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the birth of a community

 
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the birth of a community

As Yogi Times celebrates 15 years of service to its readers, we look back at the growth and development of the 

A few years ago, I was sitting on the beach in Santa Monica, bragging to my partner about all of the ideas that were constantly swirling about in my head and all of the magnificent things I was going to do some day. While I was going on about my future glory, I noticed that the whole time I was talking, his eyes were fixed forward, out toward the crashing ocean waves. I kindly asked him if he had heard anything I had said. He turned to me, and with a semi-smile, gently told me that he was living in the here and now, listening to the waves, feeling the sun, and breathing the crisp air. Astonished by his answer I asked if I could at least get some feedback on my ideas. He said they were great but instead of talking about them so often I should do something about them. The truth hurts. I was a little bruised by his candor, but it didn’t take long for me to realize what a blessing this short conversation had been for my future. I swallowed what was left of my ego and decided not to “talk” any more about resolutions and ideas. I simply had to go for them one day at a time. I stayed in the moment, pouring my desire, perseverance and faith into an 8.5 x 11 inch stack of paper where I share my passion for life, yoga and this glorious world we live in. Yogi Times was born! – Sophie Parienti – Editor In Chief, Editor’s Word, Yogi Times Magazine July/August 2004

For the last 15years, Yogi Times has provided a voice for an ever-expanding consciously minded, socially and environmentally aware community, which, like the magazine itself, has become more diverse, more vibrant, and more colorful with each passing year. But far from the glamorous launch parties and red carpet events enjoyed by many of the new titles gracing the newsstands and supermarket checkout lines, Yogi Times had a somewhat humbler beginning. The first issue of its printed version was an eight-page, two color stapled newsletter printed at Kinko’s in Santa Monica, California. The staff included a French-born, surf-loving yoga teacher who came to the United States as an au pair at the age of twenty-four and a funky Japanese exchange student, with a great talent for graphic design and the indefatigable work ethic of her country’s culture, who was looking for an outlet for her creativity. When the two met through a mutual friend, the creative spark was instantaneous. After many late nights spent brainstorming and asking what if, this unlikely pair began their journey with one iBook laptop equipped with a Japanese keyboard, $800, and a big idea. 

Yogi Times has gone through many evolutionary changes over the years. But from its inception as a few stapled pages of quick reference, fun facts, and yogic inspiration for Los Angeles yoga enthusiasts to its present incarnation as a leading lifestyle digital media, the core mission and purpose of the original magazine has not changed. From the very start, Yogi Times has been committed to providing the community with an objective forum where it can express and exchange ideas, experiences, information, and wisdom, creating an uplifting, inspiring and educational resource based on yoga’s principles that can benefit everyone. 





In order to fulfill this ambitious commitment, Parienti determined that Yogi Times would be a complimentary magazine and today a free online information hub. “I wanted to find a way to make the positive influence of yoga and its principles available to everyone,” she says. “It was important to me to find a way to pass on all of these great ideas and knowledge in a way that would not exclude anyone.” As a free online media, Yogi Times enjoys a very special relationship with its advertisers who make up the lifeblood that keeps it going. Parienti acknowledges their importance all along the way “It has been such a blessing for me and for everyone at Yogi Times to be able to partner with so many amazing and inspired businesses and entrepreneurs, both on an international and local level, who are all striving for the same things we are promoting on the website: healthy, balanced, sustainable living. Without the support of all of them, from the smallest local yoga studio to multi-billion dollar international corporations, there wouldn’t be a Yogi Times.” 

One of the things that has helped serve its readers is the fact that nearly all of the writers who fill the pages of the magazine each month with their wisdom, intellect, and eloquence are not only experts and leaders in their fields but also live, play, and work in the same community as their readers and share the same passion for healthy, sustainable living. Parienti explains, “I’ve always sought out writers who understood and were familiar with the communities the website is serving. There are so many amazing people with so much to offer right at our fingertips and it is such an honor to be able to give them a voice. I also didn’t want Yogi Times to be a media that presents itself as the authority on any subject with writers saying what I want them to say, telling readers what they should or shouldn’t do or what is right or wrong. I wanted it to be a public forum by the community and for the community, where people can express ideas, even unpopular ones, and have the opportunity to receive feedback and input about their points of view from the people they are reaching out to.” As a result, the website has maintained a refreshing sense of objectivity and openness that remains closely tied to the collective consciousness of the community. Because of this close connection and accessibility, the issues, concerns and trends that are important to the community at any given time become the issues, concerns and trends that are portrayed in the pages of Yogi Times.com. Parienti explains, “I want the readers of Yogi Times to understand that this is their lifestyle media. By putting their passions, thoughts and ideas down on an email and sending them to us, they have the power to shape and mold this media and inspire everyone who sees it.”

