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Meet Lori Gaspar of Prairie Yoga

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lori Gaspar.

Lori, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I took my first yoga class in high school but had completely forgotten about it until recently. One of my best friends was cleaning out some old boxes and found a note I gave her in high school that said I had tried a yoga class in the gym that day and I loved it and that I imagined myself doing it forever. After that, I didn’t take another yoga class until I had two toddlers. I went to the Glen Ellyn Park District and fell in love with the 70+-year-old yoga instructor, Kay Clay. I remember vividly how she just radiated and carried herself. I wanted to be like her. I liked how yoga made me feel connected to myself.

After that, I attended weekly yoga classes at Health Track in Glen Ellyn and I never missed class. I just loved yoga. A group of us decided to become trained as yoga teachers. I had no desire to become a yoga teacher, I just wanted to learn more about yoga. We invited the owner of a big Chicago studio to come out to the suburbs to teach us. We were the first yoga teacher training in the west suburbs and the students from that training are some of the current leaders in the suburban yoga community.

Even though I have a fairly strong physical yoga practice, what connected with me most was yoga philosophy. At the time I was in training, I was searching and reading books like Belief in God in An Age of Science. I no longer felt a connection to organized religion and I was feeling a bit lost as a new mom with a career on the sidelines. Who was I? What was my purpose? In yoga teacher training, I learned that the answers were within me. I slowly learned to slow down, listen to my breath, discover where my body was in space, and feel and track inner sensation. As I developed self-awareness, I realized that this body, this mind, this life is sacred.

When I was a teenager, I lost my younger brother. He was killed walking across the street to school. It made me very aware of our limited time here on earth and that any of us can be gone in an instant. The yoga teachings that said everything that I need is right here now really resonated with me.

Before I was a yoga teacher, I had a small graphic design business and taught graphic design at College of DuPage. I was approached by the Physical Education Department to teach yoga and started teaching yoga there as well as at a corporate fitness center and a local yoga studio. I found out I was good at teaching yoga and students really liked my classes. I was sort of a yoga junkie, spending as much time as possible getting more and more training and I had a lot of enthusiasm. I trained with some of the best teachers in the US and I would share what I had learned with my students.

Eventually, I started working for the large Chicago yoga studio helping train their teachers and writing part of their teacher training manual. After a while, I developed an advanced yoga teacher training curriculum. When the owner didn’t want to offer it, I decided to teach it myself. I started Prairie Yoga and became a registered yoga school with Yoga Alliance in 2006.

Prairie Yoga was the first 500-hour advanced yoga teacher training program in Chicago. I recognized the need for yoga teachers to learn how to adapt the practice of yoga so everyone could benefit, not just young, flexible people. I rented space at other local yoga studios and quickly one of my primary teachers, Tricia Fiske, offered to join me to teach a foundational 200-hour yoga teacher training program.

In May 2009, the training programs had grown so much, Prairie Yoga opened our own facility at the current location in Lisle. With a home base, Prairie Yoga added yoga studio classes and yoga continuing education workshops and specialized trainings for yoga teachers. In 2009, we were invited to bring the Prairie Yoga teacher training programs to yoga studios in Ft. Wayne, IN and Grand Rapids, MI. Since then Prairie Yoga has expanded to offering trainings across the Midwest – Madison, WI; Peoria, IL; Decatur, IL; and we continue offerings in Grand Rapids, MI.

With our rigorous curriculum, Prairie Yoga has become the destination for high-level training for yoga teachers. In May 2013, we opened a second studio space in the same building to accommodate larger groups and host workshops and trainings from internationally known yoga educators. We are often referred to as the “Yale” or “Harvard” of yoga teacher training. We have trained over 600 yoga teachers in the Midwest and yoga teachers will come from all over the United States to attend our specialty workshops.

Students (non-teachers) who attend our regular weekly studio yoga classes experience highly trained teachers who are very knowledgeable about alignment and health issues and who stay current on the latest yoga research and methodology.

Prairie Yoga is very service-oriented. For many years, we helped train teachers to teach yoga cancer survivors and hosted free classes at our studio. After two of my friends lost children to mental illness, I approached the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) DuPage and asked if yoga could help their clients. They were thrilled- NAMI had just built a new community center and Prairie Yoga began teaching free yoga classes there twice a week. These free classes continue with a team of volunteer yoga teachers. I never intended to teach yoga and now I am the leader of this wonderful yoga center.

Some of my best friends are my fellow yoga teachers. We have a wonderful yoga community where the students and teachers encourage and support each others growth. My intention was and continues to be how to bring the benefits of yoga to everyone, no matter what your size, shape or physical ability. Yoga has helped me with so many challenges in life and I have witnessed the transformative effects of the yoga practice on many students. I see us expanding into online education in the future, yet we will always stay rooted in face-to-face learning. Being in a physical environment with other students and a yoga teacher who can give you feedback and guidance is the best way to learn.

Has it been a smooth road?
My biggest bump was when I designed the advanced training curriculum and the studio owner I was working for didn’t want to offer it. I had spent 1.5 years developing it and put my heart and soul into it. I was pretty devastated when he didn’t want to move forward. But that bump ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me as it caused me to part ways with him and start my own business. Since then, it has been fairly smooth and Prairie Yoga has exceeded all my expectations.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Prairie Yoga – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
We are known as the Harvard of yoga teacher training and our regular yoga studio classes are taught by high-skilled yoga teachers who know how to adapt the practice of yoga. You will get individualized attention that you can’t get elsewhere.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love Chicago and have lived here since the age of 6. What I love most is the people. Chicagoans are friendly and authentic with solid family values and a sense of community.

What I like least?
The weather! But I love our Summer and Fall. We have the best September and October anywhere!

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Image Credit:

Sachiko Eubanks

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