Yoga changed the lives of sisters Frani Assaf and Lisa Kanne – and made their relationship stronger.
The sisters, who grew up on a farm nestled in the rolling hills of Vail, Iowa, are respected leaders in their yoga communities. Frani a popular instructor at The Sweat Box in Seattle, Washington, which she also manages; Lisa owns Karma Yoga in Omaha, Nebraska, where she also teaches.
The sisters, and their respective practices, live 1,000 miles apart. Even so, yoga has strengthened their bond with one another, taught them both about self-love and helped them become happy, healthy and whole.
Frani discovered yoga while a student at Iowa State University after spending most of her childhood and teens dancing and playing sports. She would stretch before and after each; in college, she realized she was actually doing yoga poses. Inspired, Frani read books and manuals on yoga and started practicing at home. She attended her first class – it was inside a church basement – when she moved to Seattle after graduation. The instructors were trained in Traditional Hot Yoga, Ashtanga and Kundalini, as well as Qi Gong, a martial art that focuses on posture, meditation and movement.
The group’s head teacher, Dr. Bill Mitchell, was one of the founders of Bastyr University. He taught Frani that the most important aspect of yoga was not necessarily the poses, but “the mental and spiritual clarity one received while in the postures,” she says.
Frani tried out the different styles of yoga and soon took her first hot yoga class. At the time, she had a stressful, fast-paced job in corporate public relations – and it showed, inside and out. Yoga changed all that.
“After my first couple of classes, I had less anxiety and a calmer state of mind,” she recalls. “The physical results were huge. I was stronger, more flexible and down a dress size – but the mental results were what kept me coming back to class.”
Frani practiced yoga regularly for only six months before she realized she wanted to help others see and feel its power, too. After three years of planning and saving money, Frani moved to Los Angeles, where she trained for nine weeks to become a certified yoga instructor.
“Becoming a teacher has been the most rewarding decision I have ever made,” she says. “I found that I wanted to save the world on a personal level, by teaching my students that they are beautiful, that their bodies are capable of doing amazing things and that it is important to improve – while still loving yourself for where you are right now.”
She adds: “When a student comes to me with an issue or obstacle, I advise them to slow down and breathe through the discomfort. Avoiding an issue or a pose or a relationship only hinders self-growth and does not solve the problem. Meditate upon what you really need in your life to deal with this issue and know that though it may be uncomfortable, it's not forever. And then face it head on.”
Frani looks to Lisa for guidance and support as a yoga instructor and as a mother.
“When I feel anger or frustration, Lisa comes to mind,” Frani says. “When I struggle with an issue with my studio or a student, she is who I reach out to first. Lisa gives thoughtful advice and is incredibly knowledgeable on all forms of yoga and philosophy. Lisa's words remind me to be compassionate with myself and that the pose isn't as important as how I feel while I'm in it. Being present and sitting with those feelings are the hardest lessons learned in yoga but have greatly improved my relationships with my family and friends.”
Lisa became hooked on yoga thanks to baby sister Frani, who bought her a series of classes at a local studio. The external and internal changes Lisa saw in herself were astounding and exciting, she says.
“After two classes, my knees stopping hurting from years of running,” Lisa says. “After one month, my power of concentration had improved immensely. After six weeks, I remember leaving the studio feeling lighter on my own two feet. After three months, I remember going to the doctor and measuring taller.”
And, perhaps best of all:
“After six months, my first response to stress was not to yell or lose my cool with my children, but to breathe. When my stress level peaked, my kids would say, ‘Mom, you need yoga!’ They understood the transformation before and after class.”
A year after starting her hot yoga practice, Lisa also noticed she was wearing smaller clothing sizes, even though the number on the scale stayed the same. That triggered in her a new confidence that remains today.
“I have a healthier relationship with my body that I wish I would have found as a teen,” Lisa says. “I am more available to try things that would have scared me previously.”
Lisa later became an instructor and opened her own yoga studio. Karma Yoga is now one of the busiest and most widely-recognized yoga studios in Omaha. Despite her successes, Lisa remembers what it was like that first time on the yoga mat.
“Having brand new students to yoga almost daily offers me the opportunity to come back to the beginner’s mind,” Lisa says. “Wherever you are, be all there!’ is a sign in our window at Karma Yoga Omaha and it reminds me to keep with the mind of a beginner.”
Lisa says she uses yoga in everything she does, inside and outside the studio.
“All the obstacles you find in life are the same obstacles you find on your mat daily,” she says. “Those thresholds you ignore keeps rearing up, so you have to face them. What I learn on the mat, I take with me on the path.”
Lisa often reaches out to Frani for advice, and vice versa.
“Frani is a wealth of knowledge as she has had a consistent practice and fluidly knows how this path keeps us sane as the world continually changes around us. Because we both love this practice of yoga for all the benefits, we continue to practice daily. Frani is my inspiration! There are so many days I am in practice and her voice pops into my head or her smile comes to mind. I am warmed by the idea that she is doing the same thing.”
Live in (or visiting) Seattle and want to take one of Frani’s classes? Head to www.sweatboxyoga.comfor a schedule.
Omahans: check out Lisa’s West Omaha studio, including class schedules, at www.karmayogaomaha.com.
Karma Yoga has H2W Apparel available for purchase! To learn more, take a peek at this blog about H2W Apparel’s awesome retail partners, including Karma Yoga.
As always, you can shop online at www.h2wapparel.com.