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Funky Buddha heats up the West Michigan yoga scene

Larissa Link, director of Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse.

It's always hot at the Funky Buddha.

Larissa Link, director of Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse

Funky Buddha has expanded in three years it's been open.

Accessories for sale at Funky Buddha.

Your work day began knotting itself up at the base of your neck and straining across your shoulders since your long morning commute. From there, the knot tossed threads up to your temples during a frustrating meeting with the boss. Midday, a tension headache pounded inside your skull. By end of day, your spine had stiffened into a broomstick.

The cure? Walk into Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse at 1331 Lake Dr SE in Grand Rapids, or 12330 James St. in Holland, and you’ll soon feel the stress and tension of the day melt away. On November 2, a third Funky Buddha location will open at 820 Forest Hills Ave SE in the Forest Hills area to meet growing demand for yoga classes in greater Grand Rapids.

Yoga dates back more than 5,000 years, but the ancient practice is making a remarkable resurgence both nationally and locally -- arguably alongside the surge of stress in contemporary society. Harvard University neuroscientist Sat Bir Khalsa has been researching the ancient art and the therapeutic role it plays not only in alleviating stress, but also helping with sleep disorders, anxiety, diabetes, HIV, cancer, and many other health issues. Yoga is even being incorporated into military training. Is yoga the old magic pill made new again?

“People have become more mindful about health,” says Larissa Link, director of Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse in Holland. She, like most of the Funky Buddha teachers, travels from one yoga studio to the other to accommodate class schedules. “We don’t just think about diet anymore. We think about overall health, and the need for stress release is huge today.”

Funky Buddha is the brainchild of Kerri and Chris Reinbold, Grand Rapids natives who moved away to Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin, for some years, but then returned to Grand Rapids in 2009 to raise their sons. With Kerri’s yoga expertise and Chris’s entrepreneurial skills, they combined their talents to create a studio not unlike those they had enjoyed in the bigger cities. 

“When you first walk into the studio, it feels like a warm hug,” says Link. “That’s because we keep the temperature at 95 degrees.”

The body’s musculature, Link explains, is like glass. The more heat, the more malleable the body becomes. The more malleable, the more flexible, and the more flexible, the less prone to injury.

“Working out in the heat feels really good,” Link says. “Think of it as something like a sauna. I don’t like vacationing in Florida, but this is different. Once you’re in it, you forget about it—the body adapts. I’ve fallen in love with it, although I still won’t vacation in Florida.” Link laughs.

The Grand Rapids location is LEED-certified, in accordance with building regulations for energy and water efficiency and environmentally-friendly building materials. The studio has 3,400 square feet with cork flooring, a heating and humidifying system, a surround-sound system, private changing rooms and private bathrooms.

“We started with two teachers and four part-time staffers. We now have 11 teachers, more than 15 operations staffers, and 60-plus assistants,” says Link. Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse has added new front desk positions to staff the newest location, she says, but initially will share teachers between studios while gauging demand with the soon-to-open Forest Hills studio.

“We offer many different kinds and levels of classes,” Link adds. “There’s a style of yoga that works for every kind of body, and we have clients from age 16 to age 85 currently attending yoga classes.”

A class participant named Jason glows with a review about his yoga experience:  “The Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse teachers are excellent and practicing in the heat takes yoga to a new level. I leave class feeling like someone has picked me up by my feet and head and twisted, wringing me out. It's an amazing feeling.”

Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse offers a beginners’ introductory package of 30 days for $39, with unlimited yoga. Otherwise, the rate is $140 per month, or $20 to just drop in for a session. Student, senior, and military discounts at half price are also available. A community class drop-in is only $5.

“Of course, you can practice yoga at home,” Link says, “but there are advantages to joining a studio. It gives a different level of accountability, a sense of community. You might be feeling—eh, I don’t want to do this today—but you come to the studio, and the others there get you inspired.”

Link understands hesitance at beginning yoga. She had to try three times before it “took.” Exercising to a video didn’t work for her, either.

“I started yoga in college for a physical education credit,” Link smiles. “Yes, I enjoyed it, but I didn’t stick with it after the class was done. A friend brought me to Funky Buddha, and I was reluctant about the heat, but after the class, lying there in a pool of sweat, I realized: I felt really, really good!”

With a degree in photography and work experience managing a Starbucks coffee shop, Link was almost 30 “when I decided to grow up,” she laughs. “I love my job at Funky Buddha. I love yoga. My husband jokes that it’s just a bunch of ladies stretching, but yoga is much more challenging than that. He’s doing yoga now, too. There’s definitely a cardio aspect to it.”

Link says opening events are being planned for the opening of the new location in November. “We’ll probably have some mini classes, maybe some cupcakes from local businesses. It will be fun! We’re opening the new location to give our customers another option where they can go. It’s at close proximity to the highway, and a four-minute drive from our current location in Eastown. We will offer different class times, so people can choose what and where works best for them.”

For more information, call 616.459.9642 at Eastown or 616.392.3225 at the Holland location.
Zinta Aistars is creative director for Z Word, LLC, and editor of the literary magazine, The Smoking Poet. She lives on a farm in Hopkins. 

Photography by Adam Bird

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