G-Sync: Yoga's Humble, Unexpected Beginnings

At the heart of almost every G-Sync piece I've written, there has been a simple motivation, a truth that is also inscribed on Palm Springs City Hall: The People Are The City.

Often, before an individual's touch on our city is apparent or takes hold, there are those humble first steps, the passionate path followed because an idea or system can and does make a difference.

Over the last few years, yoga studios have been popping up in West Michigan in every variation on the form. It is hard to imagine a time when yoga was considered rare, mysterious, and even a threat to some. We now know that yoga can calm the mind, relieve stress, and improve our quality of life.

On Saturday, April 13, Carolyn Heines will celebrate a 35-year milestone with her Yoga Studio at 955 Cherry SE.

Heines began her life in East Grand Rapids, ventured to Smith College to study religion and philosophy, made a brief stop at the University of Michigan, and then returned to Grand Rapids.

"Expectations of women were very different when I graduated from East Grand Rapids High School in 1957," says Heines. She shared the age-old story about women being expected to go to college to get an education, then get married. "I only lasted a week at the University of Michigan before I quit, but I did end up meeting my husband there and so, I did get married."

Heines devoted a portion of her life to making Grand Rapids vibrant by hosting legendary musical acts like Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Ella Fitzgerald, The Moody Blues, and Frank Zappa at Fountain Street Church.

During this time, Heines and her husband raised three children. By the age of 40, she discovered she was missing something. Like many people during this time period of awakening, Heines discovered she was seeking more for her life.

After divorcing her husband, Heines returned to the University of Michigan, but about a decade after a period of cultural revolution had gripped most college campuses.

She returned to study under Dick Mann, who was known for his involvement in the teach-ins which took place back in the '60s. "While Mann had moved away from radical political thought, he was teaching a psychology and religion course where I was introduced to all sorts of Eastern thought," Heines says. (It is worth noting that while Heines was at Smith College studying religion, the courses being offered there rarely wandered off the European-focused path of Christianity and Judaism.)

Heines would be introduced to a yoga retreat at an ashram in Ann Arbor, the place where she would begin her unexpected journey. True to the old saying, for Heines, life began at age 40.

Heines' education ("A life long journey," she reminds me) and study of yoga would take her from workshops to ashrams. She credits the Iyengar Institute of Yoga Teacher Training in San Francisco as the place where she solidified her approach to yoga, adopting their system for the basis of her new business. Iyengar has become one of the leading yoga schools now in the world.

"In those early days of my business -- and with very few students in our city -- I would have to be mobile," says Heines. She points to the stacks of mats, blankets, straps, and other items she would schlep all over our city. "I had to go where people would have me, because I did not have a space yet."

Heines would not get that space until 1998, almost two decades after she began teaching in 1979. Eventually, she did stop hauling her studio on her back and began conducting classes in her home. Eventually, however, the throngs of students created a parking problem in her Eastown neighborhood, so it was time to get a new space. 

The current location of the Yoga Studio in the heart of the bustling Cherry Hill business district finally feels like home after all these years, with its lush, natural wood floor and walls and the bright sun filling the space with a warm glow through south-facing windows.

Thirty-five years is a long time for anyone, much less someone who began this journey at the second stage of their life. So, Heines, now 77, is halfway through a five-year transition out of her business. She is selling the Yoga Studio to one of her  instructors, Kat McKinney.

As I photograph Heines, McKinney breezes past us, peppering each pass through the sun-drenched studio with quick conversations -- typical behavior for a well-oiled business partnership. It is exciting to watch the two navigate.

I could focus on the classical method of yoga practiced by Heines, or reveal the names of individuals in our community whose lives have been changed by her studio. You can see many inspiring photos of those people on her studio walls.

Instead though, I will focus on Heines' path. She began her journey during a time in our history when women were expected to be one-dimensional -- married.  She calmed her mind through yoga and in doing so, created a path for other teachers to follow.

As she meditated over the years, Heines was not only able to change her perspective, but in the process of offering yoga at a time when it was not fashionable, cool, or mistakenly called "yogurt" by some, she helped launch many other souls in our city on their journeys.

"I hope I have learned that I am to be accepting of all things in this universe, to let go of control," says Heines. "Even the negative in this life has played a role in helping me on my life's journey. I am grateful for all and to all who have been a part of this journey. It has given my life meaning."

The Future Needs All of Us … Namaste.

Tommy Allen
Lifestyle Editor
[email protected]

G-Sync Events can be discovered here.

On Saturday, April 13 the community is invited to celebrate Heines’ 35th Anniversary with her staff at The Yoga Studio from 5 - 8 p.m.  
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