By Valerie Vinyard

Arizona Daily Star

In the yoga world, many superlatives go along with the name Darren Rhodes.

Simply put, the Tucson resident and YogaOasis owner is one of the most visible anusara yogis in the world.

In 2008, Yoga Journal named Rhodes one of the top 21 teachers younger than 40 who are "shaping the future of yoga."

The 38-year-old also is the face - and body -for anusara yoga, which means "to flow with grace" and was founded in 1997 by 50-year-old Houston-based John Friend.

Millions of people have seen and imitated Rhodes' poses on the anusara syllabus poster that's sold worldwide and at YogaOasis for $25 and $35.

"The poster took years of effort and work, and yet so clearly he's so naturally gifted as well," said 29-year-old Rachel King, YogaOasis' office manager and Rhodes' sister-in-law. "We've sold thousands, and millions have seen it."

With their extreme bends and contortions, some of the 345 poses look nearly impossible to emulate.

"People often associate me with intense yoga postures, but that's not what I'm all about," said Rhodes, whose yoga practice is among the largest in Tucson with three studios and 30 instructors. "If it's inaccessible and elite, it's not all that useful."

Besides those exposed to Rhodes through the posters, thousands have attended his seminars held several times a year in the States and abroad. In Tucson, his three yoga studios - a central and an east side YogaOasis and YO downtown, which opened at 245 E. Congress St. in January - attract about 4,000 people a month.

Kate Donovan, who has been teaching yoga at her alma mater, Tucson High Magnet School, for 13 years, connected with Rhodes in March when she had a benefit for Haiti, and he donated studio time.

"I know him as being a really active yogi in the Tucson area," said Donovan, who teaches ashtanga and jivamukti yoga. "He's also really well-known nationally."

Anusara is one of about a half-dozen popular types of hatha yoga, she said. Others include Bikram, Iyengar, ashtanga and jivamukti.

Rhodes has helped put anusara on the map, said Donovan, a Tucson native who studied yoga in New York and India and wanted to bring yoga "back home."

"He is definitely a pioneer and has popularized the anusara system in the West," Donovan said. "He is great about expanding and connecting the yoga community in general in Tucson."

One of anusara's main objectives is that it looks for the good in all people and all things.

Many types of yoga styles are approached as problems to be solved, said Rhodes, who reads, meditates and practices postures up to three hours a day. "Anusara is 'We're here; let's celebrate.'"

Meeting a soulmate

Sitting erect in a cross-legged lotus position, dressed in jeans and barefoot, Rhodes exuded a peaceful happiness.

His long-sleeved tee was pushed up to reveal a tattoo of a goddess inked by Andra King of Adrenaline Tattoo and drawn by Bronwin King, Rhodes' wife and the artist's sister.

He met Bronwin, 33, in June 1993 at a dance at Glencairn Castle in Bryn Athyn, Pa. Rhodes' parents also had met there decades earlier.

"When I looked into her eyes, I knew I was going to marry her," Rhodes said.

The pair have been together 15 years and married 11. They're the parents of two pigs, three chickens, three desert tortoises and five cats.

Toward the end of one class, King sat down among participants and began singing a song a capella from her CD, "Bhavana," in a beautiful lilting voice.

Obstacle overcome

The success and notoriety Rhodes enjoys today not only comes from hours of practice but with determination to overcome significant physical limitations.

He enjoyed a "natural" introduction to yoga when his mother practiced throughout her pregnancy. She still teaches yoga at a studio in Philadelphia.

His father was ranked in the top 10 worldwide for platform diving while at Indiana University.

"I definitely inherited from my father the ability to do things with my body," Rhodes said.

But, at 19, he was told he had a 40-degree C-curve in his back.

He began a severe regimen of bodywork (Rolfing) and yoga.

"I was a pit bull about it," said Rhodes of his scoliosis, noting that "it certainly was a limiting factor."

