Yoga Outliers: Three Yoga Studios With Unique TwistsSep 01, 2022 06:00AM ● By Diane Eaton
Giorgi (“Sava”) Savaneli
According to the 2022 Mindbody Wellness Index, Atlanta is one of three U.S. cities with the largest number of residents that practice yoga. And while Atlanta’s numerous studios offer a variety of yoga practices, the vast majority of them implement a similar structure and approach. But three Atlanta studios stand out to us as embodying a more unique mission, identity, or set of offerings, so we spotlight them here: MySore Yoga Atlanta, YogaSkills Atlanta, and Santosha Studio.
MYSORE YOGA ATLANTA
“I’m a very intense person and an over-achiever,” says Giorgi (“Sava”) Savaneli, owner of Mysore Yoga Atlanta in Sandy Springs.
It’s easy to understand why he describes himself that way. Savaneli was born in the country of Georgia in Western Asia when it was still a republic of the Soviet Union, and he began competitive gymnastics at the age of five. He trained under grueling and often very brutal conditions, he says, but he won first place in two competitions and learned discipline and dedication, both of which have fueled his yoga practice to this day. After moving to the U.S. at 19 and studying IT at college, he took a job that required a lot of physical work.
Then he hurt his back. The injury left him bedridden, and when he finally got back on his feet and began to explore ways to work out, he “wandered” into a Vinyasa yoga class to see what it was about. And on his drive home, he experienced a stillness and quiet mind he’d never experienced before, and it deeply resonated with him.
“I really understood that there was something there. I experienced yoga, essentially. I experienced the subtleties of yoga practice, and I really liked it.” His highly developed body awareness and gymnast background made even some of the more advanced poses quite doable for him as he explored yoga at several studios around town. When he discovered Ashtanga yoga, he felt a special affinity. He was drawn to its focused and personalized approach—and it helped him eliminate the pain in his back. He soon completed a 200-hour one-on-one certification in Ashtanga. He traveled to the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India, and after five years of practice, research, and self-study, his teacher transmitted the teachings to him, earning him authorization to teach. He is now one of just three authorized teachers of traditional Ashtanga yoga in Georgia.
At Mysore Yoga Atlanta, Savaneli continues that personal approach—conveying knowledge based on direct and practical experience from teacher to student. The studio offers guided Ashtanga yoga classes, where the instructor is in the typical role of guide and teacher while the students follow their lead. But the crown jewel of the studio is its Mysore Ashtanga yoga classes, in which students get to learn in a slower, more therapeutic, highly individualized manner. The Mysore approach, says Savaneli, is appropriate for both beginning and very advanced students. Savaneli refers to it as “assisted self-study.”
“There’s a misunderstanding that to do Mysore, you need to know Ashtanga, but it’s not true,” he says. Starting with short sessions, the teachings are tailored to the student’s age, experience, stamina, resistance, flexibility and presence.
“Yoga is an inside journey, and we need to teach students in a way that encourages looking inside. But it’s not pleasant to look at yourself, and it’s not popular because it forces us to be honest with ourselves. But if we want to find long-lasting happiness, that’s just the work that needs to be done.”
This article is one of three yoga articles in our sixth annual yoga special section. Check out other two!
This article is one of three yoga articles in our sixth annual yoga special section. Check out other two!
While it is nowhere near as well known as Hatha, Ashtanga, Kundalini and the many other types of yoga that originated in India, the roots of Kemetic yoga date back even earlier than its Indian counterparts, according to research, and it did so in Egypt, then known as “Kemet,” in Central Africa. “Kemet” translates to “the Black Land,” and Kemetic yoga brings to modern times the heart of the self-development practices of ancient Kemetic culture.
Iyabo (“Iya”) Ifafunmiloa Kiyaa Faluade, CEO of YogaSkills studio in Atlanta, came to Kemetic yoga naturally—she was literally born into it. Her father, Master Yirser Ra Hotep, had been learning breathwork and energy work and exploring Kemetic science when an exhibit of Egyptian culture arrived in Chicago in the 1970s. Together with his own metaphysical teacher, Ra Hotep “learned that the depicted poses [in the exhibit artwork] had significant meaning to the human body, mind, and spirit,” says Faluade. Since it had a lot in common with the yoga of India, they named the practice Kemetic yoga.
Faluade, a priestess of Ifa, grew up steeped in African culture and traditions. Starting a Kemetic yoga studio was “just in divine order,” says Faluade, “because it’s part of who I am and what I grew up knowing, doing and understanding.”
In Chicago, Ra Hotep taught and occasionally took students to Egypt with him to explore its tombs, temples and pyramids and to deepen their understanding of ancient African history and culture. He continues to take groups to Egypt to this day. Eventually, he developed the YogaSkills method of Kemetic yoga, which draws on the movements and postures found on the temple walls of Kemet.
