OK, let’s be honest — yoga and cornfields don’t exactly go together like peanut butter and jelly. Yoga in cornfields? Scratchy and itchy nightmare. Yet, in rural Iowa, amidst those rolling cornfields that are Iowa’s true poster child, yoga is happening.
There is a hotspot of yoga in the northwest Iowa town of Okoboji, with three yoga studios nearly stacked on top of each other, relatively speaking — they’re within a 50-mile radius. These include Yoga Okoboji, The Studio Yoga and Barre in Okoboji and The Studio’s second location in Spencer, a town about 20 miles south. You have to travel as far east as Algona, as far south as La Mars or across state lines to Worthington, Minnesota to encounter any other yoga studios. But as I said, yoga is happening.
I am a wandering yoga teacher who was trained in Kathmandu, Nepal and has spent the last year working at various resorts, hostels, hotels and wellness centers in Asia. I returned to northwest Iowa for the holidays and have had the pleasure to teach yoga at The Studio Yoga and Barre in both Okoboji and Spencer.
The community is small, especially in the winter when snowbirds leave and the surplus of vacationers are nowhere to be found. As the old adage goes, everyone seems to know everyone, and everyone knows everything.
When Amanda Jorgenson, The Studio Yoga and Barre’s owner, opened her Spencer studio in January 2016, she said the community responded with a mix of apprehension and excitement.
“There are people in the community who want change. They love their town and they want it to grow,” she said. “Those people are incredibly loyal and very kind.”
This part of the community acknowledges Amanda’s yoga studio as an asset, adding valuable diversity to the area’s offerings. Such words as “trendy,” “city-ish” and “cultured” were used to describe the yoga studio coming to Spencer.
However, there are two sides to the coin.
“A lot of people are scared of yoga,” Amanda said. “They fear it will conflict with their religion. They also are scared of the intimacy yoga creates with their bodies. I’ve had many, many people tell me that they are scared to do yoga. I’ve been a pastor’s wife for almost 20 years and a lot of people struggle to reconcile the union in my life of Christianity and yoga.”
However, Amanda has faced people’s fears and distrust head on. She’s won a fair amount of people over, she says, by “slowly educating people from a scientific standpoint. Yoga is not a religion. Whatever you believe is enhanced by your yoga practice.”
People asked her why she couldn’t do “Christian yoga.” Amanda responded firmly that her studio isn’t “church yoga, it’s yoga for everybody and anybody.”
Amanda sees her yoga studio as a place of rawness and vulnerability, where pretenses can be stripped away. Just as Amanda insists that people should come as they are to church, she also encourages them to bring their authentic selves to the studio and never worry about judgment or facades. That is the yoga environment she has created, one she is immensely proud of and deeply connected to.
Inside The Studio Yoga and Barre’s walls, students are seeking to build authentic, deep relationships. This is something I have witnessed first-hand. As Dylan Dalen, one of my fellow yoga teachers at the studio says, “Our community is small but strong. I find in each class we get to know each other a little more. Students walk in and ask heartfelt questions about my life and each other’s lives. And they genuinely want to know the answers and engage in conversation, rather than come in, set up, take class and go.”
“There is love in the room for sure,” he added.