First, in a series, that will be an on going project. I will be interviewing studio owners and yoga teachers that I find are doing the dharma! To share that we may come from different backgrounds, for different reasons but we all experiences difficulties along the way. Through talking about this, I hope to help inspire those of you who are just starting your yoga journey to keep going and know that you are not alone.
Diane Boenker - Owner of Lifesource Yoga
Diane Boekner is the owner of Lifesource Yoga and Bodyworks in Akron, Ohio. Her energy and passion for the yoga practice, as a wholesome way of life, is apparent and reflected in the studio atmosphere. The space, staff, and teachers are welcoming, encouraging, helpful, and are proud to be able to provide a space for people to come find their breath, move their body in a thoughtful way, discover the self, and develop a practice—to learn the tools to take their yoga practice off their mat and into their life. Diane leads the way. She is an inspiration to me, as a teacher, supporting and encouraging holistic teaching to provide for and serve our community in Akron. She is aware of, and embraces the importance of her role as a studio owner in a day and age of fast paced, distracted, consumer driven society to provide an amazing alternative where we can find solstice, harmony, balance, mutual respect, and most importantly, share the wonderful practice of yoga.
To set the scene, Diane and I sit across from each other on bolsters on the floor.
Sipping some coffee, and chatting about the following:
How did you find yoga?
Diane found yoga through her grandmother around the age of 9. “She would have my cousins and I out in the yard, and we would practice asana. But nothing about any deeper teachings of yoga.”
When did you become more interested in learning more?
“When I was twelve, I lived near a YMCA, it was in the neighboring town, and I would ask my mom to drive me there.” Diane giggles as she reminisces. “On the weekends I would go to yoga classes with these older hippie women. We did pranayama and facial asana, which I’ve never seen anyone else do—things to do with the eyes, and the facial muscles. And then yoga kind of went away. You couldn’t find it anywhere.” Amidst the changing times, growing older, and being less interested in practicing yoga with her cousins and grandmother, she lost touch with yoga, but the instinct to practice was always in the back of her mind.
At the end of 2008, Diane found Lifesource Yoga—then owned by Porshe Fischer, the founder. Here, she finally found an outlet for a regular asana practice and place to study. “I loved it. I still had a hunger for deeper knowledge. My asana practice inspired research into other teachings, so I would read books.”
In 2012, Proshe sold Lifesource Yoga to Debbie Watkins, and Debbie started a teacher training program with Mike Curtis and Margo Militech. Interested in expanding her knowledge, Diane completed her teacher training in 2013. In lighthearted honesty, Diane states, “I am not a good teacher. I knew that would never be my end goal, but I knew I would find my niche in it somewhere. So, when Debbie was moving and she needed to transfer the business to someone else, I thought, ‘Okay. It’s a good time.’ I had another business which I sold at that time, just prior to that. The timing of it was so perfect that I felt it was almost a little magical. That’s how I ended up buying the studio, and here I am. It seemed really natural to me because I felt it was my opportunity to take the skills that I have as an administrator, a manager, and a business owner—to couple that with my desire for practice, and study, and the deeper knowledge that I had obtained through the teacher training program. I thought, ‘This is perfect,’ it all fit together really well.”
What aspect of yoga are your drawn to to learn more about?
“Because I operate a studio where we have students on the mat, I read a lot about asana practice. But for my own personal study, it’s this business of pranayama and asana practice together, the study of the eight limbs of the classical style of yoga that intrigues me the most.”
What does “yoga” mean to you?
“That’s such a hard question to answer because it is such a vast and diverse field of study and practice. To answer that question in a simple way, to me, yoga is an enrichment to life. When I study and practice, I like to study these other aspects because I think it helps me be a better person. I get to know myself better, get to know others better, and even take it as large as society and culture, as a whole. In my pursuits outside the studio, it makes me a better steward of resources in my community, my own personal energy, and how I handle my relationships.”
Diane finds inspiration in daily life, clients and students of the studio, and her yoga teachers at Lifesource. “I’m a Roman Catholic person in my religious faith, so Pope Francis is an inspiration to me—even in my yoga practice. This emphasis on making wise, ethical, and holistic choices in everyday life—how we speak, what we eat, where we put our trash, how we take care of our others in our lives, and how we create community. Community in a deep and true sense, not commercial community, not commodified community, but in a spiritual and relational sort of way.”