Faluade moved to Atlanta in 1994 and opened YogaSkills Atlanta in 2017. At YogaSkills, she provides private instruction, six-week courses as well as a 200-hour Kemetic Yoga teacher training, which is registered with and recognized by the Yoga Alliance. Some of her certified trainers return to the studio to teach classes. She also frequently offers free programs to the community and is beginning to move into corporate settings, too.
Rule of Four and Geometric Progression
The YogaSkills method focuses on the circulation of life force to facilitate inner transformation as it seeks to build alignment with the Divinities and ancestral spirits of Africa. It also helps to align the spinal column, correct defects in the skeletal-muscular system and create a high level of mindfulness. “As long as you can breathe, as long as you can move, you can do anything,” says Faluade. “So, if you’re not able to get into a particular posture, with the proper breathing and the proper movement, you will eventually be able to move into it.” Being a meditative practice, the practice also “connects your mind, body and spirit to each other and helps you separate yourself from anything that’s not serving you.”
Faluade feels strongly about letting the public know that Kemetic yoga welcomes people of all kinds, from all over the world. Many of the certified Kemetic yoga teachers are not Black. “Just because it comes from Africa doesn’t mean other people can’t come and practice it.” But she admits that the practice is especially intended for people of color who are looking for something more in alignment with their ancestry than what India-originating yoga might offer for them.
Thanks to the dedication of Ra Hotep and Faluade, there are now more than 7,000 certified Kemetic yoga teachers worldwide. A number of celebrities have embraced Kemetic yoga over the years, including Michelle Obama, Babatunde Olatunji and Chadwick Boseman.
Contentment. That’s the translation of “santosha” from Sanskrit. But more importantly, to Amanda Trevolino, C-IAYT, YACEP, E-RYT 500, the owner of Santosha Studio, santosha is one of the 10 niyamas, or observances, within the yogic journey to spiritual freedom and enlightenment. “It’s not a contentment that is based on our external circumstances, though,” she says. “I try to create a place of contentment for people, a place that hopefully feels like a container where they can do very deep work into self-study.” Her mission is to steward self-observation in others. Santosha is “a place to connect with that container and explore other aspects of yoga more deeply.”
The niyamas are one of the eight core “limbs” of yoga, and they are very much woven into Trevolino’s approach to her work and her life. After discovering that she had a dysregulated nervous system and, seeking to heal what traditional medicine couldn’t seem to help, she started a yoga practice and traveled the world to explore methods and practices for healing and awakening. She sees yoga as a bridge that helps us connect our everyday consciousness with our higher consciousness, helping us to abide in that contentment.
After completing her 500-hour teacher training, Trevolino was drawn to becoming a yoga therapist, requiring another 300 hours of training. Yoga therapy is the application of yogic practices, such as postures, breathwork and meditation techniques, to address someone’s physical, mental and emotional needs. “I wanted to guide people in what I’ve learned about how yoga can regulate the nervous system and make us more okay with ourselves,” she says. “And when our inner world is okay, we’re able to make our outer world that much more okay.”
People come to her with a physical injury, seeking healing and trying to figure out “how they want to move.” She might lead them in gentle movement and focus on cultivating interoception—awareness of what’s going on in one’s own body. Her favorite niche is spinal cord injury.
Not Your Typical Yoga Classes
The Santosha studio doesn’t offer the usual daily or weekly classes that you find at most other yoga studios. “Its primary function began as a place for me to work with private clients,” says Trevolino. But she also frequently schedules guest teachers to host classes on such topics as mantra, kirtan, sound baths, sacred circles and kintsugi— putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold, a metaphor for embracing one’s flaws and imperfections.
Her hope is that people that come to her studio gain a recognition of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all things. “Healing also happens in community,” says Trevolino. “We do a lot of work in circle, and I find that sacred symbolism can be very powerful. There’s a beautiful continuity—each of us contributing to the other person’s experience.”
Trevolino is also generating small group experiences, exploring what she calls “conscious travel.” “It’s like doing karma yoga in the world,” she says. “Can we travel without doing harm to the place that we’re going?” she asks, referencing the niyama ahimsa, or doing no harm. “Can we not cling, not grasp, when confronted with not having many of the conveniences we Westerners are used to?” she asks, referencing the yama, aparigraha, or non-grasping. And, referencing satya, truthfulness, she asks, “Can we recognize our truth and speak truth in the world without creating more harm?”
“It’s not like I’ve mastered inner peace,” she says, “and have all that buttoned up. I need these practices when I get deep into my humanness. I need to remember that my essence is something higher and deeply connected.”❧
For more information about these yoga studios: