One of Grand Rapids’ most venerated studios, From the Heart Yoga and Tai Chi Center has found a new home among the treetops on the City’s northeast side at 776 Leonard St. NE. Rick Powell taught the first class—advanced tai chi—in the new second-floor space on July 16. He and his wife, Behnje Masson, have been teaching under the name From the Heart since the mid ‘90s when they met at the Dominican Center on Marywood Campus, where both were teaching classes for its holistic health ministry.
“Marywood provided a great way to introduce yoga to the community and for me to begin teaching in a sacred space,” Masson says. “So many people came through that location that were interested in yoga.”
In 2000, they moved From the Heart into its first brick-and-mortar location on East Fulton street. “We were one of the first storefront yoga studios in the city,” she says.
In 2010, From the Heart moved to 714 Wealthy St. SE with hopes of becoming partner-owners in the building. When, for various reasons, that didn’t work out as planned, they began looking for another location. After three years of searching, Powell noticed the Leonard building and its seemingly vacant second floor as he drove by one day. He did some digging to find the building’s owner, Tommy Schichtel, and messaged him to inquire if the space above his Goon Lagoon Recording Studio might be available.
“He said, ‘Funny you should ask. My wife and I were just thinking about it.’ We met three hours later, went to look at the space, and made a connection,” Powell says. “He needed to have quiet from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. We teach 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then, evenings. It’s a perfect fit.”
Powell and Masson love the old building’s earthy feel, hardwood floors, high ceilings, abundant natural light, and welcoming layout.
“It’s up in the trees, which is a different perspective. The stairway leads to the greeting area, a large studio, a room for talks, a deck, and bathroom. The space flows really nice. It’s gorgeous,” Powell says. “The whole space feels gracious. It’s kind of a homecoming because both Behnje and I were born on the Northeast side.”
Both Powell and Masson have certifications as E-RYT 500 Hatha yoga instructors. Powell began studying Kung Fu and Tai Chi with Master Yen Hoa Lee in 1984. He continues to study with Sifu Lee, whom he considers a father figure, and also assists at classes Lee teaches. “When I was younger, I was quite frequently sick with allergies, circulation issues, and asthma-like symptoms,” Powell says. “Tai chi changed my health. I got extremely strong and healthy. There are also deeper benefits, the feeling like your connected to a flow [of] something larger.”
Powell teaches Tai Chi Jeung, a style that originated in northern China’s Daoist temples. All Tai Chi methods combine the breath, meditation, and movement to find the middle, the center—balance. Finding physical balance helps Tai Chi students feel more centered, grounded, and stable mentally and spiritually as well.
“You flow with things better,” Powell says. “The more rooted you are, the less things knock you over.”
Tai Chi can decrease stress, anxiety, and depression; increase aerobic capacity, stamina, and energy; improve flexibility, strength, balance, and agility; relieve sleep issues and joint pain; and reduce blood pressure and risk of falls.
Masson took her first yoga class 30 years ago. She had been a dancer and wanted to find another way to express herself. While many yoga classes today focus on physical fitness, she sees yoga as a way of life.
“It’s not a trend. It’s a lifestyle. We honor and pass on the traditional arts and honor the countries and cultures that they came from,” Masson says. “We really want to keep the focus on the whole person and how it cultivates you as a human being. That’s why we chose the word ‘center’ not ‘studio.’ It’s about living a well-rounded life and staying connected to something bigger—nature, consciousness, the divine.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy From the Heart Yoga and Tai Chi Center