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Lauren Justine Fuller: A Positive Pose

While She Teaches Yoga, Her Students Learn About Community

By JOANN KLIMKIEWICZ, Courant Staff Writer

December 13, 2007

There is not a hint of self-consciousness about them, these 20 or so women jammed into a Parkville studio on a Saturday morning, shimmying and shaking in their spandex and sports tops — mostly strangers, but in this hour, the best of friends.

"These ladies have it back here! They have it!" cheers on a woman in a blue, sweat-soaked bandana, clapping high-fives with the classmates behind her.

At the back of the room stands studio owner Lauren Justine Fuller. Head bopping, she watches the final high-energy moments of the exercise class as she waits to teach the next one — yoga, her center's anchor offering.

One wonders if the scene playing out before Fuller doesn't look a little familiar to her.

In all the moments over the years when it looked like the Fuller Movement Center might not happen, when her yoga classes would start and no one would show, when she'd crumble into tears in the middle of the warm, brick-walled studio she fell so hard for and believed so deeply that Hartford needed, the teacher would pick herself up, dust herself off and do as she tells her students:

"Literally, I meditated on it," she says. "I envisioned people leaping and jumping and having fun. I felt what it would feel like to help people find more joy through movement.

And she prayed.

"OK, God. This is it. I'm still here. Show me what to do next."

Chalk it up to what she calls Divine Grace, or her past year of do-or-die hustle (or, more likely, a little from column A, a little from column B). But three years after Fuller got the hunch she could cultivate a yoga community in a refurbished plumbing supply warehouse at Park Street and Bartholomew Avenue, all signs are finally pointing in her favor.

Class sizes are growing, drawing the diverse cross-section of the city that she had intended — people who drive in from the suburbs to work in downtown Hartford, people who live in its patchwork of neighborhoods, people from all walks, ethnicities and cultures.

A schedule built around Fuller's initial mission to open yoga to a more urban audience has since expanded to include movement and breathing classes in pilates, capoiera, belly dancing, the hot new dance-exercise craze called Zumba and the risqué-sounding but rather harmless lessons in pole dancing. They're seemingly divergent classes, threaded by the same philosophy.

"I get to open up minds, to inspire people to self-reflect. And we're not encouraged to do that too much," says Fuller, 35, who left her native Idaho to study dance in San Francisco and New York before landing in Hartford about a decade ago.

But something nagged at Fuller. After years of teaching in corporate settings and suburban gyms, she sensed such mind-body pursuits as yoga had become the province of the upper middle class. "And to me, that was wrong," she said. Knowing the mental and physical benefits she reaps time and again from a few simple poses, she wanted to demystify, to make more accessible this ancient spiritual practice.

So when she felt good and ready to open her own studio, Hartford was her deliberate choice. And when she found the exposed-brick space, with its rich wooden floors and streaming sunlight, she knew it was home. "This could be in New York or San Francisco," she thought. "And I wanted to re-create those big-city feelings."

In spite of the anxious looks at her mention of the studio's location ("Park Street? Is that safe?"), she believed in that corner of up-and-coming Parkville, with its promise of retail, restaurants and apartments.

What's the alternative? she figures. Another yoga studio in a suburban strip mall?

"Are we going to keep moving out? Who's going to break the stereotype?" she says. "And I'm finding those people here in Hartford who are saying, 'We're not going to buy into those thoughts.'" The city is alive, Fuller believes, with creative people, with forward-thinkers who refuse to give up on their adopted hometown. "We're all starting to find each other."

Slow and bumpy as its start might have been, she envisions Fuller Movement blossoming into a hub not unlike a coffee shop. One that peddles exercise instead of caffeine, anyway. "I've always liked that sense of community. I want this to be a place for people to come and exercise and see their friends."

After a nose-to-the-grindstone year, Fuller sees her plans starting to gel. To celebrate, and keep the word spreading, she held an open house of free classes Saturday, capped with an evening cocktail party. New faces and regulars sampled the menu of classes during the day and mingled in the evening to toast Fuller, and the studio that's warming an unlikely corner of Parkville.

"I was always afraid yoga was practiced only by women. Or only by rich people in California or New York," student Jaime Cordova, 42, says in between sips of wine and through a light accent that hints at his native Guatemala. "But people should just take a look. Because if they just started stretching their muscles, they could stretch their imagination, too."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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