The Empowering Spirit of Yoga

By Esha Chhabra - Ventura County Star

Saturday, November 2, 2013

"It's not about pretzel poses," says Mina Izadsepas, founder of Soul Body Yoga in Moorpark.
Yoga. No, not the kind that you do to sweat off extra cheeseburgers. The kind of yoga that is inspired by ancient Vedic texts: a spiritual exercise that requires physical and emotional strength.

Indeed, it's not about pretzel poses and ridding yourself of guilty pleasures. Yoga is a deeply spiritual exercise that harkens back to ancient roots, reportedly as far back as the third century. I've always been intrigued by yoga. Before it became a fashion statement, yoga was practiced primarily by thin, wiry ascetics up in the mountains of northern India. At least that's what I thought, growing up in the country.

It wasn't 'till the late '90s that yoga really began to catch on with a more mainstream audience, especially here in the U.S., where it was merely an exercise, though. Yet, if you dig a bit further, yoga is meant to stretch your soul as well as your muscles.

The Yoga Sutras state "absolute freedom occurs when the lucidity of material nature and spirit are in pure equilibrium." Yoga helps you get there. You work to rid yourself of material clutter that's preventing you from reaching that elated state.
While yoga has become a fad in recent decades, a business for many, its spiritual core has been overlooked. Mina is trying to bring that back.

In 1978, Mina arrived in America, leaving her family behind in Iran. She enrolled in English classes at UCLA where she befriended a group of yoga practitioners.

In her Moorpark studio, she keeps a black-and-white snapshot of her as a 19-year-old alongside Swami Satchidananda, a highly revered yoga teacher who helped popularize the practice in the U.S. At school, Mina was drawn to the arts. But as a single woman, responsible for her financial independence in a new country, she decided to follow a more "reliable" route — medicine.

After graduating, Mina worked as a radiologist for many years. "It was, honestly, a financial decision. It was not my passion." She started doing fitness training on the side, leading boot camps and intensive exercise routines. "It was breaking down my body — all that activity."

And so, Mina returned to yoga. After seeing the effects of modern medicine and excessive exercise on the body, she was lulled into the gentler, more lyrical nuances of yoga.

She quit work to pursue yoga full-time, finally, opening her studio in Moorpark, where she could do yoga with soul. Thus, her studio is aptly titled: Body Soul Yoga.

That commercialization of yoga has helped make it more mainstream, she acknowledges, which is "a good thing," but at the same time, she worries that it's been commoditized. At her studio, she tries to be beyond that with her students: "I hope that you see more to it than the physical aspect of it," she tells them.

Mina has incorporated classes that go beyond the commonly practiced hatha yoga to promote mindfulness, healing, clarity and meditation. Her Sunday afternoon community meditation class is one of the most popular classes, she says. A mix of gentle yoga and an exercise in mindfulness, it has attracted quite a few regulars.

Essentially, her motto is empowerment, she says. Yoga is a means to do it. "I want them (students) to be masters of their ego and not let their ego be their master."

Mina is taking this motto further now. She's been working with teens who come from troubled households or have a history of substance abuse. She invites them to the studio, and uses yoga as a catalyst for emotional healing.

It's a social venture that's forcing her to rethink her art. How does she use yoga as a platform for these youth to find some peace and calm in their turbulent lives, she reflects. She's already seeing impact, though. The teens have seen improvements in their studies and found a venue to work through their frustrations.

Yoga is not a one-hour time commitment. It's one way to bring some quiet and purpose into our seemingly chaotic lives. It goes beyond an index of poses — if you let it.

First published in the Venutra County Star November 2, 2013

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