What’s your favorite part of being a studio owner?
“My favorite part of being a studio owner is the satisfaction and purpose that I feel in being able to provide a space for people to experiment with yoga practice in a comfortable, discrete, and respectful setting. I feel that we provide a really wholesome alternative for people that are seeking a deep kind of practice, not just coming for exercise, or to get a free t-shirt, or a glass of wine, or something like that.”
Lifesource Yoga has been successful in part because of core students that have been practicing here for years, some of whom since the studio first opened in 2008. “Seeing that happen reinforces this idea that there is some magic, that there is something special to this kind of smaller, respectful community we’ve got going on here. We have a unique culture, or society, of yogis here at Lifesource.”
What’s been the most challenging part of your personal yoga practice?
Throughout Diane’s yoga journey, she has struggled with finding the right places to practice and the right teachers to learn from. She had exposure to yoga from an early age and then struggled to find more information about it. Even going to the library to look for books on yoga left Diane searching for more. “We didn’t have the internet so, you’d go to the library, and look it up, and maybe there’d be one, old, smelly book on Tibetan yoga practices or something.” In looking back, Diane wonders where her Granny, who moved here from Norway, learned about yoga. Another difficulty she mentions is initially experiencing questioning and doubt from those around her because of the cultural norms or generational barriers of the time period looking at yoga as “out there” or “hippie” versus today’s cultural perception of yoga as beneficial for health and fitness. “For me, the frustration is having that early experience socially, relationally, and physically with this practice, and then it going away—the lack of information and the cultural perceptions and misperceptions of the practice.”
Being an involved studio owner, Diane interacts with new students on a daily basis where she is faced with the challenge of educating people who walk into the studio with certain expectations of yoga from the media, doctors, or friends. This is where Diane amazes me. She is skillful in her descriptions of yoga, able to express fully the beauty and power of the practice yet make it relatable and understandable to anyone.
How do you encourage and help new students stay motivated through frustrations with learning?
“I know what a battle that can be sometimes because people come into the practice from such a wide variety of reasons. I try to make it simple. First, because they’re here for the mat, I talk about our class structure, talk about where I think they need to start, and I try to encourage them into private instruction. I think that’s the best way for people to start practice if that’s not an economic barrier because that gives them an opportunity to overcome the mental challenges of being in a classroom and being in a studio with a variety of students—some of whom have been practicing a long time and are much more confident in their movements. There’s all this weird body image stuff that people go through. They feel self-conscious of being in yoga clothes, or say, ‘I’m too fat,’ or, ‘I’m too short,’ or ‘I’m not flexible,’ or, ‘I’m not strong.’ I hear all these different things where people have these mental barriers and I think the private lessons are a good way to get them to be open in their mind and not attach to those thoughts. I try to get them through three to six privates, if they can. Or, into the proper group class setting and give them reassurance. I encourage them to not just come once or twice—really, to come several times over the course of months before they decide that this is something that’s comfortable for them and if they see benefit to it. And, then, over the weeks and months, if I continue to see them, little bits of conversation and encouragement and inquiry. It’s a thorough process of counseling and inquiry that I try to get them in the right place.”
“And, then, through their own natural inclination—because, who doesn’t love yoga practice? I mean, at a certain point, you just fall in love with it. If you stick with it enough and you let go of these barriers in the body or in the mind and you just, at your own pace, develop this practice, how can you not keep coming back? In one way or another. So that’s how I try to keep people going.”
“It’s through that counseling, and through that care, and through that encouragement, and through the proper teaching that I think we can keep people. Get them to fall in love. Because sometimes you can see it, they’ve got that spark in their eye—sometimes you can just see that spark in their eye and you just hope to ignite it and just keep it going.”
What is your favorite asana, and why?
“I love the standing balancing postures. They are my favorite because I’ve always thought that understanding the fluctuations in the body really helps—especially beginning students—start to develop this understanding of the fluctuations of the mind and the relationship between the body and the mind. And, so, because of the natural flow of, especially one-legged standing posture, I feel that [relationship between] fluctuations really intensely. It’s so evident to me and I find that so beautiful. I find strength, and a pathway to greater self-awareness in those postures specifically. I’m really thinking of Bird of Paradise—I really like exploring that a lot, that’s probably one of my favorite exploration postures. There’s so much openness that goes on there in the top, and the bottom, and the balance, and all that yummy stuff. That’s one of my favorites.”