My seasonal anxiety started early this year. The Jewish holiday Hanukkah fell on the same day as Thanksgiving for the first time in thousands of years. Hallmark and social media outlets took advantage of the coincidence and named it Thanksgivingakah. Emailed photos of mixing foods specific to the Pilgrims with the holiday of lights crammed my computer's inbox.
Eight nights of lighting the menorah, gifts and potato latkes (pancakes) in November? Not quite ready, I must admit. Turn the page in my date book and next up, of course, is Christmas. This usually includes open-house parties at 93108 retail stores. Trying to zip up a one-size-too-small dress while the saleswoman is encouraging me to try "just one" petit four is not a good combination.
Although my gift list has shrunk considerably from the days when I had three children at Montecito Union School, I still have many gifts to purchase. The pressure to find the perfect gift is my challenge and my downfall. This "it’s the thought that counts" philosophy never worked for me. As my frustration grows, I spend more money than I have budgeted (LOL) and start shopping for myself — and I'm not even on my gift-giving list!
I can hardly think of a better place to tamp down my nervous system to handle holiday hysteria than a 90-minute staycation by attending a yoga class at MoYo (Montecito Yoga). Denise Zaverdas, its owner for the past three years, refers to her business as "an intimate sanctuary for soul-centered evolution." With a Coast Village Road address, the actual entry is tucked behind Giovanni’s and neighbors a cluster of professional offices.
A beautifully ornate, carved wooden door welcomes you to this "not for locals only" oasis of serenity, beauty and calm. (Guests from the Four Seasons, Montecito Inn, Coast Village Inn and San Ysidro Ranch are vacation drop-ins.) Even the best of the town’s bloggers all suggest "pushing the pause button" between wardrobe changes and looking at a yoga class as a silver lining — and one of the best ways to recharge your battery as we sprint into Christmas and the new year 2014.
Zaverdas, who grew up in Oak Park, Ill., was involved with dance, volleyball and gymnastics as a child. After graduating with a BS in kinesiology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she lived in downtown Chicago until she relocated to California in 1998. Always fascinated by the human form and movement, she ended up for a time on an unexpected 13-year journey through the world of advertising — from the agency/creative side to post-production and her personal favorite: commercial film editor.
On a recent, quiet Saturday afternoon, Zaverdas shared with me that she began practicing yoga at her health club in downtown ChiTown, where she felt like she had arrived home after a long absence. The more she practiced, the more she loved it. Yoga included everything she enjoyed about movement and flow, with the magical addition of breath awareness.
She said she had wonderful opportunities to study with many master teachers after relocating to Newport Beach with her husband, event designing/surfer Michael. Moving to Santa Barbara in 2004, she was fortunate to teach and be the assistant at the acclaimed Santa Barbara Yoga Center. She was able to utilize her background in advertising and graphics and her passion as a yoga instructor all at the same place.
After six years of wearing many hats, she saw a need for a Montecito yoga studio and with the support of Michael and their dog, Cooper, she opened up Montecito Yoga in November 2010.
As part of our interview, I inquired about her philosophy and benefits of yoga.
“The more I know, the more I don’t know,” she said.
Yoga philosophy can be a very intellectual endeavor. Zaverdas is drawn to the mental gymnastics of it all, yet she continues to distill its most basic elements.
“It is about the relationship we have to ourselves and to each other," she explained. "How we treat ourselves on our mats is how we treat ourselves off our mats, so the practice gives us a unique opportunity to practice being. You can change your life by changing your perspective.
"This happens through commitment to both the physical practice and the pause practice (meditation).”
Zaverdas went on to extol the many benefits of yoga.
"Some of the most notable are that it builds strength, flexibility and balance," she said. "Yoga improves immune, circulatory, digestive, nervous and respiratory systems, and increases physical and mental energy.
"An additional benefit, which resonates with many students, is that yoga benefits you all year long, not just at the winter holidays, by reducing stress. It enhances the ability to relax and helps focus the mind and promotes weight loss from mindful choices.
"Yoga meets you where you are, and we are all not the same every day. There are no age restrictions."
MoYo, she says, offers classes for all levels and many different styles, ranging from restorative, yin, iyengar, vinyasa, flow, Pilates mat and, eventually, prenatal and mommy-and-me classes. Private lessons also are offered.
"Whether or not someone can touch their toes is irrelevant to their ability to practice yoga," she said.
"I want everyone who comes to visit us to feel welcome, seen and heard by myself and my staff," Zaverdas said. "Because we're a smaller studio, we're able to give support on a personal level, and I thoroughly enjoy getting to know all of our students — whether they attend my classes or not.
"We are not a trendy sort of studio with a lot of hype, but a tranquil place to play with the inner landscape and foster wellness and community," she said, quickly adding that the studio has convenient, free parking.
Zaverdas does not want MoYo to be the Amazon of the yoga world. She prefers her little jewel in Montecito to be an intimate, noncompetitive and relaxing place that mixes meditation and yoga practices for all levels.
"I consider myself a student first, so I am always learning, and everyone who walks through our door is a teacher in some way," she said. "We are all here for each other and we are all here to learn to love each other and ourselves."
Montecito Yoga, 1187 Coast Village Road, Suite 10C, is open daily with day and evening classes. Drop-ins are welcome. Call 805.845.1301, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or click here for more information about daily class schedules, prices or to sign up online.