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Yoga Kula

Hedonism and Health Wrapped in One

If you’re into health and wellness, you probably eat organic, go to yoga three times a week and have a sound meditation practice. If you’re into pampering and pure indulgence, you’re more likely to find yourself lounging on a spa throne and getting a pedicure while sipping red wine and gabbing on your cell phone. Needless to say, creating a balance between hedonism and health seems kind of contradictory, but now both yoga buffs and spa babies can bliss out at Yoga Kula, which offers the best of both worlds.

Yoga Kula is a Berkeley-based Anusara yoga studio (with a new location in San Francisco) and healing arts center that offers both newbies and professed yogis a stylish and peaceful inroad into the yoga lifestyle. Anusara yoga literally translates to “being in the flow", or “in the flow of grace". Accordingly, the sun-drenched space, which was opened by yoga instructor Saraswati Clere nearly five years ago, is all about integration and harmony. “Anusara yoga is very therapeutic, and it’s also about alignment and balance…feeling integrated when you come out of a class,” says Clere. “We aren’t just about yoga as a practice but rather, yoga as a lifestyle.”

In fact, Clere describes Yoga Kula as a place that promotes transformation in all its aspects. In Sanskrit, the word “kula” literally translates to school, or community. In keeping with the original meaning, Yoga Kula is a place that promotes continuing education. As a result, you have not just the classes, but a variety of monthly workshops and a teacher training program. Interested students can learn all about the rudiments of yoga philosophy and the ancient wisdom traditions of India.

“The lifestyle promotes a holistic education. Yoga is not just about what you do on the mat -- it’s about the ancient teachings, the ethics, the sense of integration you feel,” explains Clere. “Many of our instructors and students are engaging in ongoing study, in integrating practices that equally develop the body, mind, and spirit—and that is something that permeates each of our classes.”

Aside from the yoga classes, Yoga Kula offers Pilates classes and anatomy workshops conducted by a world-renowned bodywork expert, Deane Juhan. And for the last five years, the studio has also been offering massage therapy -- everything from Swedish to hot stone to craniosacral release. “Our massage therapists also take yoga, so they have an understanding of the philosophy, and the work they do is about working in tandem with clients…helping them understand how injuries caused by stress can cause misalignment,” says Clere. “So the aims of both the yoga and massage are connected around this integration of the body and mind.”

In the last year, Yoga Kula has also begun to offer facials and recently expanded to acupuncture. The move to include a full-service wellness spa in the midst of a yoga studio seemed like a pretty obvious move, though. “Yoga is about understanding your body and taking care of it,” says Clere. “If you see the body as a temple, the way you present yourself in the world is just another way of honoring yourself and being in alignment. Taking care of your skin or getting a massage are things you can do to support the whole that is you.”

Given Yoga Kula’s emphasis on education, their spa services are also designed to create harmony and teach clients what they can do to take better care of themselves, and at an affordable cost, to boot. (Facials and massages are usually $75 for an hour-long treatment.) I myself had the pleasure of receiving a Prana facial, the spa’s signature restorative organic facial, which also includes some deeply relaxing guided visualization. My aesthetician, Alana, created the line of products exclusively used in the spa, Prema Organics.

“It really comforts our clients to know exactly what is being used in the products,” says Clere. Aside from being super affordable (in the price range of $20 and under), Prema Organics products are made from organically grown herbs, fruits, and vegetables. The botanicals are all mild, but essential oils permeate the pores and provide intense antibacterial action.

My experience at Yoga Kula was as peaceful and relaxed as I expected it to be and sans the fuss and froufy extras you might be accustomed to at a typical spa. Alana used a simple aloe cleanser on my skin, then followed up with a rosewater toner to balance and moisturize at the same time. A gentle lemon oat exfoliant zapped dead skin cells, while a purifying mask sends antioxidants and soothing balms deep into the skin. Alana finished off the treatment with an oil-free moisturizer that left me feeling positively dewy. A hand and shoulder massage, as well as a comforting meditation that had me nodding off for a bit, supplemented all the pampering.

All of the products are pleasurably light and smell heavenly, and of course, it’s always nice to recognize all the ingredients you read on a label. For the most part, it’s a fairly low-maintenance facial, but as Alana tells me, you really don’t need products that are overpowering and loaded with toxic contaminants in order to get results. After she gives me a travel-size kit to take home with me, I’m convinced that less really is more. The ultimate simplicity behind Yoga Kula’s beauty philosophy and overall well-being credo is appealing enough so that I think someday, I might find myself on the mat and in the midst of an asana -- maybe after another one of Alana’s luscious facials.