Longtime Spokane Yoga teacher adapts to the pandemic

November 10th – For longtime Spokane yoga teacher Robin Marks, the connection with her body and her yoga students is as natural as breathing.

“It’s so important who I am and how I experience life,” said Marks.

You can tell by the way she greets her students personally, carefully corrects their form and calmly asks them to listen to their bodies. It hasn’t always been easy in the pandemic, but Marks has combined technology and yoga to offer classes via Zoom video conferencing to keep reaching their students.

Marks has always had a connection with yoga. She grew up in Encinitas, California, a beach town famous for the ashram of Paramahansa Yogananda. 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 into mainstream America.

Despite growing up so close to the famous ashram, Marks didn’t start practicing yoga consistently until she moved to Montreal, Canada to do her Masters in Musicology from McGill University.

There she began “deep spiritual work” and found that practicing yoga was “part of the engine”.

Yoga encouraged her meditative process and enabled her to connect with her body. After graduating, Marks worked as a jazz musician for a few years before moving to California in the 1980s. Almost 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 so she decided to teach one herself. Her first class, held in the basement of a local church, filled up quickly and it wasn’t long before she started teaching for Spokane Parks and Recreation. Now she directs Spokane Urban Ashram Yoga.

Spokane nurse Linda Fadeley saw a flyer for one of Marks’ courses in the break room at Sacred Heart Medical Center about 25 years ago.

The story goes on

“I knew right away that I had to do this,” said Fadeley. “Being a nurse is a bit stressful and I’ve been through some things like all of us … It was just perfect from first grade.”

Since then, Fadeley has followed Marks wherever she teaches.

Marks is so open-minded and non-judgmental that it creates a peaceful environment that participants feel ready to tackle the rest of the week, Fadeley said.

“She’s just an amazing person and an incredible teacher,” said Fadeley. “She’s just very nice and that shows in the way she teaches.”

Not long after that, she became the first yoga teacher at Eastern Washington University. She also did her Masters in Counseling Psychology and began offering yoga therapy, which Marks says helps relieve clients from the trauma and tension they carry.

For Hazel Bergtholdt, Marks’ teaching was a healing experience. Bergtholdt began taking lessons from her parents in the late 1980s. She loved the way Marks focused on her breath in her class and gently corrected her postures.

She then moved to California with her family and had to drop the Marks class, even though they all continued to do yoga.

One day Bergtholdt’s mother, Joyce Bergtholdt, wanted to attend 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 with her mother was about yoga, and that made it difficult to return to class. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bergtholdt and her father then reconnected with Marks, who began offering their yoga classes through Zoom.

Bergtholdt and her father do chair yoga together every week, which was an extremely healing experience, she said.

Teaching through Zoom has allowed people like Bergtholdt to reconnect and take lessons from Marks again. They even built a small subcommunity of pets that showed up on the screen during class, Marks said with a laugh.

When former Evangelical Lutheran church bishop Martin Wells, 72, retired about three years ago, his only promise was that he “would not go down without stretching.”

He quickly became a loyal student, taking Marks’ classes twice a week.

“I’ve been really sore for a while,” Wells said with a chuckle. “I was also very happy that I signed up.”

Marks “takes a very awesome perspective,” Wells said.

“Deep breathing is a huge part of the overall healing of the body,” Wells said.

Marks encourages attendees to release the tensions they carry through thoughtful breathing, which leads to moments of connection with their bodies, she said. “If your body is talking to you, go in there.”

That mind-body connection is healing and invigorating for Wells, he said.

“Getting older isn’t for wimps, but this course keeps me alive in so many ways … it just rejuvenates on so many levels,” Wells said.

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