By Ed Staskus
The been around the block practice of yoga, nowadays practiced by tens of millions of Americans, recently found its way to Westlake, an old outer-ring but rebranded suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. In its time, when it was a village by another name, it seceded from Bay Village, a nearby town, parts of it later allied themselves with North Olmsted, another neighbor, and finally appropriated parts of Olmsted Township, yet another neighbor, for itself.
It changed its name and became a city of its own in 1957.
As recently as 50 years ago, after a black pastor’s home was firebombed, the mayor of Westlake responded by complaining that “no one was notified so the community could be prepared to accept a Negro family.” Although Westlake remains overwhelmingly white, median family income has risen to more than $80,000.00, and firebombing has gone out of style.
Westlake is a quiet tidy affluent town of 30 thousand–some people and more high-end cars than you can bat an admiring eye at. Crocker Park, an instant oatmeal mash-up of apartments offices stores and restaurants based on small French town-type living, is the crown jewel of the community. ‘It’s All Happening Here’ and ‘A Life Well Planned’ are the bookend slogans of the lifestyle center.
Inner Bliss Yoga, more than a decade down the road connecting body and mind in Rocky River, one suburb east of Westlake, recently expanded westward to a second location inside the halo of Westlake’s lifestyle. Doubling down to a second location, the new Inner Bliss Yoga 2 (IBY2, as it is called) also doubled up on exercise rooms.
The larger of the two spaces accommodates up to 75 and features a furnace system with the capacity to bring the studio to 95 degrees and 50% humidity for Hot Yoga classes. Although hot yoga doesn’t burn any more calories than a brisk walk, external heat and sweatiness have become the norm in the yogacersize of the times.
Old school yoga built internal heat with pranayama, or breath work. Modern yoga gets the carbon burners going. It makes it easy to believe in the intensity of your practice, if nothing else. It’s been said gold medals aren’t really made of gold, but of determination, hard work, and sweat. On the other hand, George Carlin once said, “Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.”
“It has all the ‘om’ and good feelings. The studio is big and they do amazing stuff with the lighting. I don’t know what it is about this place, but it’s addictive,” said an IBY2 devotee about where bliss happens.
“As you walk into the blissful sanctuary of Inner Bliss, you will feel a warmth hug you,” says Team IBY. Both practice spaces feature state-of-the art cooling and fresh air systems continuously flushing outside air in and stale air out. It is a kind of breath work. The smaller of the spaces accommodates 20 and is kept at a balmy 72 degrees.
The Rocky River IBY yoga studio has long been popular on the south coast of Lake Erie. “This place is legit, totally soaked in yogic vibrations. The best teachers in Cleveland,” said one man. “There is great energy here and the people you practice alongside are dedicated to the practice,” said a woman. “A great experience at Inner Bliss, seems like a great tight-knit group of people,” said a visitor from NYC.
Inner Bliss proffers an eclectic blend of Vinyasa Yoga, Hot Powerful Flow, and Beginner classes, among others. Students at all levels are encouraged to work at their own pace and ability. Some less well-known practices like Kundalini are also offered, as well as workshops featuring famous teachers, such as Max Strom and Janet Stone.
Max Strom travels high and low. He has recently spoken at the Inner Peace Conference, the World Government Summit, and the Lululemon Management Summit, covering the trifecta of the personal, the political, and the plutocratic. “You will feel better after only 10 minutes,” he has said about his events.
He doesn’t mind touting his powers.
Getting your third eye and handstand on for fame and fortune is big business in the yoga world. No one has to pay for the rights to uplifting quotes from the Dalai Lama or Buddha. Everyone has to pay the admission price at the door of the event.
Already featuring specialty classes like Kid’s Yoga, Prenatal Yoga, and Restorative Yoga, the new larger Westlake location plans to offer even more in the same vein of the future in the future. Modern yoga has splintered into a mixed bag of different styles, from go-for-broke Ashtanga Yoga to the loony tunes of Beer Yoga.
The hallmarks of the new Inner Bliss in Westlake are abundant natural light, recycled bamboo floors in both of the studios, three changing rooms, and spacious bathrooms. There is ample parking.
