A few blocks from the North Berkeley BART, at the corner of Addison and Bonar Streets above Strawberry Creek Park, sits Berkeley Yoga Center. The location alone is reason to build a regular yoga practice here, but it is Berkeley Yoga’s diverse class selection that is really enticing. They are proud to have built an all-encompassing curriculum with classes including Ashtanga, Mysore, Iyengar, beginning/intermediate yoga, vinyasa flow, Kundalini, Yin, movement and prenatal/postnatal classes. Their intention is to be a teacher-friendly studio that fosters faith in each teacher’s unique strengths. This trust allows teachers to develop their own style of instruction, and to grow their own loyal community of students. It’s that comfort and quality of care that makes each of Berkeley Yoga’s classes so inviting.
I arrived by bicycle to my first class and had to take a little extra time just to explore the surroundings. The path through Strawberry Creek Park crosses the stream by bridge and wanders through a playground to a community gym and basketball and tennis courts. I found a bench below a low-hanging tree branch to sit and listen to the creek as a way of transitioning into my yoga mind. After a quick moment of centering, I made my way up the outdoor stairs to enter the elegant studio that overlooks this scene.Located above a rustic brick building and cafe, Berkeley Yoga is a big, airy studio with industrial windows flooding a floor with dappled afternoon light. They’ve recently opened a second studio down the hall, past artist and architect offices, to the adjacent building’s roof deck. You just head into the honeysuckle-scented evening air toward the babbling brook to find it.
Down the hall from my first class, Stephen Shoup taught a vigorous vinyasa flow, but my body-sensing hatha yoga, taught by teacher Herdis Pelle, was quiet and calming. The meditative form was derived from the Tantric teachings of Kashmir nondualism, where the focus is to allow deep relaxation and skillful breath techniques to sink deeper through traditional yoga postures and into the experience of pure delight.
Pelle is a co-founder of the Berkeley Yoga Center and has been a teacher of meditation and yoga for 25 years. She is also a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Danish by birth, Pelle’s lilting accent brought the instruction a new appeal. Her ease and competence had us in her spell. As I brought my hands together in our final namaste, I found myself giddy with the expansion in my lungs and new insights in my mind. This was a deeply mindful class that let you engage your practice in a peaceful but fully present way.
I returned the next day and visited Jonothon Gross’s vinyasa flow class as it was ending. His students were buzzing with their yoga high. Afterward I went for Cybèle Tomlinson’s intermediate yoga class. She is also co-founder of the Berkeley Yoga Center. Tomlinson’s teaching is a blend of Yin yoga with more intense styles. She maintains an emphasis on breath, while pushing her students to challenge their own boundaries and to move as deeply as they wish. The freedom to make the practice our own was encouraging. It was tough to be asked to hold asanas well beyond the five breaths, but it let us really engage in the form and receive its benefits. Tomlinson’s offer of alternative poses and her continued call to our breath made me feel truly supported and safe, yet really had me striving to extend my practice to the next level. And watching her elegant form was the inspiration I needed to make the most of each pose. Her strength, posture and poise seem to exemplify what yoga is about: a presence of personality that really shines from an inner glow.
Seemingly lost in the shaded woodlands of lower Berkeley, this studio is a hidden gem that is well worth the effort of discovery.
Studio 209 1250 Addison St.Berkeley, CA 94702