It took years, but to this day, he's maintained a 10- to 12-degree curve, with normal being up to 10 degrees.

"I did not expect yoga to challenge me," Rhodes said. "It challenged me in all realms.

"Yoga can often turn what appears to be a disadvantage to an advantage."

Now Rhodes walks with a natural spring in his step and possesses the ability to contort his body into pretty much any pose imaginable.

A Humble life

Rhodes lives simply. He's often found pedaling around town on an Xtracycle, designed by his friend Ross Evans. For longer trips, he drives a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid.

His manner and humility impress students and co-workers alike.

"Darren has such a wonderful way of being so authentic when he's teaching," said Rachel King. "In a way, it's almost disarming. It really helps people tap into their own hearts- he almost catches you off guard.

"By the end, you can have a totally shifted state. He's so articulate, he can get it down to so few words for the maximum result."

Popular YogaOasis instructor Stephani Lindsey moved from Flagstaff Nov. 1 to teach for Rhodes.

"He's got this quiet confidence," Lindsey said. "He's deeply inspiring because he lives the practice he teaches."

Master sommelier and Tucson resident Laura Williamson is known first for her wine knowledge, but her friends are familiar with her love for yoga.

Williamson first met Rhodes through a Tucson event with anusara founder Friend. When she started at YogaOasis, she looked forward to Rhodes' "revolutionary" way of teaching.

"He attempts to make all familiar poses new by varying the exact structure ever so slightly with each class," said Williamson, 40. "He is a genius at ingenuity and rebirth."

As a registered yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance, Williamson holds occasional yoga and wine workshops of her own.

Making his move

In 1999, Rhodes took over YogaOasis from former owner Bill Counter after teaching there since 1997. The three studios offer 100 or so classes each week.

Rhodes is known for his $4 Yogahour classes at all three studios, an energetic and playful 60-minute introduction to yoga.

"It's very non-competitive," said Rhodes. "It definitely challenges you, but not in the context of competition. … No pain, gain.

"If you want silence before class, you're in the wrong place."

Rhodes still teaches a few classes a week, because "I always want to feel fresh and inspired."

After a Yogahour class in January, student Pamela Ridgway, a marketing specialist, spoke about YogaOasis.

"This place is very special to me because of the spirituality," said Ridgway, who is a three-time breast cancer survivor. "This is a complete practice."

Well, almost complete. YogaOasis is in the process of expanding its downtown location to finally include an office - and another restroom - behind the studio.

"We've been nomadic," Rhodes said. "We need a central office to be able to take care of what needs to be taken care of - so we can all gather and envision."

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"Darren's got a great force of personality. … He teaches with a great deal of confidence. I'm in really good shape, but yoga kicks my butt - and that's a good thing."

Ari Shapiro, 43

Xoom owner and YO neighbor

"Mentally, you're going to feel a sense of accomplishment. … You'll be inspired by other people in the room. It's an invitation to just blow yourself away. This transfers over into your life."

Stephani Lindsey,

29-year-old YogaOasis instructor

"Darren is so himself and down-to-earth when he teaches. He shows through his teaching that you can come to yoga from a variety of perspectives - self-doubting, feeling stressed or just wanting a great workout - and be able to apply yourself, even challenge yourself, in order to feel the deep gratification of moving your body, breathing in the moment and having fun along the way."

Bronwin King,

33-year-old yoga practitioner, singer and wife of Rhodes

Anusara

principles

In anusara yoga, poses adhere to the Universal Principles of Alignment. The five main alignment principles apply sequentially in each pose: Opening to Grace, Muscular Energy, Inner Spiral, Outer Spiral and Organic Energy.

YogaOasis locations

Call 322-6142 or go to www.yogaoasis.com for more information.

• Central: 2631 N. Campbell Ave.

• Downtown: 245 E. Congress St.

• East: 7858 E. Wrightstown Road.

Contact reporter Valerie Vinyard at vvinyard@azstarnet.com or at 573-4136.