After the first year of publishing Yogi Times as a magazine it became clear that the readers were interested in more than just what happens on the mat in the yoga studio. They wanted to know how to apply what they learned during their yoga classes to the other 22½ hours of the day when they simply live their lives. With such a vibrant and diverse community to draw its inspiration from, the magazine quickly evolved from a yoga newsletter into a lifestyle magazine for the modern yogi that examines how we can apply the lessons and wisdom of yoga to our modern lives, covering everything from what we eat to what we wear to where we go on vacation and how we get there. There are few places in the United States that can rival California in its concern for the environment and promoting sustainability. As a result, Yogi Times has adopted this as an inexorable part of its identity. It is a natural extension of the yogic principle that encourages living life in balance. Balance is sustainable. Imbalance in everything from our emotions to our economic and material consumption is not. With this principle as her guide, Parienti has invited experts in dozens of fields to provide accurate and useful information about how we can create healthy, holistic, sustainable lifestyles.  

A provocative innovation that occurred in this evolution toward covering a holistic sustainable lifestyle was the introduction of fashion into the magazine. Some of those who consider themselves to be yoga purists were unhappy with this move, questioning what fashion has to do with yoga, particularly after the first Yogi Times Eco-Fashion Issue in September, 2005 featuring a cover story by eco-fashion activist Summer Rayne Oaks and the magazine’s first multi-page fashion spread by award-winning photographer and director Ron Hamad. But, as everything in our lives is interconnected, the choices we make with regard to the clothes we buy have an impact that reaches across the globe. Like it or not, fashion is a huge part of American culture and the fashion industry has an environmental footprint greater than any Manolo Blahnik. According to Parienti, “Fashion is an opportunity for us to express our personal sense of taste and style. It can be a fun way to say something about ourselves and express the feelings that are inside us. I think of the fashion pages in Yogi Times as a grown-up version of playing dress-up in your parents’ closet. There are things you might not wear and sometimes it’s over-the-top but it’s always fun and beautiful to look at, which to me, is what fashion is all about.” 

Any magazine exploring the sustainable lifestyle would be remiss to exclude the growing number of fashion designers who are creating a viable market for organically grown cotton, alternative sustainable fibers like hemp and bamboo, socially responsible production, trade practices, and repurposed materials. From Rodeo Drive to Wal-Mart, eco-fashion is growing and groundbreaking designers and labels are revolutionizing our clothes as well as our understanding of the impact they have on the world around us. One designer leading the way in this revolution is Deborah Lindquist. When she began sending high-end garments crafted from a combination of high quality organic, sustainable materials and repurposed and recycled fabrics down the runway, most people in the fashion world, to say nothing of consumers, had never even heard of organic cotton or entertained the notion that their clothing’s production could have an adverse effect on the environment. Yet now her sought after designs are sold in mainstream boutiques nationwide and iconic designers from some of the world’s most renowned fashion houses are jumping on the eco-bandwagon. As countless magazines and newspapers have cleverly observed in recent years, “green” is the new black. Lindquist’s use of repurposed fabrics in combination with other sustainable and organic materials means that her designs often come in limited editions, and are sometimes one-of-a-kind. “I see that the level of understanding is greater from the consumer’s point of view in addition to the retailer,” says Lindquist. “I think my success is a result of the fact that I never stopped believing in what I do for one thing. I was just early on the trend. The introduction of new ideas is sometimes met with resistance. It can be compared with learning a new or seemingly complicated yoga pose. You don’t think you can do it but it is so much about intention. I’m received very well now and am grateful for that, even in foreign countries now that I started showing my work in Paris. I think that the introduction of new eco lines is a good thing. It’s part of being a village of people doing good things. It will open up more opportunities for designers to be able to buy more interesting fabrics moving forward. I’d like to see more organic materials being offered, and they will be if the customer demands it. I will probably always use a blend of recycled and new eco fabrics because I enjoy working that way.” It seems that Lindquist, along with a growing number of environmentally responsible designers, are responding to those customers’ demands and forging the future of fashion one frilly hem at a time, giving the conscious community the opportunity to set aside its tie-dye and embrace its inner fashionista.  

Just as the ever-growing crop of fashion designers committed to sustainability is changing the face of fashion, so too is the army of architects, engineers and interior designers who are forging a revolution in the area of sustainable home design. Since the energy and fuel crisis of the 1970s, America has been conscious of its energy consumption and the dangers of abusing its resources. Now, more than ever, those issues are at the forefront of our society’s concerns. There’s nowhere we have more control over our impact on the environment than in our own homes and Parienti has made it a priority to present Yogi Times readers with innovators and leaders in the field of home sustainability who can give solid guidance on everything from renewable energy to sustainable building materials to fostering peace and serenity at home, and all without sacrificing style, comfort, and luxury. “It has been amazing,” says Parienti, “to see how the interest of the community has grown since we started featuring tips for greening your home. The more we do, the hungrier people are for more. We get letters and requests for more resources, It’s really exciting.”

