We are lying motionless on the ground, wrestling with the ancient struggle of letting go.
“You are sinking into the grass with every exhale of your breath,” coos yoga instructor Cori Lassahn. “Let go of the effort it took to drive here. Try to be so still that you are no longer concerned with your body or your mind.”
Our group—which consists of about 20 women and a few men—are surrounded by the lush vineyards of Roblar Winery on a dewy, October morning in Santa Ynez. The swish of leaves and the chirp of birdsong have replaced the incessant buzz of text messages, swoosh of emails, and clamor of inner to-do lists. We are present; we are living the moment. We are ready to sip wine. Yes, you heard me right.
While some might suggest a bit of dry cracker to cleanse the pallet, Lassahn has a far groovier concept in mind. Her new business, Vineyard Yoga Santa Ynez Valley, “preps” the tasters’ experience by first inviting them to stretch, kneel, and breathe for an hour-long yoga session. The classes unfold at bucolic winery settings and are paired with fine wine, gourmet food, and—as is the case for a Feb. 15 Valentine’s class—artisanal chocolate.
“Putting yourself in a more relaxed, receptive state of mind allows you to taste the wine more deeply,” Lassahn said. “If you are stressed, tight, and moving too quickly, you won’t be able to experience the moment as fully.”
Sound a tad hippy dippy for your taste? Studies do show that outdoor exercise can lead to a happier headspace, and if you ask me, taking the leap from positive outlook to heightened pleasure while sipping—say—a really well-crafted bottle of pinot noir, isn’t crazy at all.
Lassahn cited an environmental science and technology group study spanning 11 research studies on 833 subjects.
“The study found that when compared to indoor exercise, outdoor exercise led to increased mental benefits with greater feelings of revitalization, increased energy, and decreased stress and depression,” Lassahn said. “Getting that sun on your skin, that vitamin D, and being among the oaks—it just does something to us. It takes us away from the computerized world we all tend to live in nowadays.”
The 13-year yoga veteran personally knows how a few minutes per day of downward dog and child’s pose can lighten one’s mental and physical load.
In 1998, the then-recent college grad took a Bay Area yoga class on a lark. With a background in dance and a stressful corporate day job eating away at her insides, something clicked. She found her calling.
“I walked out of that class feeling more at peace than I had in a long time,” Lassahn said. “I thought: ‘How amazing to be able to get this feeling from something that’s good for you.’”
Pair that feel-good feeling with tantalizing tastes, and you have a recipe for pure, unadulterated pleasure. Although some readers will undoubtedly balk at the idea of pairing any kind of physical exercise with alcohol, I say bring it on. I was more than thrilled to attend Lassahn’s very first session, paired with butternut squash soup, baby kale, flourless chocolate cake, and tastes of Roblar’s 2012 Central Coast Chardonnay, 2011 Pinot Noir Arroyo Seco, and 2011 Grassetto.
My personal verdict? The experience was a heavenly (if not incredibly indulgent) way to spend a Sunday morning. I did feel more at ease during the tasting, too.
“The biggest benefit, for me, is seeing that sense of peace in people,” Lassahn said. “In the world today, there is an inherent amount of stress built into your life. Yoga is a path toward undoing some of that.”
Lassahn started up Vineyard Yoga SYV only a few months ago, executing the idea with her signature mix of persistence and positivity. As owner of wedding/event planning business Avante Events, Lassahn has what we in the business call “serious networking skills,” and the business prowess to match.
“I see all of these gorgeous winery properties every day, and I thought it would be so neat to present something where we could be healthy, breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy the gorgeous views,” she said.
Being a teacher first and foremost means ensuring that each class moves at an accessible pace (this largely depends on who shows up). Advanced yoga enthusiasts, beginners, and shy first-timers are always welcome to try their hand at the ancient practice. Students sign a waiver and are warned to listen to what their bodies are telling them.
“It’s not a competition. You start where you are, and that is different for everyone,” Lassahn said. “I see people beating themselves up, and I see people who may have grown up with a competitive sports upbringing take that energy onto the mat. You have to release your ego in yoga. That is the hardest part for many people.”
The hardest part for this writer?
One: Keeping my clammy hands from slipping all over the mat.
And two: Literally willing myself not to take copious notes between poses. Even I know that this would be counteproductive.
Somewhere between the initial breathing exercises and a position that managed to twist my legs, arms, and hands into a sort of a pretzel (amazing for opening up the shoulder blades and hips), I sunk into a true dream-like trance. My mind channeled the essence of a purring cat, content to simply stretch and bask blissfully in the sun. How much did the anticipation of delicious wine add to this experience?
I couldn’t tell you. That fact is unique to my own personal voyage.
“We are on our own path, on our own mat, having our own journey,” Lassahn said. “This is unique to each of us.”
Hayley Thomas, food writer for New Times San Luis Obispo and new Santa Maria Sun recruit, is finding her center at [email protected].