Yoga. The word means "union" in Sanskrit — the union of mind and body, you and the universe. It's a practice that goes back thousands of years, a series of exercises to strengthen the body, deepen the breath and quiet the mind.
Fortunately, as we hurtle toward the holidays, there are many classes around town that can act as decompression chambers and leave us with a peaceful, easy feeling no aerobics class can match.
Less than a year old, Haute Yoga is the hot spot in Solana Beach. Though many of its classes are "hot yoga" style, taking place in rooms heated to 105 degrees, there are more temperate possibilities such as the Slow Flow, taught by Beth Kupanoff, who first studied yoga in college and swears by its benefits.
"Yoga has kept me sane, flexible and able to keep breathing each day, no matter what happens," said Kupanoff, whose teenage kids sometimes come to her classes.
There's a welcoming feeling to the place, which certainly has the nicest surfaces for barefoot practice — thick tatami mat flooring that makes postures much softer on soles, knees and backs. As an added welcome, Haute invites local residents to sample a free week of classes.
Just down the road, Asana Yoga will officially open its doors in mid-November. A small studio emphasizing personal attention from caring instructors, Asana brings a quiet sanctuary to the heart of Del Mar, including daily meditations.
Owner/instructor Meredith Hooke came to yoga from the high-stress world of high finance.
"Meditation saved my life," the former hedge-fund trader said. "Yoga helped me so much in the corporate world. Now I want to create a space where others can find peace and happiness in themselves."
In La Jolla, Lululemon, part of a forward-looking international chain that sells yoga apparel and fosters healthy living, is offering free Saturday morning yoga classes, with different local teachers or studios featured each month.
Counters and racks are rolled back, and as many as 50 yoga aficionados may show up for the hourlong sessions — a great way to start the weekend.
But the big news here is the opening of La Jolla Yoga Center, the grand dream-come-true of Jeanie Carlstead, who has assembled a group of 40 top-quality teachers, and will offer 90 classes and workshops in her 6,000-square-foot studio. It even has Kids Yoga and Yoga for Golfers.
As yoga teacher, mother of four, hotel owner, and member and past president of the philanthropic group Las Patronas, Carlstead has a history of community service. Dedicated to the principles of yoga, she combines strength and relaxation, self-acceptance and a wholehearted openness to the world.
"You can be strong and not harden," she said. "Yoga teaches us not to fight reality. We learn to engage in life right where we're at."
LJYC will have reduced-rate community classes, work exchange programs and special discounts for students, seniors, teachers and the military. And next month, it will be the featured studio at Lululemon's free Saturdays.
Many yoga classes end with the traditional expression of greeting and gratitude Namaste, which means, "The light in me honors the light in you." Namaste everyone.
Yoga hot spots
La Jolla Yoga Center
7741 Fay Ave.
7835 Girard St.,
437 S. Highway 101, Suite 401,
1130 Camino del Mar, Suite D, Del Mar