Yogani Studios & the Art of Giving Back to the Community

“Bloom where you are planted”;  An age-old saying that is being executed with immense compassion in Tampa, Florida by the yogis at Yogani Studios.  I got the chance to speak with Lindsey Cox (the studio manager) a few weeks ago as she was preparing to welcome Ana Forrest for a weekend long fundraiser.  You see, philanthropy can be a bit contagious and the generous spirit of Yogani was met with the equally enormous heart of Ana.  This fusion of goodwill led to three days of workshops with Ana Forrest and all the proceeds were designated for the Exalted Warrior Foundation.  One of our own Delegates, Katelyn Thureson, attended the entire event and will post about it next week.  My mission was to learn more about the sweet people who make Yogani Studios a premier yoga destination in Central Florida. First, a little background info.  Yogani opened its doors in 1999 under the determined watch of its founder, Annie Okerlin.

Annie Okerlin Founder of Exalted Warrior Foundation

The one room space was modest but wildly popular. In less than a year, the studio expanded.  In 2005, Yogani opened in its new space which now houses 3 studios (the Solar, Lunar & Earth rooms), two massage therapy suites, a private instruction space as well as showers/restrooms and a boutique retail space.

Yogani Studios Reception Area

The lighting is warm and lends an intimate feel to the open space. Annie’s training background is in Bikram yoga and Yogani has long been THE place to get your hot yoga in Tampa.  But Lindsey says that the Vinyasa and Power Yoga classes are almost as popular these days as yogis who love heat also begin seeking flowing movement.  The great thing about Yogani is that you can find pretty much any style you want under one roof. Beginners can check out the 101 class which will give them a solid foundation in yogic alignment and principles so that they can grow their practice safely.  Runners and other athletes will learn to reconnect to their feet in the willPower & Grace class.  Yogani has extensive offerings for new moms & moms-to-be as well as kids classes.  There are 20 different class styles on their menu so everyone can find their yoga groove with ease.

Lindsey Cox Studio Manager & Yoga Instructor

In addition to regular classes, Yogani Studios is renowned for the well-known guest teachers who come through to teach workshops. Shiva Rea, Micheline Berry, Annie Carpenter, Maty Ezraty, Kathryn Budig, Kino McGregor, Tim Feldman, Daniel Hickman, Julian Walker, Jamie Elmer, Stephanie Keach, Chris Tompkins, Shala Rain Worsley and Ana Forrest have all graced the studios at Yogani in the past two years.  Upon hearing this list of teachers (all of whom I’d personally LOVE to practice with!), I feel a little jealous of Lindsey.  She’s been with the studio for over three years and her duties have grown right along with the Yogani community.  She says she loves her job and the genuine enthusiasm she has for her co-workers and students is evidenced in her voice.  When I ask Lindsey about the Exalted Warrior Foundation, her reverence for the project as well as its founder (and studio owner), Annie Okerlin, is very apparent.

Tampa is home to MacDill AirForce Base.  The presence of these families is woven deep into the community fabric and Annie wanted to be certain that her studio served these neighbors well.  Working with Admiral Tom Steffens, Annie has developed a yoga program specially designed to heal the bodies and spirits of wounded warriors since 2005.  Classes are held at the James A Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, FL, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, the Brooklyn VA in Brooklyn, NY, the Bay Pines VA in St. Petersburg, FL as well as the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia.  The classes are offered to patients, their families and their caregivers as a comprehensive approach to recovery from the physical, psychological and spiritual injuries of active duty.  It has taken several years to build the format and training so that teachers in other areas of the country can help grow the Exalted Warrior Foundation.  The group is a non-profit organization that depends on volunteers and donations as they seek to serve the individuals who have served our country.  I know what you’re thinking….how can you help?  As teachers, we hear of an effort like this and want to replicate it in our own back yards.  However, the training for working with wounded veterans is intensive and very specific so if you aspire to help in a hands-on way, you may be interested in the upcoming teacher training at Kripalu Center in Massachusetts January 8-13, 2012.  Details here.  Annie integrates the techniques of iRest Yoga Nidra (developed by Dr. Richard Miller) in training teachers to work with veterans and others suffering from PTSD, depression, insomnia and a host of other issues.  In order to provide the safest and most beneficial classes for the Exalted Warrior Foundation, it is necessary to learn this and other advanced techniques.  Another way to help would be a financial donation to the Exalted Warrior Foundation which you can do here.  Or perhaps you can take a cue from Ana Forrest and offer or organize a workshop(s) to benefit the foundation in your own studio!

As if hosting world-renowned teachers, offering a diverse class menu and giving back to the military families in their city isn’t enough, Yogani Studios also often brings in break through workshops to promote wellness.  Sound Healing, Ayurveda, breath work, body work and other wellness modalities are offered to those seeking a broader spectrum of whole health approaches.

Yogani Studio Space

As I’m wrapping up my conversation with Lindsey, I ask her what she hopes a yogi would take away from a first visit to Yogani Studios. “I hope they leave with a sense of community and a renewed feeling of empowerment toward their own wellness.  I hope they have found a place where they are comfortable to explore these aspects of life that we don’t normally focus on.” With an intention to help, to heal and to empower their students, Yogani Studios is crafting a legacy of giving in Tampa that you should definitely experience in person.

Editor’s Note: photographs courtesy of KB Photography

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