Off the Mat, Yoga

Q&A: Janine Gustafson of Yoga Okoboji

Photo courtesy of Janine Justafson on Instagram

Get a peek into day-to-day operations at Yoga Okoboji during Janine Gustafson’s YogaIowa Instagram takeover March 25-31. Follow YogaIowa: @yogaiowa_magazine

Walk me through your yoga journey. How did you become an instructor, and what styles of yoga appeal to you most?

I went to my first yoga class in 2000 when I was able to take my kids to a free church nursery for two hours, two mornings a week. The yoga class was in a dance studio in my small town and the instructor was in teacher training. I loved it! In 2004 I completed my 200 hour teacher training with Mona Ceniceros at Sun Moon Yoga in Mankato, Minnesota and opened our town’s first yoga studio. (I think at this time there were only six yoga studios in Iowa registered with Yoga Alliance).

During my training an instructor from Minneapolis taught an Ashtanga class. I loved it. After I completed with Sun Moon, I went to a training with Manju Pattabhi Jois at Yoga House in Edina, Minnesota. I love the challenge and simplicity of Ashtanga yoga. I appreciate Ashtanga’s tradition and wisdom. My path has also led me to Tias Little and his thoughtful depth of movement. His teachings gave me a good foundation to teach a mindful and gentle style of yoga for my community. My yoga is yin and yang, gentle and Ashtanga. In between there have been many other trainings and teachers, but these are the ones that had the greatest impact on me.

I know a lot of thought went into your logo. Who designed it? What all is going on there?

Yoga Okoboji’s logo was designed by a group called F8 in Spencer, Iowa. It was important to me to have an androgynous logo that represented my new space that has both a heated (fire) studio and a cooler non-heated (water) space. I also love our Okoboji sunrise and sunsets and had a wonderful photo with one of our instructors, Mindy Leinbaugh. They were able to bring it all together in what many think is a Sanskrit symbol (it is not) with a flame at the top and a wave at the bottom with a beautiful sunrise gradient in the background. A fun little bonus they added in is that if you tilt your head to the right it also represents a Y and an O for Yoga Okoboji. Needless to say, I fell in love with it!

How important is the atmosphere of a studio when doing yoga?

My first studio was in an actual barn moved from a farm and converted into offices. It was beautiful and unique but had vaulted ceilings, lots of nooks and crannies and carpet. The ceilings made it expensive to heat. The uniqueness of the nooks made it hard to clean. And carpet, soft, but full of dust and who knows what.

The new space has a concrete lobby and a fire studio with hard flooring and a water studio with bamboo flooring. We have an air exchange system and a built in humidistat. All the floors are heated and we have 90-plus solar panels on the roof to provide all our electricity. We are able to keep the space super clean and the air quality is healthy. I believe a clean, simple, healthy, toxin free, earth-friendly environment is paramount to a yoga practice. Mindfulness of presence… isn’t that what it’s all about?

Tell me about your two studios, fire and water. What different types of experiences can you have at Yoga Okoboji?

Our fire studio is more yang decorated in reds and oranges and often heated with our ceramic infrared heaters. We heat classes to 85 degrees for a warm experience or 95 for hot and sweaty.

The water studio is relaxing and more yin, decorated in blues with wispy fabric on the ceiling and usually around 78 degrees. In the summer, it’s sometimes even air conditioned. If you are in the water studio class on a rainy day, you will hear the bonus of water dripping down the spout right outside the window.

Okoboji and Spirit Lake are located in one of the most picturesque areas of Iowa. What is the yoga community like there, and do you ever take advantage of the lakes for outdoor yoga or meditation exercises?

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The Iowa Great Lakes area is absolutely stunning! In June, July and August Yoga Okoboji holds yoga classes lakeside at the Arnolds Park pier twice a week on Monday and Thursday at 7 a.m. It is a fantastic experience! It has become very popular in the last couple of years.

This area has a fun, seasonal yoga community. We have practiced with a yogi from every single state in the U.S. and many other countries even. During the summer months, classes get busy as the tourists and snow birds are back. Then, in the winter, the locals can breathe deep again in the less-crowded space.

What else is special about Yoga Okoboji?

We strive to reach people through yoga and wellness practices. Monthly we offer donation-based meditation, donation-based laughter yoga, yoga nidra and restorative yoga. Just last month we added an LED red light therapy and bright white light therapy space. The red light is FDA approved for pain, inflammation, wound healing and muscle recovery. The white light is for aiding seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Both are set in an uber-relaxing room with music and aromatherapy. [I’m] really excited to share this healthy, noninvasive with no side effects, healing light with people. It’s amazing!


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