THE POWER OF YOGA:
An Interview with Roger Rippy of YogaOne Studios
By: Katya Dow
I had the opportunity recently to take a yoga class with Roger Rippy, co-owner of YogaOne Studios. Roger and his wife, Albina, established the studio in 2008. They now have five thriving locations. The class I attended was completely full of eager students, and, despite the initial hesitation I felt being surrounded by so many people, I immediately relaxed. A peaceful comforting atmosphere radiated from those around me. Roger guided us through a yoga practice that was fun, challenging, playful, and deeply rejuvenating. At the end of it, I found myself supremely relaxed, as well as energized and happy. Afterward, I had the opportunity to talk to Roger about his journey to becoming a yoga instructor. He also gave me his perspective on why yoga is such a powerful way to help people live healthier, happier, and more inspired lives.
Katya Dow: What are the ways in which you think yoga benefits people?
Roger Rippy: I think an individual’s yoga practice is a microcosm of his or her life. We say, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” This is a concept that we learned from our teacher, Baron Baptiste, and it is an idea that goes way back. If you can come to your yoga practice in a way that feels supportive, that opens you up, that makes you stronger, that helps you let go of negative things that you might be holding on to, we know that if you do that consistently, that will reflect itself in the rest of your life. And that is what we assist people in doing.
Of course, there may be other reasons people come in to do yoga, whether it is to become more flexible, or stronger, or to lose weight (and of course those things will also help you to be happier and healthier). But something more also happens on a subtle energetic level. You learn how to create an endorphin rush for yourself so that you eventually learn that, if you are having a rough day, you can go to your yoga mat and create a shift for yourself without anyone else and without artificial means. Once you learn how to do that for yourself, it is very powerful. The practice just works—it starts working on your body and then your mind and then your spirit.
KD: Can you explain that process a little bit?
RR: Yoga is the gradual process of falling in love with yourself. At first it can be challenging—you will probably bring a lot of things from the outside world into your practice: judgment, negative self-talk, or beating yourself up. Yoga is a place to start doing things in a different way. The focus begins to be about doing things positively, looking at what you can do, and being in the moment. What happens, if you give it time, is that you create a shift in how you see things and how you see your life. So you start to see your life as a gift. Things that once bothered you no longer do as much. You start to see that life is happening for you versus to you. I think yoga helps you see that because it requires dedication and patience and mindfulness, and through all of those things you start to wake up, and suddenly you have choices that you didn’t see before.
KD: What inspired you to become a yoga practitioner?
RR: My wife first suggested we go to a yoga class back in 2000 when I was a practicing lawyer. I was immediately interested because I thought it might offer something to me that I was missing. At the time, I was working 60 to 80 hours a week and was living a really stressful life, and I was also drinking a lot and kind of running myself ragged. The yoga class was really challenging for me, and at the end we reached a pose called Savasana where the work is just to lie there and be still and do nothing at all. I felt this big release and realized I had never before truly just stopped and done nothing—and I enjoyed it. I think that is what really hooked me to start a regular practice.
KD: How did you make the transition from yoga practitioner to teacher?
RR: I think when something changes your life you naturally want to share it. It was around 2005, and though my wife and I were doing very well—she was a CPA and I was an attorney, and we were successful and doing the yuppie thing—something about it was not very fulfilling. I saw the people that were ahead of me on the path I was on, and I didn’t want to be where they were. I realized I wanted to take a different path, but I just didn’t know what it was. Every Saturday my wife and I would get up and go to yoga class for an hour and a half and then go have lunch. One day, we were sitting at lunch, and we were talking about how good we felt after yoga and how much we loved it and how much it inspired us. I remember asking her if she could do anything what would she want to do, and she said, “Teach yoga, and maybe open a yoga studio.” And that was exactly how I felt as well. But we had no idea how to do that. Not many yoga studios existed back then. So, while still keeping her CPA job, my wife took a year-long teacher training and began teaching everywhere she could. Our house would often be filled with people doing yoga. At that point we decided to make the leap and open our first yoga studio in 2008, and we have not looked back since.
KD: What types of yoga do you teach?
RR: At the studio, we teach three different types of yoga. The first is hot yoga, which is hatha yoga. It is a little slower-paced, and the poses are held a little longer. We give a lot of alignment instruction in those classes. The second is vinyasa yoga, which tends to move a little faster and tends to be a little bit more vigorous physically. The third is Forrest yoga (developed by yoga pioneer Ana Forrest), which, to me, is somewhere in the middle of those two. It’s a little subtler and slower, and because of that, sometimes allows one the opportunity to go a little deeper. Forrest yoga is also a series of challenges, which allows one to test oneself and then pause to feel something.
In the class that I took with Roger, the intention he was setting that day was achieving a feeling of triumph through play. Throughout the class, he would propose that we attempt certain poses, such as arm balances, in a playful way, much like children do. As he said, “Kids test themselves to see what is possible for them to do. They generally don’t compare themselves to others. They just play around to see what can happen and to see what they can do.” That feeling of just trying to see what is possible for you is empowering.
KD: What is your perspective on competitiveness in yoga?
RR: To me, the world is already competitive and judgmental enough. You get graded, assessed, judged, and so on. There is a lot of that out there in the world. Yoga can be a place to leave that at the door. Also, yoga is designed to change the way you think about things and change the way your mind works. So, if you are a person who is normally very competitive, maybe your work is to come in and not even look at what anyone else is doing, and change that pattern. Alternatively, if you are someone who never challenges yourself, yoga is a great place to try that without competing with anyone else. Whatever your pattern is, yoga is a great way to shake it up.
