Welcome to “yoga church”

Have you been to my “yoga church?” That’s what Yoga One feels like on Sunday mornings. I first discovered my (now friend) Rian Harris’ 11:30 a.m. Sunday class when a friend at another yoga studio invited me to join her there.

It was the highest-attended class that I had ever seen, often bringing in about 100 practitioners, especially in the months following New Year’s Day.

As the months, now the years, pass, it continues to strike me how much this class parallels church, for me and others. How it works:

The crowd convenes

By 11:25 a.m. the room is throbbing with music and cross-talk as people spill in to unroll their mats and hug teachers, assistants and fellow practitioners.


You have the opportunity to connect to something higher than yourself

Local Jivamukti yoga teacher Tai Dorn (also a teacher at Yoga One) taught me how to set an intention. The point of this intention is, once you step onto your mat, to devote your practice to someone you love, or someone who needs strength, or someone who needs healing, or your God, or a feeling — like peace. And the point is to remind yourself about that intention throughout your practice, to breathe for something beyond you.

The “music” begins

Music playlists are not normally incorporated into the practices at Yoga One. But breath becomes the music. The common breathing technique across yoga styles is Ujjayi, or “victorious breath.” To cultivate it, you breathe in through your nose and out through your nose, constricting the throat slightly as you exhale to create a rasping, oceanic sound.

The goal is to synchronize breath with movement as you build body heat, and when everyone is breathing this way together, the room reverberates with that deep, oceanic sound.

The message is offered

Not like a sermon, though. The teacher is busy guiding inhales and exhales and transitions from one posture to the next. But Rian tends to incorporate an ongoing stream of messages building a personal sense of strength or ease.

A sampling:

Show up on your mat to be part of this community, to share your energy.

Remember that you are a gift to this world. So embrace that. Act like one. Treat other people like they are one, too.

Your way of being is a choice. It’s in the next words out of your mouth and it’s in the next actions you take.


We “sing”

Every practice begins and ends with three chants of the word “om,” which, in its basic sense, is a vibration treated as the “primordial seed” of the universe. (You can dive deeper into the meaning here.)

We meditate

There’s no guided prayer, but there is a guided meditation that Rian leads for 15 minutes following the hour-long practice. Generally he attaches a message to this portion of the practice as well, but it also serves as a time to find stillness with yourself in the darkened room, to feel your body relax and observe your thoughts as they pass.

We brunch

After a quick shower at the studio it’s time to put on our Sunday best (i.e. a fresh pair of yoga pants) and head to Zada Jane’s. There’s generally a small group to start, with more friends filtering through the cafe as the afternoon stretches onward.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, British author Guy Beringer first planted the word “brunch” in print in 1895, writing: ”Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

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I would say the same thing about yoga church. And really, I have found variations of this “church” experience across the city, from Yoga Shala Charlotte, to Y2 Yoga, to Charlotte Yoga. No matter where you choose to go, you have the same chance to tap into your spirit, cultivate your highest self.

You decide your path for finding that.

Photos: Katie Toussaint