me use yoga practice to heal after my husband died,” said Ramirez. She moved to Harmony Yoga with Whitson and Skiba, who encouraged her to pursue yoga teacher certification. Despite working a full-time job, Rameriz took over teaching Skiba’s classes when he left.
“We’re family-friendly, the practice is familiar, and students don’t need previous experience,” said Ramirez. “Also, students don’t need to look good in their yoga clothes.” Most of her students, typically in their forties, had not previously practiced yoga or they’re recovering from injury.
Tim Browning, who works as an environmental consultant, began taking Ramirez’ class two years ago when a physical therapist recommended yoga to help him recover from back surgery.
“Libby’s class offered exactly what I needed, focusing attention on proper alignment for my back while maintaining core strength,” said Browning. “Her class offers a reprieve from work and life, getting rid of work stress. I’ve become an expert at shavasana, or corpse pose.”
Kathleen Porter, author of Natural Posture for Pain-Free Living (Healing Arts Press, 2013), teaches a monthly series called Posture Sundays at Harmony Yoga. Porter’s book provides basic tips on how to walk, bend, and sit and stresses proper alignment to maintain a healthy spine well into old age, with a goal to overcome chronic stiffness and pain. The book illustrates classic yoga poses including chair, tree, triangle, and warrior.
On September 20, from 2 to 4 p.m., Harmony Yoga, 2108 N.E. 41st Ave., is hosting an open house to celebrate its tenth anniversary. The public is welcome to drop by, meet the staff and learn more about the practice of hatha yoga.
For more information: harmonyyogapdx.com or (503) 335-8851.