Yoga meets flight at Studio Seva

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Studio Seva, open since February 2012, is no ordinary yoga studio. Last month marked five years since owner Joni McCarran invested in tricot silk hammocks for the first aerial yoga practice in Fort Wayne and one year of the space hosting a “circus conditioning” class–which explains the hoops and ropes and elegant twists of fabric swaying from the rafters.

McCarran, who packs the strength of Paul Bunyan into the body of Thumbelina, used to teach cardio kickboxing, which “didn’t mesh with yoga…[Circus conditioning] works because you’re still moving with compassion and kindness to yourself and with your own unique expression.” She also loved the gymnastic components of CrossFit, but the weight training irritated her flexible knees and hips, which is when, seeking an upper body workout using her own weight, she hung a hoop and started to play.

At first, McCarran had no interest in holding a class. But then she got a rope. Then an Internet “rabbit hole” procured the rest of the myriad equipment. From a comfortable cross-legged lotus on the floor of the studio, she gestured over her shoulder to all the apparatuses suspended in the sunny front room.

In addition to the eight hammocks in the back one-third of the studio for aerial practice, those who attend circus class learn to wrap, climb, drop, flip, twirl, dive and master various inversions on four sets of aerial silks, similar to the hammocks but upside down; three static clouds, like aerial hammocks made of rope; three hoops; three ropes (lysses); two trapeze, one static and one dance; and one set of aerial loops.

McCarran describes the circus class, which maxes out at eight participants and is often open-gym-style, as “laid-back.” Continuing students practice maneuvers described on a dry-erase board or in photos tacked to a corkboard while McCarran works one-on-one with newcomers before introducing new tricks.

“We don’t have showcases; we’re not doing this to perform,” said McCarran. “It’s really hard, but, just like every class, it’s all levels. I have everybody–all ages, all sizes–doing this.” Same goes for the aerial classes, which also activate core muscles. “Obviously a new person might feel intimidated or scared, but modifications are offered to every pose.”

Aerial and circus classes account for about one in five of those offered weekly at Seva. For beginners, McCarran suggests the Yoga Basics or Yoga Rope Wall class, which teaches alignment while building strength and flexibility, but stressed that every single class at Seva–yes, even Power Flow–is intended for all levels. “There’s no room for competition here. You’re going to inspire, learn from and encourage the person next to you.”

Indeed, McCarran greets her visitors with the same blissed-out smile she once found suspicious dropping her daughter off at children’s yoga. McCarran noticed the adult yogis “all glowing and happy and hugging each other! Like, what the hell are you guys doing behind those doors?” In her first class eight years ago, entrepreneurial McCarran knew she’d found something she loved–and the perfect business for her.

Beyond mid-air practice, McCarran approaches yoga differently. “My teaching style is very playful, fun, laid-back, forgiving. I don’t have rules. It’s very open and honest,” she said. “It is more physical. I’m not a spiritual teacher–I know I’m not. To me, it’s about having a good time and building each other up.” (Several other “top notch” instructors teach at Seva, too–some more traditional.)

The most important thing to McCarran is that everyone who comes here feels welcome. There is no judgment. We’re all working together and supporting each other. I just really want everybody to feel like this is home. That’s what I want. More than anything.”

Seva (the e pronounced like in “7”) means “selfless service” and “putting an end to egoism and promoting altruism.” McCarran translates that to working “for the betterment of a community.”

“I knew even before I had the name, I wanted to open these doors to more than just one demographic,” said McCarran. Unlimited yoga for a single is $45 monthly; a couple pays $65; a family of four costs $90. Drop-in classes are $15 and a 40-day unlimited introduction is $40. Discounts for five, ten and 20-class packages as well as students and seniors apply.

Studio Seva, 3511 N. Anthony Boulevard, 260.760.4864, studio-seva.com

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