Dominique Ponko sits at the head of the class, leading yogis through muscle-lengthening postures with the steady flow of her deep, rhythmic inhales and exhales. It’s been a long journey for Dominique. She first sought out yoga at the age of 26 to help her cope with life-threatening seizures and a slow-growing brain tumor. Yoga comforted her through three difficult years, welcoming her into a space for healing spiritually before she was able to find the proper medicine to help her heal physically. Though still a little shaky, Dominique has triumphed and opened four yoga studios—voted Best of the ‘Burgh in 2010—to inspire her students to ease their ailments, build strength, and find inner peace.
During her studio's heated Vinyasa-flow classes, an enthusiastic and supportive instructor guides students through a series of strengthening postures that work to increase flexibility and build muscles. Warm, balmy air courses through the studio, pricking beads of sweat on brows to help detox bodies and loosen stiff muscles into deep, soothing stretches.
Rebecca Rankin and Lisa Lau came out of college prepared to be an architect and an engineer, respectively. Today, they own Bikram Yoga Squirrel Hill. Their goals haven't changed much, though—Rebecca specializes in the architecture of the human body, and Lisa studies its engineering, teaching students how to bend and breathe during each 90-minute class.
These classes are held in a studio heated to around 105 degrees. But newcomers to the practice needn't worry—as the space's website says, "The heat is not there to make it tough, it is there to help." As participants move through the 26 asanas, or postures, of Bikram yoga, the heat loosens up their muscles and encourages a detoxifying sweat, allowing for deeper stretches and a smoother post-workout slip-and-slide ride. Rebecca, Lisa, and their fellow instructors limit their class sizes to better personalize their guidance, and welcome guests of all skill levels to attend any session.
The proud and pliable recipient of a yoga mat's worth of accolades, Amazing Yoga spreads its limber arms to embrace all practitioners, welcoming stretching sophomores and savants alike. Talented, passionate instructors lead an array of classes over a flexible schedule at each of Amazing Yoga's four studios. Clients can frequent the studio of their choice and stack their chakras in classes such as the Basics, a beginner's power-yoga class that emphasizes foundation postures, helping practitioners build up a strong foundation to withstand floods, high winds, and tickling attacks. Amazing Yoga recommends bringing your own water bottle and a mat to classes, though rental mats are available for $2 per class.
Yoga H'om's instructors continually encourage students to push the limits of their abilities by patiently introducing new skill sets to beginners and challenging seasoned yogis to perfect advanced maneuvers in a safe and supportive atmosphere. Teachers encourage their pupils to develop at their own pace and learn from one another during all-levels classes, which include Vinyasa-style Yoga Flow sessions, where attendees link one pose to the next with transitional movements that require intense focus and balance. During gentle yin yoga classes, beginning, injured, or physically disabled students can ease into mild stretches with the use of props, and experienced pupils can use the meditative session as an opportunity to wind down following vigorous flow classes. Regardless of the style, instructors in each session emphasize mindful breathing techniques and conclude with a period of deep relaxation that lasts just long enough for attendees to shake that song that has been stuck in their head.
Studio owner Claire's yoga journey began at her middle school's book fair, where a book about yoga caught her eye. On a whim, she took the book home and used it to help her begin at-home practice. Her dedication to the mind-body stayed with her through high school and college, where she wound up majoring in advertising and marketing. After spending some time in the ad field as a professional, she had an epiphany: she didn't believe in anything strongly enough to justify selling it, at least as not as much as she believed in yoga. With a nudge from her supportive husband, Claire decided to combine her passions for business and yoga by obtaining her 200-hour teaching certification and purchasing Yoga Innovations.
Today, Claire and her seven fellow yogis help guide students of all experience levels to greater fitness and healthier lifestyles via challenging and nurturing yoga sessions. She specializes in power Vinyasa flow, which shepherds students through a series of difficult poses in 90+ degrees, and unheated prenatal yoga?a variation designed to help pregnant women mindfully battle the aches, pains, and pickle-juice cravings associated with pregnancy.
The experienced instructors at Stray Dog Yoga Studio shepherd body benders through a series of Vinyasa movements executed in a heated room. Pupils stretch and sweat their way through the flow, which unites movement with breath the way a magnet unites Dad's finger paintings with the refrigerator door. Each class challenges partakers to push their bodies, find the limits of their flexibility, and discover a sense of peace within themselves. Stretching students of all levels can participate, as modifications for difficult poses allow beginners to follow along and work toward improvement.