On February 28, 1998, Marie Svoboda (1920-2012), Seattle's pioneering grande dame of yoga, closes her Queen Anne yoga studio after teaching roughly 15 classes per week there for 30 years. The narrow, loft-like space, once the city's sole yoga-studio listing in the yellow pages, is where Svoboda introduced many hundreds of students to the practice of hatha yoga, a system of postures aimed at stretching, strengthening, and relaxing the body and mind. Soon after Svoboda's retirement, yoga will become a booming business in Seattle; a single yellow page will barely contain all the studios, many of them operated and patronized by Svoboda's former students.
A native of Czechoslovakia, Marie Svoboda was 77 when she taught her last class at 6½ Boston Street. In a group letter, her students paid tribute to how "you have been here for anyone willing to explore your unique and powerful way of teaching oneself to really inhabit one's body" (Berktau email). What followed was a page-long collection of "Marie-isms" -- some of Svoboda's most memorable corrections and comments, ending with:
"Don't sit there like a plum.
"You are strong in all the wrong places.
"If you put Maureen's top with Ann's bottom, it would be a perfect specimen.
"The supported shoulder stand fixes everything.
"The hardest position in Yoga is lying down because you will always find someplace tense.
"Once you get this right, we will all be able to go home ... Did we get it yet?
"Walking is meditation in motion; everything is preparation for the last breath" (Bertkau)
Several of Svoboda's former students who revered her distinctive style and opened their own studios also offered teacher certification programs. Svoboda, however, personally trained only a few individuals into teaching proficiency so that they could substitute for her when she traveled. Her last protege, Kelly Blanchard, remembers Svoboda saying upon retirement, "I'm still your teacher" (Blanchard interview). She did indeed teach in private settings to a select circle, including Blanchard, for another eleven years.