Midtown welcomed a new business in July: the Living Yoga Center, which was previously located above Crane Alley in Downtown Urbana.
Owners Sharon and Steve Willette decided to move the Living Yoga Center into a restored building on 1st Street, which had previously stood empty.
“It seems like the city is committed to revitalizing this area,” said Sharon, “and we decided it would be wonderful to be in on that from the beginning. And the history of this building is really interesting. We learned that it was built in 1905 and was originally a grocery store. But for a long time, it was the Union Hall for the painters’, glazers’, and wallpaperers’ union.”
They found the building an auspicious place to establish a yoga studio. “When we looked at this building, we saw a sign out front that said ‘Union,’” said Sharon. “In Sanskrit, the language of yoga, the word yoga means ‘union,’ or ‘to unite.’ So, for us, that was a sign.”
Steve added, “This was a space where guys would gather to receive job assignments, have meetings, play cards, or drink beer. So there’s been a lot of community in this room.”
Despite the building’s long history, it hadn’t been updated since the 1940s. Steve and Sharon worked with the building’s owner, the Electrum Group, to update the space while respecting its history. As we chatted, they pointed out the windows in the yoga sanctuary’s back wall, which are original to the building and were uncovered during the renovation process.
They also worked to create continuity between the designs of the new and former Living Yoga Center locations.
“Practicing yoga is a time to let go of everything, and if there are too many changes, that is disruptive to people’s yoga practice,” said Sharon. They decided to stick with the Living Yoga Center’s original color scheme and décor items in their new location.
While its current location is new, the Living Yoga Center has a long history in the Champaign-Urbana area. It has been open for over fifteen years, and Sharon and Steve have owned it for the past two years.
“This is a great community,” said Steve. “We see the Living Yoga Center as our vacation home. It’s a place we get to enjoy with our friends, and they get to enjoy it when we’re not here, too.”
Sharon and Steve have practiced yoga for many years. “We were always in exercise classes, like aerobics classes in the 1980s,” said Steve. “Back then, everyone was bouncing around on floors that were hopefully sprung so you wouldn’t be wearing out your joints. And somewhere along the line, I started practicing yoga and had a few ‘aha’ moments in shavasana. I realized that practicing yoga is a whole lot different than bouncing around.”
Since both Sharon and Steve have backgrounds in education, they said it was a natural step for them to teach yoga after becoming familiar with the practice. At the Living Yoga Center, they have sought to cultivate a yoga studio that features many different styles of yoga. “All of our teachers come from a different place within yoga,” Sharon said, “and that’s reflected in the variety of our class offerings.”
Among the Living Yoga Center’s class offerings are gentle yoga, restorative yoga, hatha yoga, yin yoga, acro yoga, and a prenatal yoga class. Typically, the studio offers a “Yoga Gives” session on Sunday afternoons; these sessions allow people to give within their ability to take a yoga class, and the proceeds are donated to a local charity. “Yoga Gives” will start up again in the fall, after the grand opening. In the meantime, the Living Yoga Center is keeping busy: yoga classes are available seven days a week, and some teachers are taking advantage of the warm weather—and the studio’s new proximity to Boneyard Creek—by offering yoga outside.
Beyond this diversity of its yoga classes, the Living Yoga Center seeks to offer people in the community other services and opportunities related to the yogic philosophy. Past events at the Living Yoga Center include a session featuring chair massages following yoga practice and a combined yoga/acupuncture session. Sharon and Steve value collaborating with other health and wellness practices and were quick to remind me that yoga itself is much more than a physical practice. “There are eight limbs of yoga, including breath work and meditation. We hope to share as much of yoga as we can with people who are open to it.”
Steve added, “We want to create a whole space for people. Practices that are good for the spirit, body, mind, and emotions are all welcome here.”
Sharon said that they have a dream of creating a center that would be a place where practitioners of all areas of health and wellness could work. For the moment, however, they’re looking forward to settling into their new space and the studio’s upcoming grand opening.
Check out the Living Yoga Center’s schedule here. New students can sign up for a one-week unlimited pass for only $18.
Photos by Sam Logan.