Down Under Yoga: Many Traditions, One Essential Practice
by Kim Childs
On a recent Saturday morning at 9 a.m., the Down Under Yoga studios in Newtonville are full of students. Practitioners of varying ages and abilities are here to learn from master teachers who are well known far beyond Boston, including Barbara Benagh, Peentz Dubble, Chanel Luck, Coeli Marsh, Natasha Rizopoulos and Patricia Walden. They came together to create a studio where each teacher is cultivating a different aspect of the students’ practice. “It’s an environment in which the essence of yoga is best represented,” says Rizopoulos.
Studio director Justine Wiltshire Cohen is equally passionate about giving Down Under students a well-rounded, authentic yoga education. “We wanted to bring together some of America’s best yoga teachers to ensure not only different generations of students, but different traditions and generations of teachers,” she says. “After I teach my class, I get on the mat and learn from the teachers who trained me. It also means that students who know how to ‘flow’ but who know nothing about alignment, anatomy, stillness or breath have the opportunity to deepen their practice.”
Luck, a veteran Vinyasa teacher, says she makes Down Under her home because of this unique blend of styles and students. “You see my flow students mingling with seniors or the 7-year-olds emerging out of class, and there’s this wondrous sense of all these yogis connected by one ancient practice,” she says. “The teachers love and deeply respect each other, too. There’s no other studio like this around.”
Down Under Yoga offers new students two weeks of unlimited classes for $25 in order to encourage them to explore different styles, teachers and levels. Classes include Vigorous Vinyasa, Alignment-Based Iyengar, Heated Flow, Slow Flow, Relax and Renew and yoga for teens, seniors and kids.
Doris Fine has been a Down Under devotee since 2005, when classes were taught in a local church, before the studio’s move to Walnut Street. She’s participated in the community potluck suppers and charity events, but her real commitment is to her teacher, Wiltshire Cohen, and the practice.“I’m a physical therapist and, when I started with Justine, I could tell immediately that she really knew her anatomy and understood what she was asking people to do,” Fine recalls. “She has a great knowledge base, a commitment to learning and an openness and understanding that we could learn from each other.”
Marsh, a Master Baptiste teacher for more than a decade, teaches a power-Vinyasa style at Down Under. She says she appreciates the chance to learn from her distinguished colleagues. “We have glass doors here and there are times when I can look out and see an Iyengar class going on, and there’s something so exciting about that,” she says. “And that’s part of the reason I’m here, because I’m always a student as well.”
Marsh adds that the staff and students at Down Under set a welcoming tone that inspires community. “We all know what it’s like to go in to a studio or class and feel like you don’t belong, or there’s an inner circle, but that doesn’t happen here. You really can walk in to any class and feel okay with being new to yoga or new to that style.”
This communal spirit and respect for tradition are at the core of Down Under’s mission, where the instructors deliberately decided not to sell yoga gear. Instead, they deliver yoga’s core teachings. “In the end, every teacher here is seeking the same thing,” says Wiltshire Cohen. “The quality of your attention, the quieting of your mind.”
Down Under Yoga is located at 306 Walnut St. in Newtonville. For more information and class schedules, call 617-244-YOGA(9642), email Info@DownUnderYoga.com or visit DownUnderYoga.com.