“Yoga” offers calm refuge in Bellevue

Studio owner Cait-lin Frew leads a class at “Yoga on Fremont” in Bellevue. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

There are no clocks, no mirrors, no pictures, no plants, and no cell phones ringing in the Yoga on Fremont studios. And the only furniture is the instructor's desk, along with some "cubbies" where students can place coats and personal items before lessons start.

Once the sessions, which last approximately 75 minutes, begin, sounds are limited to the voice of the instructor leading students through their routine, with music playing whisper-soft in the background.

Studio owner and instructor Caitlin Frew explained that sessions combine meditation, work-out and stretching. "But it's your own practice. You make it what you want it to be."

The first few sessions can be difficult, because yoga is different from other types of work-outs and often includes stressing postures and breathing. But those who stay with it find that everything builds to a final relaxation of the mind and body together, with the goal for each student being to reach a higher moment of clarity.

Although yoga traces its origins to 200 BC, when Hindu practitioners worked to achieve a closer spiritual "oneness" with God, no religion is discussed in Caitlin's classes.

"From the start, it was a way of honoring your body and clearing your mind, both working together with the soul. That's what we try to achieve here."

Caitlin opened her studio in March, but she traces her fascination with the practice to one of her elementary school teachers, Joanne VandenHengle, who used some very simple techniques to calm rambunctious fourth grade students. Caitlin's interest continued to build until, at 16, she took one of VandenHengle's classes.

"I was the youngest in her class, but she put it in terms that a teen could understand," Caitlin recalled. "I got away from it in college, but then I came back to the practice a few years ago."

She trained with VandenHengle, who now conducts yoga teacher training programs throughout Pittsburgh and has helped over 100 teachers earn their certifications.

Caitlin explained -- as basically as possible -- the yoga experience: "All people have seven energy points or 'force centers' in their bodies, each point associated with specific glands and organs. These forces are called 'chakras' and they are distributed from the base [feet] to the crown [head]. Through yoga, we try to keep all of the energies flowing. It's a way to distribute energies and keep them flowing evenly. This can all sound complicated, but it simply supports the belief that everything in our bodies is connected."

While it can sound complicated, the actual practice might best be described as a calm, peaceful workout of stretches interspersed with moments of rest as Caitlin prods students to attain a realm that provides an interlude from the stress associated with daily demands and concerns.

Calm and peaceful, but not always easy. To accommodate everyone's abilities and potential, Caitlin offers beginner classes followed by advancing levels of instruction. Classes meet four times a day, seven days a week and, in addition to Caitlin, are taught by six instructors, some who work at the studio only once or twice a week. Classes are co-ed, with no age restrictions, with a special “Yoga for Kids” class being offered at noon on Oct. 12. Caitlin suggests that students simply dress for comfortable movement.

Being noncombative and noncompetitive, Yoga on Fremont sometimes recommends students to experience other studios to see what they offer. "There is a reciprocal respect in the yoga community," Caitlin said. "Other studios do the same as we do."

When she graduated in 2008 from the Pittsburgh Art Institute, where she majored in interior design, she entered the profession at precisely the wrong time, as the economy began its downward spiral. But as yoga karma -- a Hindu-Buddhist blend -- proved, good can overcome adversity. Caitlin became a certified instructor and opened her own studio.

"I love it! I'm so glad the design career didn't work out. I never would have known how great this is."

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