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Ashtanga Santa Barbara Combines Exercise, Meditation And Mental Focus

By S. Mathur

Ashtanga Santa Barbara teaches the Mysore style of yoga, practiced in the traditional way. Owners and founders Michele Nichols and Steve Dwelley actually met in Mysore when they were students of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. The classes are modeled upon his teaching as well his that practiced by his daughter Saraswati and his grandson Sharath at the Ashtanga Research Institute in in South India. The studio opened in 1998, when yoga was just becoming popular in the US.

"We sensed that we could teach Ashtanga in a fairly authentic manner, without needing to dumb it down- people were ready," Dwelley said. "I've found Ashtanga to be a method of practice which holds up at the deepest levels of profundity. It is the 'genuine article' and like other non-watered down meditation methods from Asia, it can offer immense spiritual and personal development, as good as anything humanity has come up with."

The system is focused on clearing blockages, building strength and tuning undeveloped areas in the body. This work is replicated in the mind, awakening the nervous system and clearing physical and mental pathologies.

"We offer exercise combined with meditation and mental focus and the combination is strong stuff," Dwelley said. "Those who seek a rewarding challenge will find it here. We are willing to be in close relationship with those who come."

The studio follows the traditional and rigorous practice of yoga six days a week, with breaks for the full and new moon. It is not mandatory for students to follow this schedule, and they can devise one for themselves in consultation with the teachers. Dwelley and Nichols are willing to work with and help those who want to focus on the work.

"The atmosphere in our studio is focused and sincere, with a heart-centered vibration," Dwelley said. "Hilarious things happen periodically, serious fun. We don't play music, and the Mysore style classes are often silent save for the sound of the breath and dialogues between individual students and the teacher."

New students may feel intimidated by a studio without the usual props, incense or music. They can just dive in with a monthly unlimited series and attend as many classes as they can. Or they can take one of the introductory classes, which are offered periodically. Other options are to study privately for a while or to take led classes.

Dwelley feels that working with his life partner gives their relationship an immense sense of purpose, though their styles are different. Together they have a synergy that is larger than anything they could reach singly.

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