“Don’t try to run someone else’s race.”
When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I was part of a summer track program. I was a sprinter, and I ran the quarter mile. There was one kid who always beat me. I tried to keep up with him, but he would always win, and I couldn’t figure out why. One day, my dad, who was a great coach, was observing. He came up to me and said, “I’ve figured it out. I know why you aren’t winning. It’s because you’re running his race. You are trying to keep up with him, and when you try to keep up with other people you aren’t using what you are naturally good at. The next time you race, I want you to pretend he’s not even there. Just take off going at your own pace.” So I did that. I imagined he wasn’t even there, and I didn’t see him the entire race. It turns out that I beat him by 50 meters. What I learned is, that if you run someone else’s race, you are always going to be behind them. You will never have your own experience. When you run your own race, without comparing yourself with other people, you get to experience the whole thing in your own space in the best way for you. Your yoga practice allows you to be in that space, and from there, everything in your life can benefit from that perspective. Whenever I compare myself to others now, I immediately stop myself and realize that there is enough light to go around. Someone else’s shine does not detract from mine. It is a very profound and simple thing and something that can powerfully change your life.
KD: Do you think yoga can be beneficial for anyone, including those with physical limitations, such as lack of flexibility, weight issues, weakness, age, and so on?
RR: Yes. I’ve seen people with every limitation that you can think of practice yoga and benefit from it. People in wheelchairs, people who are missing limbs, people who are overweight, and even people who have mental disorders like PTSD. I’ve seen them all benefit from yoga. They have all told me they are getting a benefit from it. I love the quote from Teddy Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” That, to me, is a really beautifully yogic message. Not getting caught up in what you can’t do, but focusing on what you can do, right here right now. No matter what you are given, there is something you can do.
Keith Mitchell is a former NFL pro football linebacker, and he got paralyzed in a football game. He couldn’t move at all for quite a while. One of his nurses knew some yoga and told him she would start doing some breathing techniques with him. Through doing breathing and meditation, his body started to wake up and he began to regain some movement. Ultimately, he became fully mobile again, and what he thought was the end of his career became the doorway to an entirely new career. He is now a yoga teacher and travels the world. It is really powerful to hear him tell how breathing and meditation is what woke his body up from what could potentially have been a lifetime of pain and suffering.
KD: Elaborating a little bit on that, please discuss how integral breath and breathing are to yoga.
RR: There is such a focus on breath and breathing because there is an instantaneous shift that happens when you begin to take deep conscious breaths. It moves you from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is the fight or flight nervous system that is meant to be a really short-term thing, which happens when you are in a dangerous situation and your body launches into fight, flee, or freeze. It is only meant to be active for a very short while to get you away from danger. What has happened in modern life, is that we see threats everywhere because of the busyness, high stress, and competitiveness we are surrounded by. Therefore, we spend a lot of our time in this high state of alertness. That is not how we are designed to live. When you start breathing and focusing your mind on your breathing, you start to move very quickly, on a chemical level, from a cortisol-producing state into a dopamine and oxytocin-producing state. This not only calms you down, but it is physically healing and good for you. Simply by breathing, focusing on your breath, (and if you want to add another level, focusing on something you are grateful for), you can instantly change your body chemistry. This is a tool that you can use to create an instantaneous change to make your body feel better. That is why we start with the breath in yoga.
KD: What advice would you give to someone who is curious about yoga and would like to try it, but is worried about his or her ability to do it?
RR: I know that coming to a yoga studio can be intimidating to people. I would start by saying that first, there are really nice people at yoga studios. It is a culture of non-judgment. Also, I would say that a good perspective to take would be to consider yoga as an adventure. You shouldn’t expect to know the outcome, so if you put that aside and allow yourself to approach it with a sense of pure curiosity, and let that draw you, you will be less worried about your limitations and just look at it as something to explore. A lot of us give up before we start because we judge ourselves, rather than just saying, “Let’s see where this takes me.”
So would I say my experience practicing yoga in Roger Rippy’s class lined up with all that we discussed? After my class with Roger at YogaOne Studios, I felt radiant and relaxed, like I had indeed challenged myself and had truly had fun in a loving, safe, happy environment. As Roger said: “When you approach yourself with love, you can see that yoga is a way to take care of yourself and do something sweet for yourself, and when you walk out of it, you might feel like you got an awesome massage, or a healing therapy session, or even all of that combined. That is the power of yoga.”
Since opening in 2008, YogaOne has blossomed like a hothouse flower from a small one-room yoga studio into something extraordinary: vibrant and welcoming spaces for a whole-life transformation of mind, body, and spirit. YogaOne offers over 350 hot yoga, Forrest yoga, Baptiste power vinyasa, vinyasa flow, hot core explosion cardio, and restorative yoga classes per week at five Houston yoga studios (Midtown/Downtown, Galleria/Uptown, Bellaire, and Pearland). YogaOne Heights, the fifth studio, opened in the Summer of Love 2014. The Midtown yoga studio has a full-service raw, plant-based, and gluten free juice and smoothie bar called One Love Juice Bar & Cafe, which supplies cold-pressed juices to all YogaOne studios and serves fresh juice smoothies and coffee drinks.
YogaOne will open its sixth location, YogaOne Kingwood, in Summer 2016. To learn more about YogaOne, go to www.yogaonehouston.com.