When Susan Whitaker moved to Auburn in 1989 there were only two yoga instructors in town. There were no yoga centers, and none of the gyms offered yoga classes.

Whitaker began teaching yoga at various sites, holding onto a dream that she’d one day have her own center.

In 1998 that dream came true. She opened Canyon Spirit Yoga Center, Auburn’s first yoga center.

“We are tried and true,” said the petite and bright-eyed yogini.

And they are popular, too. The cozy, welcoming space on Auburn Folsom Road boasts more than 150 students each week.

Classes include Recharge, Restorative, Dance, Gentle, Beginners, Flow, Men’s, Qigong, Movement, and Writing as Healing Art.

Whitaker fell in love with yoga at the age of 19 in Louisiana when she and her mom took their first class together as a way to lose weight.

She quickly realized that, with yoga, she would gain much more than she would lose – in the best possible way.

“Yoga is connecting the mind, body, spirit and soul,” Whitaker said. “It’s about understanding that connection and strengthening it.”

Yoga helps her feel more comfortable in the world.

“It’s not a thing I do,” she said. “It’s a life practice.”

After a yoga class, Whitaker feels calm, energized, stress-free and happy, and she wants her students to feel that, too.

“I don’t know what people do to cope if they’re not practicing yoga,” Whitaker said.

While there are several places that offer yoga classes in Auburn these days, Whitaker is proud that Canyon Spirit offers more than exercise. Her practice is based on a spiritual foundation that is thousands of years old, the idea that we’re all connected.

Yoga means union, Whitaker said, and her center’s maxim is, “Be with those who help your being.”

“We’re made to feel that we have to do things all by ourselves,” she said, “that we’re weaker if we need to ask for help, but in reality we all need the support of other people.”

When students walk into Canyon Spirit, she hopes they sense the good energy and breathe a little easier.

Whitaker’s favorite part of her job is the moment at the end of a yoga session – after the relaxation portion – when students sit up.

“I see the looks on their faces,” she said, “and they’re so peaceful.”

It’s not very often that people stop and take care of themselves. When we’re not working, we watch TV, eat and sleep.

“Yoga allows people to pause for a minute and catch up with themselves.”

What to know if you go:

Dress comfortably

Prepare to be barefoot

Arrive 10 minutes early

There are a few yoga mats to borrow, but it’s best to bring your own

Let the instructor know of any physical limitations you may have

Turn off your cell phone – “Leave it in another world”

Most importantly, plan to stay for the relaxation

“Yoga is easy to do,” Whitaker said. “Getting here is the hardest part.”

For more information, visit http://www.canyonspirityoga.com or call 530-210-0100