LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Taking one breath at a time toward a healthier life is the way Marie Myrbakk teaches at her new studio at Yoga Body & Soul, 8225 Natures Way, Suite 115 in San Marco Plaza.
"When you start practicing yoga, you really learn a lot about yourself. It changes a lot about your mind-set. It changes the way you think; it changes the way you speak. We focus a lot on the breath and the breath is the bridge to the soul," said the Seattle native who recently relocated here after living 20 years in Norway.
It was there she trained in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga with practitioner John Scott and began her first studio that grew to 500 students. By then she was living in Tonsberg, Norway, with her Norwegian husband, Kai Myrbakk.
But when their son Julius, now 12 and a student at Braden River Middle School, started taking soccer lessons at IMG Academy in Bradenton, the couple heard about Lakewood Ranch and decided to look here for a place to live.
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For the yoga instructor, the move became part of her calling.
"It inspires me when people leave here smiling or content with themselves," Myrbakk said. "Then I know I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing."
Classes at Yoga Body & Soul are geared for people of all abilities, rather than just those who are already physically fit.
"What about the people that also really need yoga, the people that are physically limited, the older people that can't get around that often or who can't get to
an exercise class or who can't get onto the floor or get onto a mat?" Myrbakk asked.
"Here we offer chair yoga. We use a chair. We do all the yoga exercises using a chair -- warrior posture, sitting forward bends, back bends, sun salutations. Right now I have eight students at that level," Myrbakk said. "I have a woman who started with me who came in using a cane and 36 pounds heavier. As she started with me, she didn't like the fact she used a cane. She didn't like the fact she was overweight, but she found that using a chair, she could reap the benefits of the yoga Asana practice, which means posture or seat."
After four months the woman stopped using the cane, signed up for Weight Watchers, took up swimming and changed her total mind set to living a healthier life.
"She told me she is going back up North, bless her heart, and she bought herself a yoga video because she knows there won't be any yoga studios around up there that teach what I do. She said, 'Maybe the next time you see me I'll be doing gentle yoga on the mat'."
Gentle yoga is one step up from chair yoga, according to Myrbakk. It's Hatha yoga. It's classic yoga."
Focusing on the breath is the first step in Hatha yoga.
"A lot of people don't listen to their breath so they come from a place where they react rather than respond. Listening to that deeper self allows you to respond to what's being presented to you rather than just reacting," Myrbakk said. "The breath reflects your mind."
Barb Smith, her business neighbor at San Marco Plaza, said Myrbakk's clientele are eager to get to their sessions.
"The women run to get to class, They don't want to miss it," said Smith, who owns Second Ann Rose at San Marco Plaza. "We have a lot more women, and men, than we've ever seen coming through before. She has a great personality, very giving. As a business woman I think she did the right thing."
Yoga Body & Soul will be part of the San Marco Plaza farmer's market on May 17 when the special focus will be on health. Along with businesses like Myrbakk's that focus on exercise and healing, there will be conventional medical practitioners and even veterinary health care booths that day, Smith said.
When Myrbakk found her location at the plaza, she said she was "following her dream" that began when her husband enabled her to leave her regular job and begin teaching yoga. "This is my life's work. This is what I'm supposed to be doing."
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7027, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH.