Mindful Metropolis November 2010 : Page 32

one on one OLD SCHOOL YOGA Gabriel Halpren celebrates 25 years of Chicago’s Yoga Circle and reflects on the studio’s early days, the people who make it stand out and what it means to be a yoga teacher today by Libby LoWE A self-described old school teacher, Gabriel Halpren opened Yoga Circle in River North 25 years ago. As a re-minder, 25 years ago there was no hot yoga, there were no yoga pants that came with a $100 price tag and the sight of someone lug-ging a mat back and forth on the train would have been a bit unusual. Today, the city’s yoga landscape looks a whole lot diff erent. Th ere are dozens of stu-dios, numerous kinds of yoga to choose from and more than a handful of stores specializing in yoga clothes and props. But in 1983, Hal-pren was at the forefront of building the com-munity—everything from the location of his studio to its philosophy was new and exciting. Today, Halpren, his wife and two daugh-ters call the Galewood neighborhood home. When he’s not on a yoga mat, he might be found gardening, taking fl amenco dance classes or playing the guitar. But when asked about how he spends his free time, Halpren fi rst answers like a guy who has kept the pas-sion for his profession alive. “When you do what you love to do, you solve the work/joy dichotomy. Who has time for free time? I have created a lifestyle where I am not looking for free time, my life is my time.” Halpren took some of that time to refl ect back on the early days, talk about the people who make Yoga Circle stand out and what it means to be a yoga teacher today. one OLD SCHOOL YOGA Gabriel Halpren celebrates 25 years of Chicago’s Yoga Circle and reflects on the studio’s early days, the people who make it stand out and what it means to be a yoga teacher today by Libby LoWE A self-described old school teacher, Gabriel Halpren opened Yoga Circle in River North 25 years ago. As a re-minder, 25 years ago there was no hot yoga, there were no yoga pants that came with a $100 price tag and the sight of someone lug-ging a mat back and forth on the train would have been a bit unusual. Today, the city’s yoga landscape looks a whole lot diff erent. Th ere are dozens of stu-dios, numerous kinds of yoga to choose from and more than a handful of stores specializing in yoga clothes and props. But in 1983, Hal-pren was at the forefront of building the com-munity—everything from the location of his studio to its philosophy was new and exciting. Today, Halpren, his wife and two daugh-ters call the Galewood neighborhood home. When he’s not on a yoga mat, he might be found gardening, taking fl amenco dance classes or playing the guitar. But when asked about how he spends his free time, Halpren fi rst answers like a guy who has kept the pas-sion for his profession alive. “When you do what you love to do, you solve the work/joy dichotomy. Who has time for free time? I have created a lifestyle where I am not looking for free time, my life is my time.” Halpren took some of that time to refl ect back on the early days, talk about the people who make Yoga Circle stand out and what it means to be a yoga teacher today. Thanks Thanks so much for inviting me to yoga Circle and for talking to Mind-ful Metropolis. Congratulations on 25 years! Let’s go back to when you started the studio. Tell me about the yoga scene then and about some of your goals for yoga Circle. Th ere were a few people early on, a smat-tering of us really. Th ere wasn’t an Iyengar center or Ashtanga classes or Anusara. At the time, I was taking classes with Bea Briggs and she was studying Sanskrit. Everyone we knew was working independently out of his or her homes. We wanted to create a central place. Th e name Yoga Circle supports that philoso-phy—a circle is a perfect sphere and a meta-phor for wholeness. We were ahead of our time in many ways. We chose River North as the location because it was so close to the Loop and Lincoln Park. We knew it was an up-and-coming area even though there was nothing built up west of Orleans back then. With so many studios in the city and so many styles of yoga to choose from, the community has really exploded. For people not familiar with yoga Circle, what makes this place special? Every teacher has to have chutzpah to think, ‘the only thing every other studio doesn’t have is me.’ You have to have that bra-zen audacity to step out in front of people. I have wonderful teachers here. We are blessed with eight certifi ed Iyengar teachers, and a number have been with me 10 years or more. Th e continuity of the community is phenom-enal. Our teachers are trained second to none and it takes tremendous pressure off of me. Some of them are taking more advanced cer-tifi cation than I am; they are in India more than I am. It’s one thing to be an individual, but I’m really leading a community. We also have chocolate after every class! What class would you recommend to someone who is new to yoga Circle or new to yoga? Our intro class is for brand new students, those coming back after an absence or those who have never experienced Iyengar yoga be-fore. Usually I would say, go to the intro class. Students tend to over-estimate their abili-ties. If you don’t stand on your head and can’t push up into a backbend—or don’t know the Sanskrit words for the poses—you should come to a level 1 or intro class. If people have injuries, I try to get them to a gentle class. But no matter what the class, no one should be intimidated by anyone who does the Cirque Du Soleil type poses. As I say, I have been to the fl oor: there’s nothing there.

One On One: Old School Yoga

Libby Lowe

<b>Gabriel Halpren celebrates 25 years of Chicago’s Yoga Circle and reflects on the studio’s early days, the people who make it stand out and what it means to be a yoga teacher today</b><br /> <br /> A self-described old school teacher, Gabriel Halpren opened Yoga Circle in River North 25 years ago. As a reminder, 25 years ago there was no hot yoga, there were no yoga pants that came with a $100 price tag and the sight of someone lugging a mat back and forth on the train would have been a bit unusual.<br /> <br /> Today, the city’s yoga landscape looks a whole lot different. There are dozens of studios, numerous kinds of yoga to choose from and more than a handful of stores specializing in yoga clothes and props. But in 1983, Halpren was at the forefront of building the community— everything from the location of his studio to its philosophy was new and exciting.<br /> <br /> Today, Halpren, his wife and two daughters call the Galewood neighborhood home. When he’s not on a yoga mat, he might be found gardening, taking flamenco dance classes or playing the guitar. But when asked about how he spends his free time, Halpren first answers like a guy who has kept the passion for his profession alive. “When you do what you love to do, you solve the work/joy dichotomy. Who has time for free time? I have created a lifestyle where I am not looking for free time, my life is my time.”<br /> <br /> Halpren took some of that time to reflect back on the early days, talk about the people who make Yoga Circle stand out and what it means to be a yoga teacher today.<br /> <br /> <b>Thanks so much for inviting me to Yoga Circle and for talking to Mindful Metropolis. Congratulations on 25 years! Let’s go back to when you started the studio. Tell me about the yoga scene then and about some of your goals for Yoga Circle.</b><br /> <br /> There were a few people early on, a smattering of us really. There wasn’t an Iyengar center or Ashtanga classes or Anusara. At the time, I was taking classes with Bea Briggs and she was studying Sanskrit. Everyone we knew was working independently out of his or her homes. We wanted to create a central place. The name Yoga Circle supports that philosophy— a circle is a perfect sphere and a metaphor for wholeness. We were ahead of our time in many ways. We chose River North as the location because it was so close to the Loop and Lincoln Park. We knew it was an up-and-coming area even though there was nothing built up west of Orleans back then.<br /> <br /> <b>With so many studios in the city and so many styles of yoga to choose from, the community has really exploded. For people not familiar with Yoga Circle, what makes this place special?</b><br /> <br /> Every teacher has to have chutzpah to think, ‘the only thing every other studio doesn’t have is me.’ You have to have that brazen audacity to step out in front of people. I have wonderful teachers here. We are blessed with eight certified Iyengar teachers, and a number have been with me 10 years or more. The continuity of the community is phenomenal. Our teachers are trained second to none and it takes tremendous pressure off of me. Some of them are taking more advanced certification than I am; they are in India more than I am. It’s one thing to be an individual, but I’m really leading a community. We also have chocolate after every class!<br /> <br /> <b>What class would you recommend to someone who is new to Yoga Circle or new to yoga?</b><br /> <br /> Our intro class is for brand new students, those coming back after an absence or those who have never experienced Iyengar yoga before. Usually I would say, go to the intro class. Students tend to over-estimate their abilities. If you don’t stand on your head and can’t push up into a backbend—or don’t know the Sanskrit words for the poses—you should come to a level 1 or intro class. If people have injuries, I try to get them to a gentle class.<br /> <br /> But no matter what the class, no one should be intimidated by anyone who does the Cirque Du Soleil type poses. As I say, I have been to the floor: there’s nothing there.<br /> <br /> <b>What I first loved about yoga is that it’s not linear progress. There are some poses that feel natural the first time you try them and some that are challenging after years of practice. What led you to yoga and kept you coming back?</b><br /> <br /> I took my first class in 1976 after I injured my back. It was a classic example of the drug addict who becomes an addiction counselor: I knew I wanted to teach and help others heal. In any class you hear about students’ injuries. Everyone’s coming in with an issue, and that tuned me into therapeutics. I started in Chicago and began getting invited to lead workshops around the country. One way I contribute to the local community is by offering therapeutic training. I make free training available here—any teacher from any system can come in and get handson practice.<br /> <br /> <b>Yoga allows for so much evolution. How has your practice changed over the years?</b><br /> <br /> I’m in my 60s and no, I don’t practice the same way that I did in my 20s. I’m still a tiger in my own way, but bodies change. Not only does your body change, if your students stay with you, they are getting older too. Does that mean I can’t take my college students and kick their ass? I could, but who’s trying to kick someone’s ass? Making people sweat isn’t what yoga is about.<br /> <br /> </b>And how has your own growth impacted your teaching style?</b><br /> <br /> The older I get the more I want to mentor people. My focus is really on mentoring. I take on people who will be by my side for years. People stay with me until they die or move or get pregnant.<br /> <br /> I’m really interested in helping people evolve into their own power. I think I’m bordering with one foot in the traditional world, but there’s an eclectic part of me that understands that at some point you have to move out of the shadow of your teachers, so I don’t blame younger practitioners for disconnecting from the lineage. Perhaps that desire comes from being in America where some of our history has to do with being free from the top-heavy quality of the past. But there is something beautiful about tradition, and having people’s past experience to stand on is stultifying. This is one of the judgment calls a contemporary practitioner has to make.<br /> <br /> I do a lot of workshops but I only teach two classes now at the studio and I teach yoga for the theater department at DePaul. I try to teach every class in such a way that if you only have one shot, you get the essence of what I am trying to do philosophywise, asana-wise and community-wise.<br /> <br /> <b>You’ve talked about the gumption necessary to be a teacher and mentor, and Yoga Circle has had some serious success and longevity. How do you define the essence you project in the studio?</b><br /> <br /> I’m interested in being an inspired person and not necessarily inspiring others. The essence of all good teachers is that their sense of being in the moment absorbs you. When I am here, where I am very relaxed, every class is like a special workshop. I am really trying to make the magic happen while we’re together.

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