A perennial Top 5 finalist on TV Fox 8’s Hot List, Inner Bliss recently celebrated its crystal anniversary. Many of its talented group of teachers, some of whom have been at Inner Bliss for most of its years, have branched out and teach at the new Westlake location, as does the studio owner.
Tammy Lyons, a Yoga Alliance certified teacher and Bay Village resident, where she lives with her husband and children, came to yoga after many years of endurance sports. The problem with some endurance sports is that they are slow-motion calamities that can only be overcome by endurance.
“I was searching for a sweeter physical expression and a fuller way to live in my body,” she said.
After receiving her 200-hour Yoga Teacher Certification at Silver Lotus Yoga Institute in the fall of 2001, Tammy opened Inner Bliss in a small second-story former office in Lakewood, Ohio. A green gritty groovy inner-ring suburb on the lake, Lakewood is just east of Rocky River, across the bridge spanning the river. Quickly outgrowing the space, riding the wave of yoga’s growth at the turn of the century, the studio moved to larger quarters in the Beachcliff Market Square across the bridge.
In 2005, when Beachcliff Square was redeveloped, Inner Bliss moved to a still-larger leasehold in Rocky River on Lake Road. Since then the studio has grown to offer over 50 regularly scheduled classes a week.
“The intention of Inner Bliss,” said Tammy, “is to encourage a vibrant yoga community on the west side of Cleveland that supports a safe, nurturing environment for the exploration of the self through the practice of yoga.”
Tammy Lyons has, by any measure, realized her intention. IBY’s customer base is large and vibrant, and the practice of yoga pitched is professional, safe, and nurturing. Exploring the self is generally left up to yourself, since much of what goes on is sun salutations-and-more.
“It was 17 years ago that I fell in love with the practice,” she said during an interview with Andrea Vecchio for the video series “Driving Cleveland”. The program is sponsored by Porsche and involves noteworthy folks like Coach Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Josh Tomlin, a star player for the Cleveland Indians, among others, being chauffeured around town in a Porsche Macan and interviewed during the sightseeing tour.
“I was gigantically honored, and Andrea let me drive that car!” said Tammy.
Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “yoj”, which means to unite or yoke. In traditional terms yoga means the union of individual consciousness and the universal consciousness. Yoking an individual by their seatbelt to the leather seat of a Porsche can be a universally spendid experience, be they a tour guide or a yoga businesswoman.
When Tammy first started taking classes, leaving endurance sports behind her, it was at Bhumi’s Yoga Center, one of the only places in Cleveland to offer yoga at the time. Bhumi, otherwise known as Harriet Russell, taught at the Rocky River Presbyterian Church. Yoga was on a low-key track then in the Rock and Roll Capital of the World.
“After a practice-or-two I was in love with breathing and moving,” said Tammy. “I fell in love with how I felt afterwards.”
The practice of yoga is multi-faceted, ranging from the prosaic to the divine. It has something to do with the day-to-day as well as the metaphysical. It includes such branches as Bhakti, the yoga of devotion, and Jnana, the yoga of the mind. Unlike capitalism communism church state and heroes, it eschews worship at the altar of something somebody somewhere else getting it done for you.
Modern yoga has thrown its hat into the commercial ring of exercise and fitness. Hatha, or the yoga of postures, is the basis of most styles practiced in the world today. It is a popular branch of yoga centered on physical poses, breathing techniques, and a modicum of meditation to achieve better health, both physically and mentally.
“Many people come to yoga because their hamstrings are tight, they want to get in shape, they are stressed out, or their body simply hurts,” said Tammy.
The deep stretching, muscle endurance, and physical postures of yoga improve strength and flexibility. A study on low back pain by Alternative Therapies noted that yoga poses help lessen muskuloskeletal pain by “focusing on the control of voluntary nervous system and muscle functions using a series of postures that leads to a state of relaxation.”
Sometimes misconceived as only a spiritual or way of living practice by those not in the know, the practical regimen of yoga exercises, breathing, and mindfulness, which is replacing meditation, can relieve, and in some cases alleviate, muscle and joint pain. Over time the increased flexibility and core strength developed from the practice enhances body awareness, encouraging the body to sit and stand tall.
