Yoga becomes a place unto itself, taking you into your own time and space. Therefore yoga is everywhere, anywhere, that you practice it – on the grass, on a beach, at the Y, in the living room, in a storefront.
But perhaps arriving at one's center is easier, especially for someone still learning to look, in a space made for the exercise of searching. A place designed in harmony with the experience.
Melanie Landgraf certainly believes that, as she and her husband, Guy, prepare to open the new Tosa Yoga Center at 6734 W. North Ave. For the first time, she, as business owner and lead instructor, will have a space custom made for stretching out body and mind.
"I want my students to walk in and just feel at peace, and say, 'This is my studio, my space,'" Melanie said. "I want them to be able to just step into the experience."
For seven years, Melanie had to make do with the "yoga is wherever you are" approach, because she was, literally, teaching in a storefront, more suited to the sale of dry goods than of inner peace.
That was three blocks east, at 6428 W. North Ave., the best space Melanie could afford while she and Guy started a family.
"I was pregnant when we opened and I started teaching," she said. "It was what it was. You stepped in the door and you were in it – the storefront was the studio. We had a desk off to the side. That was it."
The right Guy for the job
Despite the spartan and somewhat uninspiring surroundings, over those seven years Melanie developed a loyal clientele, teaching not only with growing expertise but with warmth and humor.
Now, she and Guy have spent nearly a year planning and then building her dream, for herself and her students.
The new Tosa Yoga Center, on the northeast corner of North and 68th, grew out of a building formerly subdivided into two narrow business spaces. A new owner bought the building with Tosa Yoga in mind, Melanie and Guy said, and encouraged their plan to remove the center wall and open up the space.
Money still being an object, Guy did most of the work of rehabbing and refurbishing himself – "I would say, probably 75 percent," he said.
"If we weren't able to do this ourselves, it never would have happened, simple as that," Guy said. "There's no way we could have afforded it."
But Guy was uniquely suited to the task. He has an artist's eye, a craftsman's touch, and an inveterate handyman's ability to work with what he's got and what he can find.
With a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Guy became a supervisor – not in art but in MIAD's "3D Lab" workshops, where he teaches students proper methods in carpentry and other skills and how to use the tools of building models and prototypes.
"He's kind of the perfect person for this," Melanie said. "He has both the vision and the skills – and, he's willing to do it. I guess he's the perfect husband."
The vision grows out of the place, not the other way 'round
It must be love. Guy has worked night after night, often until midnight, after his day job and on weekends, since June 15, to see the job through. And he's done it, as much as possible, with sustainable or recycled materials, including, as he sees it, the bones of the building itself.
"We had to strip it down, and then let what was there dictate to us," Guy said.
Removing ceiling tiles, for instance, revealed an interesting lattice of wood spacers, put there for function, not form. Now they are pure form, yet they do function in a design sense to soften the space and give it dimension.
With room to finally have a vestibule and reception area outside the studio – the new Tosa Yoga is more than twice the size of the old – Guy built a desk out of timbers from an old barn on Melanie's aunt and uncle's farmette near Johnson's Creek.
Finally, too, the studio can be a very inner space, isolated from the mundane comings and goings of day-to-day business. It's cocooned in the center of the structure, off a hallway that stretches the length of the western, street side of the building.
Tosa Yoga Center is, in effect, a three-for-one proposition for North Avenue.
Behind the studio is a smaller business within a business, the chiropractic office of Smasal Family Chiropractic, owned by Dr. Sarah Smasal.
Above the building in a former apartment, also entirely rehabbed to the purpose, is Mary Bruck's Be Well Ayurveda, teaching the 5,000-year-old holistic health science of India.
The teacher continues to learn
For Melanie, growing into her new space is in parallell with growing herself as a teacher. She completed her 200-hour teacher training with Integrative Yoga Therapy in Garopaba, Brazil, in 2004, and is currently working on her 500-hour teacher training at YogaOne Studio in Cedarburg.
She plans to open "softly" within the next couple of weeks, bringing in her current classes as the studio is completed, even though there's still some finishing and exterior work being done. The grand opening will be Jan. 18 – seven years almost to the day since she opened the business down the street.
She'll offer an expanded variety of classes and workshops, not only in yoga but also Pilates and meditation, in a variety of styles for a variety of ages.
Expansion of space and offerings could account for expanding the name of the studio from Tosa Yoga to Tosa Yoga Center. But don't count on it. Yoga is about "finding your center," or indeed, centers – the chakras, or centers of energy in the body from which one can draw strength.
Melanie has come a long way to find her center, in East Tosa on North Avenue, a place of warm lighting and earth tones, and a far cry from a storefront.
"Seven years was a long time in that space," Melanie said. "But seven is good. Seven is an important number in yoga. After all, there are seven chakras."