Question & Answer with SHAKTI Founder Lisa Black

Question & Answer with SHAKTI Founder Lisa Black

Interview by Nicole Tsong (January 2011)

In 2003, Lisa Black opened a yoga studio in Ballard called SHAKTI Vinyasa Yoga. The studio was the first in Seattle to focus on a dynamic, heated flow known as Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga. Word spread fast. Two years later, Lisa opened a second studio in Bellevue with husband Peter Avolio and opened a third in Redmond in January 2011. Here, Lisa, a Seattle native, shares her journey from yoga neophyte to senior Baptiste teacher and owner of three busy yoga studios.

Q: What were your first experiences with yoga like?

A: In 1998, I took a Kundalini yoga class in a gym at graduate school. It was mostly a lot of breathing exercises, a lot of breath of fire. I liked it, but I didn’t connect with it completely. [I felt] there’s something intriguing about yoga, but this isn’t quite the style. After trying Kundalini, I tried Iyengar yoga for a while. I loved the physicality of it. It was great stress relief and injury prevention since I was a big runner so it felt great…I was still seeking something different.

Q: In 1999, when you were 29, you decided to quit your job in technology training and go to India for six months. What inspired you to make that trip?

A: I felt this desire to go on a spiritual quest. What is beyond just sitting in a cubicle? I loved my job in technical training, but it was not necessarily fulfilling in the heart sense. Basically, I sold everything, sold my car, sold my furniture. I went on this quest: what else is out there for me? What do I need to be doing? I was seeking something greater.

Q: How did your practice change while you were there?

A: In India, every morning I committed to getting up and going to the rooftops of these hotels. I would practice yoga as the sun was coming up; that was my huge inspiration. I studied yoga wherever I went and ended up for a week at an ashram in Rishikesh. It was a very powerful experience. I stayed for an extra month and did my first teacher training in Kerala at the Sivananda ashram which was life changing.

Q: What did you do to pursue yoga when you returned home to Seattle?

A: My whole life experience and journey when I came back here made it very clear I was continuing in the yoga realm. I did several teacher trainings with [Iygengar teacher] Aadil Palkhivala. I taught yoga 2000 to 2003 at the Seattle Holistic Center, 8 Limbs in Wedgewood, and Santosha in Madison Park. I got my yoga teaching feet on the ground.

Q: When did you meet Baron Baptiste?

A: In 2001, I had a retreat booked to go study with Aadil and Richard Freeman in Hawaii. My best friend Tabby said, “I’m going to go study with this teacher Baron Baptiste, you would love him, I just know you would.” I decided to go. We together went to our first Level 1 teacher training with Baron, the first one he had ever done.

Q: How did Baron change your practice?

A: When I met Baron and was on my mat for the first time with him as a teacher, I felt like I had finally come home. It was challenging, which I loved, it was mind focused, breath, and inspiration, really speaking to heart. His teaching really clicked for me. Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga has been the main style I’ve been teaching ever since.

Q: When did you know you wanted to open your own studio?

A: In 1999 in Nepal, I had a vision during a 10-day Vipassana meditation course. It was there I literally got the vision and the image of opening a yoga studio that would have classes, workshops, and retreats and many different components.

Q: What kind of studio did you want to have when you opened the first SHAKTI in Ballard in 2003?

A: I wanted it to be welcoming, beautiful, and inspiring. The colors are inspired by the bright colors in Rajasthan, India. I wanted to create a studio that focused all on Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga, on all levels. It was very exciting to bring in this specialty of this powerful style of yoga. I really wanted it to be a home away from home to everyone feels welcome. I wanted to create a studio that provided quality instruction and a community of like-minded people interested in well-being and who are inspirited to work deeply and powerfully.

Q: What does it mean to be a Baptiste affiliate studio?

A: There are so many different styles of yoga out there and we focus on Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga. I believe this is a challenging, inspiring, transformational style of yoga. What students are going to experience by being a part of our Baptiste affiliate studio is they’re part of a greater whole. They’re actually in a studio that’s part of now three studios in the area, part of 50 others in the world, with a future projection of 200 affiliates. All of our teachers are trained by Baron Baptiste and myself so that they are teaching the most powerful and clear Baptiste methodology from the source. I believe we’re carrying on the lineage of Baptiste Yoga in the traditional form, so it’s not getting watered down.

Q: Why did you name your studio after the Sanskrit word SHAKTI?

A: SHAKTI is in everyone, it’s in all things. SHAKTI is power and energy. It’s the untapped potential that needs to get turned on in all of us; it’s the fire that needs to be built and fueled. How can the experience at SHAKTI turn up their passion, turn up their lights, turn up their zest? I really believe yoga does that, just by doing the asana sequences, just the physical practice, you would feel the light of prana and circulation and energy. By combining it with the breath, the movement and the inspiration and focus on heart and mind, it’s a more profound level that really can bring lasting transformation and shifts.

Q: What inspires you about yoga and running your studios?

A: Everything about running a studio is what I love. I love to teach yoga. I continue to be inspired by teaching this style because of the power of the practice. It’s really the ability to speak authentically and to current feelings or issues or things that are going on, the ability to tap into that so everything stays fresh. As a teacher, you’re constantly speaking from your own experience in life and the world that will help be a teaching point for students whether it’s joy or love or fear or activity or peace, balance.

Q: Seven years after you opened your first studio, why did you want to open a third and how did you choose Redmond?

A: I believe in the style so much, and I really wanted to bring this style and this community into an area I feel like is untapped. A lot of people who come to Bellevue actually come from that area, and I feel like that will be a really good way to bridge the two communities and connect in a deeper way. One of my biggest passions is to train teachers and all of our teachers have come through our Teacher Mentorship Program. By opening a third studio, we have an avenue for bringing these amazing teachers into teaching more classes and giving them a place to help make a living. It’s serving the community, growing the community, growing our team of teachers, supporting teachers in a greater way. I also love the creative process. It’s like building your own house and having a party to welcome people in.

Q: What is ahead for you and for SHAKTI?

A: My passion is teaching teachers, and my passion is teaching yoga. Fortunately, I get to do all those things. My new passion is being with my kids and teaching them about life. The next big thing for me is putting together our 200-hour teacher training. My intention is to have it available for September 2012. What’s great about SHAKTI is not only that we provide amazing classes, workshops, and host international teachers, but we’re a training center for teachers. As a senior master Baptiste teacher, I will be teaching more workshops and yoga conferences around the country.

Q: Who do you consider to be your yoga mentors?

A: Teachers who have inspired me, Ana Forrest, Shiva Rea, Seane Corn, and Brian Kest. But Baron Baptiste, for sure, is my No.1 mentor and the teacher who has helped me grow the most personally and professionally.