Peek inside Austin’s yoga studios and you’ll find crowds of people stretching, bending and contorting into all manner of cranes, warriors, happy babies, trees and downward dogs. But who’s leading the best classes? We asked readers to tell us about their favorite yoga instructors, and the responses flowed in. We picked five and asked them to strike a favorite pose in a cherished Austin location.
Gioconda Parker, 43
Playfulness is an important part of Parker’s yoga classes. “Yoga is the art of becoming who you truly are,” she says. “The practice of yoga is the opportunity to get to know all aspects of ourselves — our humanity and our divinity. Yoga’s the meeting place of the two.” She teaches at Practice Yoga, BFree Yoga, Castle Hill Yoga and Wanderlust. For more information, go to www.giocondayoga.com.
Mehtab Michael Benton, 63
Benton is best known as the co-founder (along with his wife) of the YogaYoga studios in Austin. He’s been teaching for almost 40 years. Show up for one of his classes and you’re apt to hear him play the gong, too. Yoga “allows you to remember who you truly are. It provides physical health, but it’s the mental and spiritual health that’s so profound for people,” he says. “If you’re busy and can only do one thing, I say do yoga.” He teaches at the Westgate, 360 and Southgate locations of YogaYoga. For more information, go to www.yogayoga.com.
Maricarmen Wilson, 44
Beginners have open minds, and that’s key to Wilson’s yoga philosophy. “It has allowed me to live with a healthy perspective regardless of what comes my way,” she says. “It’s allowed me to be joyful even during hardship. I teach yoga because it truly connects one individual to another person in a way that I have yet to encounter through any other philosophy or method.” She teaches at Castle Hill Yoga. For more information, go to www.inspiredshakti.com.
Dani Whitehead, 26, and Mateo J. Daniel, 34
Yoga doesn’t have to be an individual sport. Whitehead and Daniel jointly teach a style called acro yoga, with poses that involve two or more people. “It’s almost like the yoga of relationships,” Daniel says. Whitehead says yoga offers a way to stay present with what’s going on in your mind and body. They teach together and separately at the Sanctuary, Say OM and Eastside Elite. For more information, go to www.whitehawkyoga.com or www.playfulwarrioryoga.com.
Abby Lentz, 65
Lentz is famous around Austin for her inclusive HeavyWeight Yoga classes, designed for all types of bodies — not just the fit and trim ones. “You can’t always structure your life so everything is good, and when the hard times come, yoga is like an invisible net, and it just scoops you up. It’ll keep you from hitting bottom,” she says. She teaches at her home studio in Northwest Austin and at Central Family Practice. For more information, go to www.heartfeltyoga.com.