Early Roots of Atlanta’s Passion for YogaSep 02, 2021 06:00AM ● By Sheila Ewers
William Huffschmidt (Photo: Jason Dennard)
Yoga practitioners throughout the Atlanta metro area have a virtually unlimited number of places and opportunities to get instruction and guidance nowadays. A quick online search lists more than 50 dedicated studios in Atlanta alone, not including the gyms, community centers, parks, neighborhoods and schools that offer practices of all sorts. But 25 years ago, the Atlanta yoga community was in its infancy. It was just a handful of dedicated, curious and passionate seekers who traveled around the country and brought the knowledge they gained back to Atlanta. They taught classes wherever they could and have since shared their expertise with thousands of Atlantans over the years. They’ve also built robust yoga communities that continue to birth new teachers and change lives even today.
We spoke to three teachers who have contributed to the evolution of yoga in Atlanta since its early years.
Founder, Peachtree Yoga
Graham Fowler’s yoga practice started when he first read Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan by Richard Hittleman. Fowler was a musician with an established meditation practice, and he decided to add yoga to his daily routine. He practiced at home and, if he happened to be on the road, in hotel rooms.
There were only a few yoga teachers in Atlanta at the time, so Fowler found guides throughout the country and enrolled in trainings with experts such as Rodney Yee. Later, he completed an immersive teacher training at the White Lotus Foundation in Santa Barbara, California, and received certification with Phoenix Rising School of Yoga Therapy. Through the years, he has trained in Ashtanga, Integrative, and other forms of yoga. At the core of his relationship with yoga remains an unwavering dedication to meditation—now at 47 years of unbroken daily practice.
As he taught yoga at the Buckhead YMCA, Fowler cultivated a community of students who met for potluck dinners and practiced in his home. By 1998, he had graduated his first group of trainees and began to feel that the next step was to open his own center. There were only two yoga studios operating in Atlanta at the time, so it was a risk. Even the prospective landlord questioned the wisdom of the decision. But Fowler prevailed, and Peachtree Yoga Center (PYC) was born.
Since then, Fowler has graduated more than 800 yoga teachers who, in turn, spread the teaching of yoga throughout the metro area. Many of them, including Elizabeth “Ursala” Nix, opened studios of their own. In 2019, Fowler passed the PYC torch to Ilona Moore. While she now owns Peachtree Yoga, Fowler continues to teach a weekly class and lead yoga teacher trainings.
When asked for his advice to those just beginning a practice, he simply offers a quote from Rumi: “What you seek is seeking you.” To anyone from his past, he says, “I just have so much love and gratitude for all of you who chose to walk this path with me for however long you did. May the light within you continue to grow and spread to all those you meet.”
Swami Jaya Devi
Founder, Kashi Yoga Atlanta
Like Fowler, Swami Jaya Devi’s interest in yoga began with books. She began practicing at the age of 14 and discovered Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha in high school, a book she feels was pivotal to the launch of her spiritual journey. She sought out The Bhagavad Gita and immersed herself in a yoga practice that became a tool for healing in ways she didn’t even imagine.
When she moved to Georgia in the 1980s to attend the Atlanta College of Art, she began practicing yoga in a studio for the first time. Under the guidance of Donna DeLuca at New Moves Yoga in Little Five Points, she completed her first 200-hour teacher certification. Since then, she has studied yoga, meditation and healing in-depth, focusing on hatha, kundalini and kali natha forms of yoga. She was a close student of Ma Jaya at Kashi Ashram in Sebastian, Florida.
Then she began teaching. Devi held classes in diverse locations, including the First Existentialist Congregation in Candler Park, the Callenwolde Fine Arts Center and the AIDS and HIV units at Grady Hospital. In 1998, she opened Jaya Devi Yoga Studio, which eventually emerged as Kashi Ashram Atlanta. Devi has trained more than 500 teachers at Kashi. She also brings yoga and mindfulness practices to marginalized communities in the Metro area through outreach programs such as the Prisons Yoga Project, Street Meals and Children’s Art Camp. She will publish her first book this year on the yamas and niyamas—the first two limbs of the yogi’s eight-limbed path.
Her advice to those beginning a yoga practice: “Explore until it resonates. Yoga can meet you where you are, no matter where you are.”
Founder, Jai Shanti Candler Park (2003-2012)
Lead Teacher, Pranakriya School of Yoga
William Hufschmidt’s spiritual journey began with a car accident when he was 14 years old. It took two years of his life in traction, in a wheelchair, on crutches and in physical therapy to fully regain mobility. During that time, he discovered that paying attention to his breath and quieting his mind were powerful allies on the road to healing.
In 1989, while a college student in California, Hufschmidt took his first yoga class. Yoga was still something of a niche activity at the time, but Hufschmidt took to it immediately and began to teach under the supervision of his first teacher, Lorna Brown. By 1996, he had relocated to Atlanta to take a corporate job, which he left just four years later to dedicate himself to teaching. He began leading 18 classes a week at the YMCA amid an exciting local yoga environment, as new teachers were emerging and the first yoga studios were taking shape. Through word of mouth, information about Hufschmidt’s classes and workshops spread, and a core group of devoted practitioners frequented a handful of locations in the city, sharing what they learned.
Hufschmidt completed his 200- and 500-hour yoga teacher training programs at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Massachusetts, where he met his primary teacher and influence, Yoganand Michael Carroll.
In 2003, while back in Atlanta, Hufschmidt opened his own studio, Jai Shanti, in the Candler Park neighborhood of Atlanta. After Yoganand moved to North Carolina, Hufschmidt frequently traveled there to continue training with his mentor and eventually began facilitating Pranakriya trainings at Jai Shanti. In 2012, Hufschmidt closed his studio so he could travel and teach in Atlanta and elsewhere. To date, he has trained almost 300 teachers in the Pranakriya tradition across eight states.
To those just beginning a yoga practice, Hufschmidt offers the following advice: “Pay more attention to your breathing and how your breathing and thoughts react/respond to your body’s movements and the shapes you make. Over the course of your life, your body, its abilities and its needs will change, and your practice should grow and change with your body. Harder yoga practice does not mean you have a better yoga practice.” ❧
Sheila Ewers, ERYT500, YACEP, owns Blue Lotus Yoga in Johns Creek. A former professor of writing and literature, she leads group and private lessons, yoga philosophy workshops, yoga teacher trainings and retreats. Contact her at [email protected].
More Yoga Thrives in Atlanta
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