Yoga Sapien: Yoga for Every Sapien

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A yoga studio can live or die on the popularity of its teachers -- popularity, which is surprisingly difficult to attain. Mastery is an elusive reward after many years of practicing, and it takes even more time, study, and experience to effortlessly convey that skill to others. In Orange County, where I’ve heard it said you can throw a rock and hit a yoga instructor, turnover at studios can be high. Constant.

That’s why it’s admirable, revolutionary even, that Yoga Sapien wants you to be able to walk into any class without a glance at the schedule, and not only follow its mechanics, but trust the person at the front of the room enough to actually enjoy yourself. Co-founders Liz Campbell and David Taylor are banking on reliable instructors — popularity and turnover be damned — and a diverse schedule of classes that combine Yin, a gentle and restorative method, with Vinyasa, the moving, flowing style of yoga that pushes you to break a sweat. Additional offerings include an energetic Soul Power Vinyasa, academic Ashtanga and Ashtanga prep classes, and the incredibly restful Release and Restore, which is essentially a guided, alignment-focused nap.

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Their philosophy is in their name: yoga for every sapien. When I stopped by to try a class, co-founder Liz Campbell walked me through her accepting approach to yoga, a practice and habit I’ve fallen in and out of for about a decade now. Many aspiring yogis, myself included, come for self-healing and stay long enough to try to make a living. The intrinsic message of acceptance, when forced into the box of a business model or into the hands of teachers who in fact struggle to accept themselves, can get watered down or misplaced. But Liz’s gist — one with which I enthusiastically agree — is that everyone is permitted and helpfully instructed to make a class their own by modifying postures to fit their ability and/or mood. Instructors at Yoga Sapien teach buildable options to facilitate multiple levels in class, even while levels 1, 1.5, and 2 are assigned to classes as a yardstick of what to expect.

I chose Liz’s intelligently-structured, 1.5-level Dynamic Vinyasa class for my introductory Yoga Sapien experience. It was held in the Ganesha Room, a large, long space capable of holding many good vibes. On the whole, the studio reminded me of ones I had frequented in the late aughts in New York — up a flight of stairs, retail area, fancy water dispenser, reading/lounging nook with cushions and yogic literature. The Cave was a smaller space at the end of the hall reserved for meditation and breathwork classes.

But the Ganesha Room was equipped with an unexpected feature that continuously forced me back into the present moment: two ocean-facing windows that, over the course of the 5pm hour, transformed from a pastel ombre with silhouetted palms to two darkly bruised, orange-and-purple eyes. This was Laguna.

If not individual teachers, then what fundamentally sustains a yoga studio is its community of practitioners. Residents of Laguna Beach and neighboring towns can get started with two weeks of unlimited classes for free, giving them ample opportunity to find a schedule that works. Visitors can purchase a week or month of unlimited access. And drop-in rates — $20 for yoga, $10 for meditation — allow you to do your thing without committing. For those who are interested in beginning or sustaining a practice but can’t afford to at full pop, Yoga Sapien offers work exchange programs, which can be a great way to get to know a place and its people.

After a long Savasana deepened by reverberating singing bowls, I put away my props, rolled up my mat, and floated outside and down the stairs. I felt more aligned and mentally clearer than I had the hour before arriving. I was, incrementally at least, a new human — a Yoga Sapien. How would I feel after two weeks? I was excited to find out.

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Lara Wilson Townsend is a retired yoga instructor, writer, and creative person based in Southern California. When she's not traveling with her husband and dog, she can be found at Compound, their gallery and event space in Yucca Valley, where she occasionally busts out her yoga mat.

Photos by: Grant Puckett.