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Rhonda Gardinier has been studying yoga under various yogis, or teachers, for 20 years. But the person who has taught her the most can't yet pronounce the names of most of the poses.
"This is the best yoga teacher I've had," said Gardinier, her hand on the shoulder of her 2 1/2-year-old son Reed. "I've learned unattachment - not to be attached to getting places on time, ever, not attached to clean clothes ..."
Gardinier teaches three yoga classes a week at Rainforest Yoga, a nonprofit center located on the second floor of the Heritage Mall downtown. She also teaches preschool at the Juneau Co-op Preschool. In both situations, she feels she learns more than her students.
"With my students it's such a give and take," she said. "It's an ongoing process of combining your own practice and what your students teach you."
Traditional students of yoga, an ancient practice rooted in Hindi and Buddhist traditions in India, use posture, breathing and meditation to attain spiritual enlightenment. In recent years, practicing asanas, or yogic poses, has become a popular form of exercise in the West.
For Gardinier, 38, yoga is both a physical and mental practice.
"It's about being aware all day long, of your posture, your breathing, your head space," she said. "For me it's not about working to a place where your hands can touch the floor. It's working towards a place where your practice is your life."
Originally from Hawaii, Gardinier attended Skidmore College in upstate New York and moved to Juneau 10 years ago. She married Paul Gardinier, an exhibits designer with the Alaska State Museum, and worked at the Juneau Public Library before she had her son.
Shortly after arriving in Juneau, Gardinier began taking classes with Jane Terzis and Wendy Hamilton, who then owned the Juneau Center for Yoga. The teachers quickly identified Gardinier as a potential yoga teacher, Terzis said.
"She has a very strong and gentle way with people," Terzis said. "She keeps herself in shape and has for a long time, so she's a living model of what yoga can do for the body."
Gardinier has found yoga to be the most rewarding form of exercise she has tried.
"I've run, I've done bicycle riding, but they haven't resonated with me the way yoga has," she said.
After 20 years of practicing downward-facing dog, a basic pose taught to most yoga students early in their practice, the pose still teaches Gardinier new things about her body, she said.
"I can still go into downward dog and have those 'ah-ha' moments," she said.
Gardinier's classes, both the intermediate/advanced class at 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays and the two mixed level classes at 8 and 10 a.m. Sundays, are often full to capacity with students.
"That goes along with really being good at what you do," said Terzis. "It makes sense. People will be drawn to teachers who are good at teaching."
Though beginners are welcome in her classes - "we're all beginners," Gardinier said - she recommends those new to yoga try a variety of beginning yoga classes with different teachers until they find a good fit.
"There are so many different styles (of yoga) out there, in addition to different teachers," she said.
About 10 instructors have classes at Rainforest Yoga, and other classes are held at the Alaska Club/Juneau Racquet Club. Finding the right teacher is an important part of a yoga practice, Gardinier said.
"The teacher is such a personal preference," she said. "It's all about finding who your personal match is - personality, style, even body type."