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For the last fifty years, San Francisco and the Bay Area have been an incubator for new ideas and culture shifting movements. From its distinction as the place where Alice Waters started the local organic food movement to its role as one of the world’s leaders in innovative public transportation, the people of San Francisco have sustainability in their blood. Two people who have devoted their lives to carrying on this tradition are the husband and wife team of Sophie Balestreri and Greg Snowden, the co-founders and owners of Green Fusion Design Center located in San Anselmo, just north of San Francisco. Recognizing that there was a gap between the community’s interest in home sustainability and the availability of materials, resources, and information, the couple set out to fill the gap by creating a place where everyone from the general public to homeowners to builders to design professionals with an interest in environmental responsibility could connect with each other and ultimately inspire our culture toward sustainable building and design practices. Balestreri explains, “Green Fusion has been in business for over three years and during that time, we’ve seen interest in our products grow from a trickle to a stream, and now it feels like we’re a part of a mighty river. People are beginning to understand the connection between the materials they bring into their homes and how those materials affect their personal and planetary wellbeing. In the beginning, some of our clients were aware of the products we had to offer by researching on the web, but never had the opportunity to see, touch, and smell the difference healthier materials can make. The interest level was there, but the experience was not. People have always been receptive to learning about sustainability. I think it’s just getting easier for people to see how easily they can integrate green building in their homes and that small changes can make a big difference, like using low-zero VOC paints, choosing reclaimed wood floors over plastic, or supporting local companies that produce organic cotton linens and natural bedding. The interest in green building has grown exponentially and so has Green Fusion. We are riding the wave that will change how we do business in this country for the better.” The last five years have seen an unprecedented growth in mainstream community interest and acceptance of personal accountability for the environment, and if the success of Green Fusion Design Center is any indicator, this trend is only going to gain momentum.

One subject that is of great interest to Parienti and occupies a significant portion of every issue of Yogi Times is food and nutrition, which is understandable since she was brought up in a country where food is practically the national religion. From the time when she was a child, listening to her grandmother read magazine articles aloud, giving advice about healthy diets and good nutrition, and understanding the impact of food on our lives and health has been a priority in her life, and subsequently a priority in Yogi Times. A firm believer in the importance of organic and sustainably farmed foods prepared with care, love, and skill, Parienti, along with her team make a point of seeking out the gems in the community where people can find true nourishment for both their bodies and their souls. Despite the impersonal appearance of their sprawling urban landscapes, the communities that comprise the readership of Yogi Times have carved out their own islands of balance and serenity where many of those gems flourish. One such place is San Francisco’s Samovar Tea Lounge. Combining a restaurant, teahouse, meeting place, and general refuge from the pace of modern life, this bastion of culinary delight, tea culture, and community fellowship is much greater than the sum of its parts. Samovar’s aim is to expose people to the calming influence of what it refers to as “tea culture” and to encourage people to focus on the importance of what they put in their bodies and how that affects their health and happiness. By serving a simple menu of dishes made from local, seasonal, and organic foods that enhance the natural flavor of their ingredients, and a dizzying array of therapeutic and exotic teas, Samovar Tea Lounge has become a symbol of a simpler, slower, healthier way to live. Owner Jesse Jacobs explains, “Our community that Samovar Tea Lounge serves was initially a very small community of people who were passionate about tea, passionate about health, passionate about relaxation, and involved personally or professionally in the “consciousness movement.” Each of those communities has grown significantly over the past 5 years of our business. I would definitely say that the largest growing customer base we have, and the community that has evolved to support us more than the other communities is that of the “consciousness movement,” i.e., people who are conscious about what they put in their bodies, on their bodies, and the influence they exert on the environment and in the world. It’s become an upward spiral: The more we practice what we preach, the more we embrace this community, and the more we embrace it, the more those in it are attracted to Samovar Tea Lounge. Our menu, our music, our teas, and our service are all intended to be approachable—and yet exotic and affordable, and these folks embrace us for it. Just as this community has grown exponentially over the last several years, so too has the community’s savviness and sophistication in its expectations of environmental standards, quality of food, and passion for living exuberant and untethered lives.” Samovar is just one of many places where our community can find a combination of healthy lifestyle and likeminded fellowship. As this message spreads and takes hold, it assures a bright future for the health of these vibrant communities and all of the people in them.

