As she ducks in and out of small rooms used for intimate yoga practice and massage therapy, Jessica Patterson greets her cross-legged colleagues with a smile and exits with a soft, “I love you.”
She sips warm water from her perch in her office chair, surrounded by rows of neatly shelved books, mostly about yoga and spirituality.
Five years ago, Patterson was a roaming teacher, instructing at studios and rented spaces. In the midst of personal hardship, she longed for a refuge, a space that felt sacred to her.
Thus was born her Colorado Springs studio, Root: Center for Yoga & Sacred Studies.
“I’m dedicated to creating a space where everybody is welcome,” she said. “There is a practice for everyone. On our website, we don’t list beginner, intermediate or advanced. To me, the most advanced practitioner is the person who can sit with themselves and be in good company.”
The practice nourishes spirituality, but yoga is not a religion. Those with faith backgrounds find yoga compatible with their beliefs, Patterson said.
She says yoga is a spiritual “technology” that can deepen connection with one’s “primordial self,” the “deepest, oldest part of themselves.” She calls this “who you are, really,” but said this sensation is named differently by many religions.
“There is, within each of us, that part of you that is whispering, ‘Remember?’ Some might say, ‘Well, that’s God.’ Some might say, ‘That’s just my true self.’ Others might say, ‘I don’t know what that is, but I’m heeding it.’”
Yogis often commit to the practice during serious life transformations, Patterson said. Rarely do people embark on an intensive yoga journey when everything is going their way. But practicing yoga consistently can help people find stability in a world of shifting variables, she said.
“What you’re practicing is who you are really, so that as you age, as your relationships change, as life hands you beautiful things and super tragic things, you can navigate it and not lose that sense of self,” she said. “People often mistake themselves for their job. They mistake themselves for their looks. They mistake themselves for their relationship, and they mistake themselves for their financial status. Then the moment that external factor shifts, they lose a sense of self.”
Many people assume the ego and personality are constants, but they’re fragile and dynamic, she said, and yoga helps people relate to something bigger.
“For me, spirituality is something that connects us to something bigger than our small, fragile egos. My fear or anxiety or neuroses could be really strong muscles, but I’ve exercised the muscle of who I am really so that it kicks on faster. Not always. It’s not always a graceful process. But that’s spiritual to me. When I can connect to something, when I can connect to you and when I can connect to the fawn I saw this morning, I can connect beyond just scared, egoic, neurotic Jessica, which is just a temporary thing anyway because it will go away. Jessica will go away.”
Patterson teaches that loss is imminent, and that everyone’s bodies will be lost. The body is not the pinnacle of yoga practice at Root. Yoga has more tools than “asana,” the Sanskrit word for its widely recognizable postures and poses. That said, classes at Root are not without physical rigor, which Patterson said can help people practice breath and mental clarity.
As asana has become widely popular, she said, she fears its commercialization. Some studios “in this dysmorphic country” are using the same exploitative tactics as other industries, she said.
“We have multibillion dollar industries that are entirely geared toward figuring out where you feel deficient, and then they’ve got something to sell you for that. Which, of course, is the really lamentable thing about watching, what I see, in the tide of the popularity of yoga. It’s wonderful in a lot of ways because it’s made it so accessible for these practices that can be very effective for people. But at the same time, it can become sites of the same conquest and same merchandising of the body.”
Root was created to serve yogis in a more holistic capacity than meeting fitness goals or mastering poses, she said.
Chanting, for example, can seem a bit “hooey gooey, esoteric and new-agey,” she said. But, “When you hum, it’s incredibly soothing to the nervous system. The body is involved, and that is a practice you can do until the end, or someone can do with you until the end, unlike forearm stands.”
She said she hopes the tools and “technology” offered at Root will effect change.
“We really need more yogis in the world. I think about if someone I love has to go under the knife in surgery, I’d love to know that anesthesiologist or surgeon has a yogic perspective on things. What would it be like if we had yogic politicians or if we had yogis raising children and yogis in school systems?”
Root instructors lead weekly public classes. Root’s other programs include yoga and nutritional therapy, mentoring, individual yogic consultations, retreats, workshops and intensive teacher training through “RootEd, which has had 92 graduates over the past eight years.
On Sunday afternoons, some of those graduates teach a donation-based class called “Rooted in Seva,” which means “selfless service” in Sanskrit.
“I want Seva to be a bigger part of Root,” she said. “Not in the sense that it’s this great, white savior conquest of, ‘Oh, we’ll bring yoga to the masses.’ More like, how can we be of service in our community? That does not necessarily mean getting people to come here, but what can we do for others?”
Root is intended to be sustainable, not profitable, she said. People built many facets of the studio as gifts or alternative payment for teacher training.
“We don’t advertise,” she said. “We’re definitely word-of-mouth. This is a community-raised place.”
The classes are sorted by element, not difficulty. But people often choose an element, such as fire, that will cause them more imbalance, Patterson said.
“ ... culturally speaking, we don’t necessarily need more people to be overheated and aggressively pushing through life.”
Overall, she said, many of her students enjoy yoga for its practical application to everyday complications. Regular spiritual practice can pull people “home” from trivial frustrations and traumatic situations, she said.
“It’s a deeply spiritual experience because it connects them to something beyond their latest mood, the latest incidents and their latest sense of themselves, to that part that’s been continuous.”