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Think You Hate Yoga? This Instructor Will Make You Think Again

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Photos by Aubrie Pick

Maybe it's because Wini Linguvic was a lifelong New Yorker until she moved to the Bay Area in 2007. Maybe it's because her first yoga class was in Manhattan the day before September 11, 2001. Or maybe it's her deep background in fitness that makes her yoga class different. You won't om much, and you'll hardly ever do a chaturanga pushup. You'll be encouraged to stop doing anything that might "make you hate yoga."

Above all, Wini will encourage you to practice consistently in a way that works for your body and makes you stronger. Her belief in the notion that individuals must be taught differently because, well, people are different, is one of the reasons she gravitated towards Ocean Yoga (she also teaches privately) in Pacifica rather than an (arguably!) more glamorous studio in San Francisco. In this small seaside town, she imagined developing a community and helping her students progress their yoga practices over time.

And that's exactly what she has done. You'll see dozens of regulars at her 1.5-hour classes on Tuesday and Thursdays at 9am and on Sundays at 10:45. (If you plan to try it out, we recommend booking in advance at the Ocean Yoga website.)

The fitness journey that led her to yoga—writing a book with Montel Williams, personal training sessions with high-level Conde Nast execs, x-rays to find out why her hips were so tight—is so interesting that we had to sit down and ask her all about it. It turns out her hips were so tight because, like so many people, she exercised religiously but rarely stretched. It's one reason many men are drawn to her class: she knows what not being flexible feels like, and she knows how to make adjustments so they don't hate yoga. And if you're a naturally flexible type? Wini will teach you how not to rely on that flexibility to make class easy, but to adjust your poses and get stronger.

Plus, learning yoga from a serious teacher who somehow makes you laugh out loud while you work harder than you ever thought you could is pretty much the best kind of yoga instruction there is. Learn more about why this Pacifica teacher regularly packs the room and has her students coming back for more every week in our interview below.

You were a lifelong New Yorker until you moved to the Bay Area several years ago. How did you get started in fitness and how did you make your way here?
"As a teenager trying to fit in with every crowd there was, I couldn't control all the things going on around me, but I discovered I could control the way I felt about myself through exercise. From there, I couldn't help but share it. I started out at as an aerobics instructor for Jack Lalanne when I was 17 years old. I ended up studying it and building a clientele in NYC for the next two decades.

I wrote BodyChange (Hay House, 2003) with my client Montel Williams. He rocked the motivational part and I covered the technical fitness aspects. After that I wrote my second book (Lean, Long and Strong, Rodale 2005).

I came back from our first book tour—we had a New York Times bestseller—and that was the summer of 2001. I was stressed out and busy, and my girlfriend, who is now my wife, said, 'You need to relax. You should go take yoga.' And I said yoga? That's the easy stuff. But I went anyway.

My first class was on September 10, 2001. It was a Monday. Something clicked. And I thought, 'I'm gonna go back tomorrow.' The next day was September 11. We were told a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I kept going back every day after that. I threw myself headfirst into a six day a week Ashtanga practice.

Yoga was very, very difficult for me. I could not touch my toes. Yet I kept practicing. My body was so tight—I thought I had concrete in my hips. I went to get an x-ray to see if there was something wrong because everyone was improving and I didn't understand why I was stuck. So I started studying Iyengar and applying my knowledge of kinesiology and biomechanics to my practice and I slowly figured out a way to dissect the poses and then put them back together so they worked for bodies that weren't naturally flexible."

How did you choose Pacifica?
"We had lived the true city life already in New York and were ready for some quiet. In the first few months I would sit at my window wondering where everyone was. Even our dog wondered where everyone was. But now, if I see someone walking on our block who I don't know, I'm like, 'Who's that?'"

Did you consider teaching in the city?
"Yes, I taught at a few of the bigger studios when I first came here. Yet I wanted to offer more than a class here and there. My pedagogical approach is to teach with a year long plan, broken into semesters and quarters like a university. Although new students can join anytime, everyone knows that if they keep coming to class on a regular basis, they will learn what is being covered that semester."

How do you create such a welcoming environment for people who might be intimidated by yoga?
"I think it's because I speak in useful terms. Every human being should be able to understand how their body works and I speak about how the bones move.

I offer practical tools that help you get stronger so you can start to find the quiet. During practice we work very, very hard. We work intelligently, yet we work hard. We find our edge and practice breathing when things get gnarly. Why do we do that? So when we go out into the world and things get crazy, when our parents are ill or the bills are due or we need to have a difficult conversation, well we have practiced being calm when things are gnarly so perhaps we can find that quiet when we need it most."
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