Nearly as important as what we put in our bodies is what we put on them. A devoted proponent of spa culture and the benefits of natural and organic skincare, Parienti has made it one of the missions of Yogi Times to bring its readers the latest and greatest in nurturing self-care both at home and at the spa. “I’m so disturbed when I go into a mainstream grocery store and see some of the labels on the skincare products on the shelves. The number of synthetic and harmful chemicals that are being absorbed into people’s bodies through their skin when they use those products is unbelievable, to say nothing of the damage those chemicals do to the environment as millions of gallons of them flow down our bathroom drains every year and into our water and soil. It’s even the same in many spas and salons. We really have to be vigilant and educate ourselves about what we’re putting on our bodies, which is why I’ve made it such a priority to feature clean, natural, organic skincare products and spas in the magazine.” As we know, our skin is our biggest organ and its health is crucial to our overall wellbeing. 

There is perhaps no greater barometer of our society’s changing attitudes toward personal health and sustainability than the unprecedented success of Whole Foods Market. Poised to open sixty new locations in the coming year, the proliferation of Whole Foods represents an overwhelming demand among consumers for something different from what their mothers brought home from the grocery store. Many factors from cable television’s Food Network to the impact of Alice Waters can account for the growing interest in organic, sustainably farmed foods but it’s the growing interest and market for organic and sustainable body care that is making a splash on the shelves at Whole Foods. According to Justin Miloro, Whole Body Coordinator for the Southern Pacific region of Whole Foods Market, there has been “a tremendous increase in interest related to natural and organic skin and body care in the past five years. Whole Foods Market dedicates an entire section of its stores to pampering, nurturing, and caring for the whole body—and it has significantly grown in terms of the amount of products we offer –from mineral makeup to USDA certified organic cotton balls, of course, all made of the highest quality natural ingredients and free of unnecessary, harsh chemicals and unnecessary fillers. We have heard customers say they feel that Whole Foods Market does the homework for them, much as Yogi Times does for its readers. They know when they come through our doors that our products are carefully chosen to reflect conscious choices for their health and the health of the environment. Our shoppers are increasingly embracing a healthier lifestyle and seeking choices to fulfill lifestyle needs. Our knowledgeable team members work one-on-one with customers to help them make informed choices about products for the entire body and become aware of the wider selection of natural alternatives that are becoming increasingly available.” The far-reaching impact of the influence that Whole Foods has had on the marketplace can be seen all over the country. Mainstream grocers are introducing their own signature organic labels and many are opening entire sections solely devoted to the types of products Whole Foods sells exclusively. The most important aspect of these shifts is that they all stem from the changing attitudes of the community and its desire for a healthier, more harmonious lifestyle. 

As the future looms ever brighter for the continued success of conscious media and the lifestyle choices that they promote, Yogi Times is setting the stage for its ongoing growth and creating new ways to fulfill its commitment to providing the community with an increasingly valuable resource. The coming year will see the expansion of yogitimes.com, which will include an all new blog featuring some of the magazine’s most respected writers, through which the community can interact and discuss the topics and information shared in the magazine each month. There will also be multi-media additions to yogitimes.com, including the first stages of YTTV in which Yogi Times will partner with WSR Creative to produce behind-the-scenes video clips of Yogi Times events and photo shoots as well as special interviews and informational segments featuring experts and community personalities representing all of the aspects of conscious lifestyle that the magazine covers. In addition, Yogi Times BUSINESS, the first nationwide trade publication aimed at yoga entrepreneurs and the industries related to yoga, now in its second year of publication, is enjoying its own evolution. The same team that produces the Los Angeles and San Francisco editions of Yogi Times has been working to elevate the format of Yogi Times BUSINESS so that its content increasingly includes a focus on providing resources for socially and environmentally conscious businesses above and beyond those solely devoted to yoga. 

Looking ahead to the next five years, Parienti intends to bring Yogi Times to more cities, extending and expanding the message and intent of her original yoga newsletter across the entire nation. From Parienti’s perspective, “It’s absolutely amazing that so much has sprung from those first eight pages five years ago. I’ve been so blessed to have such an amazing group of people to support my vision and help me make my dreams for Yogi Times come true. There will never be enough words to express my gratitude for the time, energy, creativity, talent, commitment, and passion that everyone who has been a part of bringing this magazine to life has offered so graciously and enthusiastically. Between that, and the ongoing support and loyalty of the readers who are the real reason that the Yogi Times team and I get out of bed every morning, I’m convinced that there are millions of people who are hungry for what Yogi Times has to offer and I’m more committed than ever to making it possible for every one of them to have access to it in their own city. The experience of creating and sustaining Yogi Times for the last five years has proven to me that anyone, no matter how much or how little they have, can do anything if they’re willing to stop sitting on the beach talking about their dreams and get up, step through their fears and make those dreams into reality.”

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