For longtime Spokane yoga teacher Robin Marks, connecting with her body and her yoga students is as natural as breathing.
“It’s so integral to who I am and how I experience life,” Marks said.
It’s evident in the way she greets her students personally, gently corrects their form and calmly urges them to listen to their bodies. It hasn’t always been easy in the pandemic, however Marks linked technology and yoga to begin offering classes via Zoom video conferencing to keep reaching her students.
Marks has always had a connection to yoga. She grew up in Encinitas, Calif., a beach town famously home to Paramahansa Yogananda’s ashram. Yogananda was one of the first gurus to bring yoga to the Western world in the early 1920s. His “Autobiography of a Yogi” sold millions of copies and brought the practice of yoga to mainstream America.
Despite growing up so close to the famous ashram, Marks didn’t begin doing yoga consistently until she moved to Montreal, Canada, to pursue her master’s degree in musicology at McGill University.
There she began doing some “deep spiritual work” and found that practicing yoga was “part of the motor to that.”
Yoga enhanced her meditative process and allowed her to connect to her body. After graduating, Marks was a jazz musician for a few years before moving to California in the 1980s. Nearly a decade later, in 1989, Marks and her husband decided to move to Spokane with their young child for a better quality of life.
Once in Spokane, Marks struggled to find a yoga class to attend, so she decided to teach one herself. Her first classes, held in the basement of a local church, quickly filled up, and it wasn’t long before she began teaching for Spokane Parks and Recreation. Now, she runs Spokane Urban Ashram Yoga.
Spokane nurse Linda Fadeley saw a flyer for one of Marks’ classes in the breakroom at Sacred Heart Medical Center about 25 years ago.
“Immediately I knew that this was what I needed to do,” Fadeley said. “Being a nurse is a little stressful and I was going through some things as we all do … . It was just a perfect fit from the first class.”
Since then, Fadeley has been following Marks wherever she’s teaching.
Marks is so open and non-judgmental it creates a peaceful environment that leaves attendees feeling ready to take on the rest of their week, Fadeley said.
“She is just an amazing person and an incredible teacher,” Fadeley said. “She’s just very kind and it shows through the way she teaches.”
Not long after, she became the first yoga teacher at Eastern Washington University. She also got her master’s degree in counseling psychology and began offering yoga therapy, which Marks said helps release clients from the traumas and tensions they carry.
For Hazel Bergtholdt, Marks’ classes have been a healing experience. Bergtholdt began taking the classes with her parents in the late 1980s. She loved the way Marks focused on breath in her classes and gently corrected postures.
Then she and her family moved to California and had to give up Marks classes, although they all continued doing yoga.
One day, Bergtholdt’s mother, Joyce Bergtholdt, had planned to take a yoga class but didn’t feel well. She told her husband, Edward Bertholdt, to go ahead and take the class. When he got home, he found his wife dead.
Bergtholdt’s last conversation she had with her mother was about yoga, and that made it difficult to return to taking classes. Then during the COVID-19 pandemic Bergtholdt and her father reconnected with Marks who began offering her yoga classes via Zoom.
Bergtholdt and her father take chair yoga together weekly, which has been an extremely healing experience, she said.
Teaching classes via Zoom has allowed people like Bergtholdt to reconnect and begin taking classes from Marks again. They even built a little sub community of pets that popped on screen during the classes, Marks said with a laugh.
When former Evangelical Lutheran Church Bishop Martin Wells, 72, retired about three years ago his one promise to himself was that he “wouldn’t go down without stretching.”
He quickly became a faithful, twice-a-week attendee at Marks’ classes.
“I was really really sore for a little while,” Wells said with a chuckle. “I was also very glad that I had signed up.”
Marks “takes a very reverent perspective toward it,” Wells said.
“The deep breathing turns out to be a great big part of the whole healing that’s going on for the body,” Wells said.
Marks encourages attendees to release the tensions they carry through thoughtful breathing which leads to moments of connecting with their bodies, she said. “When your body is speaking to you, go in there.”
That mind/body connection is healing and invigorating for Wells, he said.
“Getting older is not for sissies, but this class is keeping me alive in so many ways … it’s just rejuvenating on so many levels,” Wells said.