Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
Monica Evans moved to Georgia from Germany a year ago with her Atlanta-born husband, and immediately began searching for a place to set up a yoga studio to serve people living in the Southern Crescent.
She spent a few months teaching yoga at a gym in McDonough, but wanted to find something more quiet and serene. Eventually, one of her students, who is also on the Arts Clayton Board of Directors, suggested that Evans lease a vacant back room at the arts organization's gallery in Jonesboro. So, 10 weeks ago, she left the setting of a gym and set up South Side Yoga at the Arts Clayton Gallery, which is located at 136 South Main Street, in Jonesboro.
"There's a large yoga community on the Northside, but there isn't much here on the Southside," Evans said. "I want to grow something here. I want to build a yoga community here on the Southside that will, hopefully, grow, and grow for years to come."
Evans, who is certified by the American Yoga Alliance and has been teaching yoga in her native Germany and in the United States since 2001, said her classes range in size from three to 10 students, and she teaches 15 classes per week.
A former personal trainer, Evans, said she first got interested in yoga as a student in 1999, after deciding something was missing from her health routine, which consisted mostly of strength training with weights in a gym. She said she thinks yoga fills the void, because "it balances out all the work we do in the training" by focusing on mental health and flexibility.
During the classes, the students do a variety of yoga positions, ranging from Cobras, to Lunges, to Downward-Facing Dogs. "It's not just sitting there and meditating," Evans said. "Yoga is a wonderful way of recharging your batteries. I think it's a nice way to take care of our bodies."
As Evans worked with nine students in a basic Hatha Yoga class on Tuesday night, she urged her pupils to unwind from their work days through a series of breathing activities at the beginning of the class. "Release yourself from the hunched-over, curled-up position that comes after a long day at work," she said, as her pupils breathed in -- and then out. "The more we open up, the more oxygen we receive in our bodies."
Evans said she prefers the small class sizes, because that allows her to interact more with individual members of the class. "Anything more than 10 people in a class, and it gets hard to work with people individually," she said.
The yoga instructor said she liked the room she's leasing at the Arts Clayton gallery as soon as she saw it. The room, which has an exposed brick facade, and large windows facing Church Street, has enough space for about 12 yoga students to do their exercises without coming into contact with each other.
There is also a space for students to put aside their shoes and purses, or brief cases, without them getting in the way, a small kitchen where the students can make tea, and a shower space if anyone is just getting off work, or about to head to it. Evans said she also likes having a tie to the local arts community. "It's a nice way to bring attention to arts and health at the same time," she said.
Arts Clayton Gallery Manager Karen Powers, who is also one of Evans' students, said she and other gallery staff have seen people stopping to look at art in the facility, after attending a yoga class. "It's a wonderful thing to have Monica here, because it is an art, which many people don't realize, and it is a perfect match with the gallery," Powers said.
Several of Evans' students said they felt more flexible and focused after weeks, and in some cases, months, of working with Evans. Some of her students at South Side Yoga started out as students at the gym in McDonough.
"She's so knowledgeable," said McDonough resident, Liz Brantley, 51, an eight-month student who takes classes with her 16-year-old daughter, Brynna. "Any problem you may have, she can work around it ... I've seen my energy level and my focus increase as a result of these classes."
Riverdale resident, Suzanne Norman, said she, like Liz Brantley, has seen an increase in her focus and strength through participation in the class. Norman said she has been taking classes with Evans for five weeks.
"I'm glad she's here," Norman said. "I had been looking for something like this on the Southside, but couldn't find anything before. I was going to go to Decatur, but this is perfect."
Prices for classes at South Side Yoga run from $11 for a single class, to $50 for five classes, to $90 for 10 classes. The classes, which are offered throughout the week, range from basic Hatha Yoga, to stretching classes, to a lunchtime yoga class, to a surprise class on Saturdays. The Saturday classes are surprises, because participants never know in advance what Evans is going to have them do.
Evans said anyone interested in finding out more about her studio can look up South Side Yoga on Facebook.com, and on Twitter.com, or call the Arts Clayton Gallery at (770) 473-5457.