The man: Steven Ross, cofounder of Eastside Yoga – Austin’s own “mom and pop yoga shop.”
The mission: Nourish your mind, body, and spirit in a neighborhood studio that’s as personable as an old-time Scottish inn.
The commitment: “My wife and I sold our house and moved into an apartment to be closer to the studio.”
Top 3 ways he’ll change your life:
- You, too, can harness serenity and reclaim zapped energy: It just takes proper chakra maintenance and a good stretch.
- Think the physical and mental benefits of yoga and meditation are impressive? Chase it with fellowship.
- As a kid, you may have hated being put in time-out. But as an adult, it’s delightful.
In sum: We spend our days in a frenzy of activity and fractured attention. Yoga and meditation train us to stop, look inward, and ease into life’s inevitable contortions. So open your mouth and say Om.
Behind the scenes
It is 9:48 a.m. and I am sitting with my thumbs plugged into my ears and my ring fingers anchoring down my eyelids.
I can’t see anything, can’t hear anything. I must look like a hybrid see-no-evil/hear-no-evil monkey, but since everyone in the room is also striking this pose, I don’t have to worry about looking foolish. In fact, I’m not sure what to worry about. As soon as that realization hits, it’s replaced by a panicked rush of thoughts – about things I need to do today, people I should email. But for now, there’s nothing to do but sit here and breathe. I can’t tell if I’m soothed or stressed by that fact.
This is my first group class in meditation. And my ego is… befuddled.
There’s always room at this inn
Steven Ross, who’s leading the class, was born and raised in Scotland. He grew up helping out at his family’s inn, and today, still has the warmth and geniality of an innkeeper’s son – greeting students by name in the homey entrance of the studio, chatting afterwards, reminding everyone about a potluck dinner or movie night or another get-together on the horizon. That community sensibility is one of the things that sets Eastside Yoga apart. It’s as much a part of Ross’ yoga philosophy as downward dog.
“I also wanted to create a studio where we can all get together in our free time and drink a beer,” he admits. “Why not?”
Ma and Pa open a yoga studio
In what seems like another life, Ross worked in Houston in corporate finance. To deal with the stress, he turned to yoga and meditation.
It had such a profound impact that he felt a calling to bring it to others. Ross sought training and became a spiritual healer. Eventually, he and wife Elsa Bui hatched a plan for a yoga studio, moved to Austin, and, in a “leap of faith,” built Eastside Yoga from scratch. Ross quit his job to run it.
“I wanted to be an old man looking back on my life and be able to say, ‘We gave it a shot,’” Ross says.
Eastside Yoga opened in 2009, almost exactly as its East 11th street neighborhood hit a growth spurt (which shows no signs of slowing). The studio quickly became a community establishment. The neighbors still refer to Ross as “The Guy from the Yoga Shop.”
Ross likes it that way.
“Slap us if we ever tell you we want to expand,” he says. “We think of ourselves as the mom and pop yoga shop. You lose something powerful if you lose that.”
Yoga is an ancient practice: Archaeological evidence prove its existence as early as 3000 B.C. In recent decades, it’s become increasingly accessible and appealing to the Western world. But of course, interpretations vary, and depending on the studio, yoga can be a serious journey of self-exploration or just a means to a better beach body.
At Eastside Yoga, yoga classes are paired with something rare in the U.S.: group meditation.
“In our humble way, we want to get people into meditation,” Ross says. “The whole idea of the physical practice [of yoga] is to prepare you for meditation, to get you to a place where you can focus.”
In other words, yoga is inextricably linked to meditation. In fact, the stretches we identify yoga with today were initially created for monks to limber up before meditation.
I can really appreciate the logic behind this. Because after thirty minutes of sitting in group meditation, I realize that my entire right leg has fallen asleep.
Let’s play the Silent Game
There are moments during class when I feel so still, it’s like I’m underwater.
There are others when I feel a bit giggly – perhaps my brain isn’t used to so much oxygen from all the deep breathing. Others when I feel panicked and fragmented, trying to cling to the chant but unable to really focus.
Like a child that’s just been dropped off at daycare for the first time, my ego does not understand why I’m doing this, and it’s throwing a bit of a tantrum. I find that it is uncomfortable, but ultimately uplifting, to sit with that sensation until it passes.
Ross assures me that this is all part of the journey.
“You only have one body. You can’t neglect it. And being aware of your mind is a big part of that,” he says.
As you might guess, Ross will tell you that in meditation and yoga, the journey is its own reward. He should know.
“My wife and I sacrificed a tremendous amount for this studio. We sold our house,” he says. “But we do it out of love. We do it for the love of doing it.”
Visit eastsideyoga-austin.com for the class schedule, an audio link for home meditations, and video instructions on the blog. Stay connected on the studio’s Facebook page. New students can sign up for one week of unlimited classes for just $20.