By Claire Harlin
While yoga is a solitary practice in many ways, it’s in large part a collective effort — from moving through postures in unison alongside classmates to making friends in the studio to creating a sense of community. That’s why the yoga gurus behind local studio Yoga80 pair new members with experienced yogis as a way to provide mentorship, increase accountability and take the intimidation factor out of the practice.
“We call it our Ambassador Program, and it’s such a great way to introduce members to our community,” said Rob Pastor, who operates the Sorrento Valley studio alongside owner Reegan Lessie, a Solana Beach native. “Yoga is a very social business and the studios that create a community create long-term students, and it’s long-term students who really excel at the practice.”
Reegan and Pastor know first hand about the importance of community in yoga. The couple met more than five years ago at Encinitas studio Yoga Tropics. Not not only have they been dating ever since, but they’ve collectively made Yoga 80, located at 10999 Sorrento Valley Road, the studio it is today — one that has a loyal following of members, a specially crafted concept and curriculum, and one of the highest levels of yoga teacher training in greater San Diego. The name of the studio signifies the temperature at which all classes are taught — Lessie feels 80 degrees is the perfect temperature at which Vinyasa yoga should be taught, and made that the signature of her studio.
Lessie, 35, started practicing as a teenager at the Bikram College of India in Leucadia, and taught her first class at the age of 21 at her aunt’s Solana Beach karate studio, American Family Marital Arts. She later attended Bikram teacher training in Los Angeles, and while she worked as a realtor for a short time, she knew yoga was her life goal. She taught Bikram yoga in New Zealand for about a year before returning to teach in her home studio in Leucadia while looking for her own studio.
“There are so many yoga studios out there, so I was looking for a place where there was no yoga,” she said. When she found her current studio on Craigslist in 2008, she knew it was the perfect location to serve Carmel Valley and Del Mar, as well as the thousands who work in offices in Sorrento Valley.
Pastor, 52, became a partner and investor and slowly took hold of the business functions of the studio — resulting in the visibly positive personal and business relationship that the couple has today.
“I take care of the day-to day operations so we can give her more time to do what she does best, which is yoga,” Pastor said.
Lessie strategically develops programs and posture sequences that allow yogis of all levels to practice in the same studio, which sets the studio apart from many that designate classes by skill level. She said this cohabitation of varying expertise in one studio allows beginners to practice along more advanced students in a non-intimidating fashion.
“It really motivates them, and beginners at this studio have very fast acceleration,” Lessie said.
Many beginners even go on to earn their teacher certifications under Lessie and turn around to become instructors at Yoga80 themselves. In 2012, Lessie returned from training under Sri Dharma Mittra of the Dharma Yoga Center, one of the nation’s most iconic and influential instructors.
The oldest of 27 cousins, Lessie is a nurturer at heart and her passion is seeing people have life changes through yoga. She said she finds ways to adapt the practice to anyone’s needs. She conducts private lessons with two autistic children, and she works regularly with an 85-year-old man who “arrives a little white in the face but leaves all pink and happy,” she said.
“It’s a way to connect and get [people] to try something they normally wouldn’t,” she said, adding that every new student gets a private lesson as part of their introduction package as well.
“When I give a private lesson I can go more in depth in explaining the techniques and why we do certain things than I can in a normal class setting,” said Lessie. “It’s a great way to connect, and when I do that I often get a student for life.”
Yoga 80 is currently launching a mobile yoga service that conducts classes on-site at area businesses and events. Pastor and Lessie hope to eventually expand the service in other areas of the city or beyond.
“You are more likely to get someone introduced to yoga at their spot than getting them to come here,” Pastor said. “Sometimes it’s hard for people to commit to an hour-and-a-half class, but introducing this to people at work, just getting off the computer for a moment, they realize just five or 10 minutes a day can transform their life.” For more information, visit www.Yoga80.com.
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