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Improving Body, Breath and Mind at the Arkansas Yoga Center


We appreciate Fayetteville for many reasons, and one more reason to add to the list is the Arkansas Yoga Center. This environmentally friendly business, founded by Andrea Fournet, promotes the spiritual and physical well-being of its students and community through the compassionate attention of experienced instructors. Classes are infused with the mindfulness that naturally accompanies the physical postures of yoga, allowing students to evaporate stress and achieve peace.

Banner Photo Arkansas Yoga Center Andrea Fournet Leads Class

In addition to positively impacting its students, the Arkansas Yoga Center claims an environmentally conscious design featuring recycled materials, including plastic bags and bottles and newspapers. Radiant-heat floors help make the building energy efficient, and the studio utilizes renewable resources such as bamboo items. The simple interior is comprised largely of natural wood, decorated with earthy colors and overlaid with the melody of soothing music. To step inside is to feel relaxed. It is not surprising that the AYC has received the attention and praise of so many media outlets, including an article in Vogue magazine in its September 2008 issue that accurately refers to the AYC as an “environmentalist oasis in the hills of the Ozarks.”

Owner and founder Andrea Fournet took up yoga in earnest following a wind surfing accident that injured her back. Practicing yoga allowed her to heal, and when she moved from Hawaii to Fayetteville in 1993, she wanted others to benefit from the same yoga therapy, laboring in spite of the skepticism with which yoga was widely regarded at that time. Working with the Arkansas Razorbacks Basketball team gained her acceptance in the University of Arkansas community, and in 2005 her dream and hard work came to fruition in the creation of the Arkansas Yoga Center —a studio dedicated solely to yoga, as opposed to a gym that also offers some yoga classes.

Exterior of Arkansas Yoga Center Fayetteville

When she began teaching yoga, what instruction existed was largely strict—“Yoga used to be very dogmatic,” Andrea explains. Her signature technique, termed VariYoga, emerged as a blend of yogic traditions that together emphasize posture, alignment, breath and the mindfulness philosophy from which yoga originated. Andrea’s instructors teach in a nurturing and gentle way, encouraging positive mentality as they demonstrate acceptable ways for students to challenge their bodies.

I was pleased recently to attend a class at AYC while I was visiting Fayetteville. I arrived early with my 11 year-old sister-in-law Cassie, who was looking forward to her first yoga class. The instructor, Helen, was concluding a private rehabilitative yoga session with a good-natured man in a wheelchair. She helped him out to his car before returning to give us a brief tour and indicate the items we would need for the class. We sat thoughtfully on our mats to wait; Cassie Snapchatted a photo of the studio while I gazed at trees and a pond through the windows and observed the quantity of natural light filtering in even on the overcast winter day. A mirror lined one wall, and at the head of the studio a counter supported a spread of Buddhist trappings, echoed across the walls of the studio in images of the Buddha and large letters spelling out OM and NAMASTE. It was quiet and peaceful as the two of us sat alone, but the trickling arrival of the eight or so other yogis did not diminish the tranquility.

Arkansas Yoga Center Studio Interior

Class began with breathing and relaxation exercises and then moved through gradual sequences of poses, or asanas. Helen encouraged us to listen to our bodies and not do anything that caused pain or discomfort. For each pose, she demonstrated about three tiers of difficulty through which a practitioner would progress naturally with regular stretching. When we did the butterfly pose, Helen pointed out that the feet of the woman who had the most flexibility in this move were nearly stretched over the woman’s head—“That’s what you want from yoga. Not to look at the end result and try to jump into that pose, and possibly hurt yourself, but to gradually improve through stretching until one day there’s simply nowhere else for your legs to go but over your head.”

Helen filled the moments of static stretching by telling us about the poses, including their Sanskrit names. As we shifted into lunges and half splits, stretching toward what should one day be the front split pose Hanumanasana (monkey pose), she shared the Hindu story of the pose’s origin from the mountain-leaping antics of the monkey-like god Hanuman. We spent perhaps 50 minutes stretching into poses and the other 25 minutes in meditation, including 10-15 minutes at the end during which we cooled down and then rested in corpse pose (Shavasana, Cassie’s favorite pose for delighting in laziness) listening to Helen guide us through mindfulness meditation. Her pacing and teaching style are typical of the AYC, where it is acknowledged that the emotional, mental and spiritual are as important as the physical for the student to grow.

Arkansas Yoga Center Andrea Fournet Teaches by the Book

In addition to yoga classes, the AYC offers T’ai Chi, meditation, massage therapy and teacher certification in yoga. The program to educate teachers is well respected, and the AYC has become the go-to location for yoga therapy in the state. As the first studio in Arkansas to become a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, the AYC is in the process of being accredited. This is an important designation in a field in which injuries are common in classes taught by the overeager and under experienced.

Myriad options are available for trying classes at Arkansas Yoga Center. For example, attending a single class à la carte, like I did, is $18. A 30-day trial is $39. If you don’t have occasion to attend a class but wish to try yoga from your home, you can catch the TV series “VariYoga with Andrea” on AETN, UNTV and Fayetteville Public Access. Episodes can also be found on YouTube.

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Adria English is a professional writer and a casual artist with a penchant for doodling. She currently resides in Mountain Home, Arkansas with her husband, Garrett, their daughter, Nenive, and two black cats. By foot, drone, car and kayak, Adria enjoys exploring and experiencing the Natural State.

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  1. […] Fournet’s signature style of VariYoga comes alive at the Arkansas Yoga & Therapy Center, an eco-friendly studio founded in 1998. In addition to a […]

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