A 2008 Temple University study found that a control group of women aged 24 to 65 on average added nearly a half-inch to their stature after nine weeks of regular yoga practice. Another of the most studied benefits of yoga is its effect on the heart. It has long been known to lower blood pressure and slow heart rates, benefitting people with high blood pressure and heart disease.
Yoga is a stress buster, but it is also a workout for fighting fat. Studies show that yoga lowers levels of stress hormones and increases insulin sensitivity, which is a signal to burn food as fuel rather than store it as fat.
“There are many physical reasons people come to yoga,” said Tammy. “But, I think they stay out of love for the practice that goes above and beyond the physical. I think they come to open up their tight hamstrings, but they stay because they are opening up their minds.”
The mantra of many yoga teachers is that it exercises not just your body, but also your mind, and ultimately your spirit. It’s a mantra harking back to long ago. Nevertheless, Inner Bliss has worked with Cleveland’s professional sports teams to help keep their bodies in shape to torment the minds and crush the spirits of opposing teams.
“In my third season in the NFL the head coach at the time introduced yoga to the whole team, made it mandatory in the off-season,” said Joe Thomas, a ten-time All-Pro offensive lineman for the Cleveland Browns. “He brought in the girls from Inner Bliss, taught yoga to the whole team.”
Pro athletes of all kinds seeking a competitive advantage have gotten on the yoga mat. “It’s therapy for my muscles, and my muscles need that more than anything,” said Joe Johnson, a seven-time NBA All-Star. LeBron James, arguably the most competitive and best basketball player on the planet, credits yoga with improving his performance on the court.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been to the NBA Finals three years in a row. The Cleveland Indians last season set the record for the longest winning streak with no ties in Major League Baseball History. The Cleveland Browns broke a record this year, as well, slogging their way to the worst 47-game stretch in NFL history. Since November 2014 through mid-December 2017 the Browns have notched four wins and 43 losses.
Two out of three on the yoga mat ain’t bad.
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, to avoid injury and learn the proper way to perform the exercises, yoga practice is best learned in a studio with experienced and credentialed instructors. All of Inner Bliss’s teachers are certified, having graduated from 200-hour or better yoga teacher training classes.
They are generous in fellow feeling as well as knowledge.
“My number one priority is to make each and every person who walks through our door feels comfortable and welcome, just as if they were coming into my home,” said Michelle Hunt, Yoga Manager of Bliss. Home is where the heart is, unless you believe a warm kitchen is what makes a house a home. Home is where the hot cross buns are after class, after you’ve worked up an appetite.
“We believe in breath and movement,” said Tammy. “We breathe deeply to soften where we are hard, get strong where we are weak, and get lit up from the inside out.”
In the meantime, Inner Bliss Yoga has expanded to a third location, the city’s newest brightest suburb, which is downtown Cleveland. Once thought long dead, the downtown district has found new life, enlivened by a theater district, new sports arenas, a new rail line, loads of specialty stores and restaurants, a casino, and loads of Millennials moving into converted warehouses and new condos.
Not far from Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cleveland Cavs play their championship-style basketball, the new IBY3 has a fun urban chic groove to it. A chalkboard at the entrance explains, “Today is a New Day!”
“This is the very best yoga studio in Cleveland,” said a woman from Avon, a far west exburb of the city. “It’s a sacred space filled with smiling faces, soulful music, heart-opening smells, warm hugs, sacred words, life lessons, deep breaths, and new friends.”
Taking a breath, she added, “And, of course, fabulous yoga!”
“We believe in yoga,” said Tammy Lyons.
“Well done is better than well said,” said Benjamin Franklin. “Just do,” said K. Pattabhi Jois, the mastermind behind the flow style of yoga.
Getting it done, getting yoga done, in the modern age isn’t so much a departure from the way yoga was way back when as it is paying attention to the moment at hand. The moment of brand building is here to stay. At least for now. It might stall out, but that’s a different day.
Inner Bliss Yoga impacts the lives of its customers. Down dog done right shows everyone that you care. Down dog done today is what matters. The business savvy Cleveland Magazine-saluted “Most Interesting” Tammy Lyons keeps contemporary yoga on the fast track in Cleveland.
Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.