With one deep collective inhale, eight yogis channeled their ujjayi “ocean” breath at King Yoga Studio in Snowmass Village on July 30 for a class led by Harper Rafelson.
Rafelson is a certified yoga instructor. He’s been leading the five-week “Root Down to Rise Up” series that started July 16 and runs Fridays through mid-August at the airy studio located on the second floor of the East One Snowmass building in Base Village.
He’s also an incoming senior in high school; Rafelson got his 200-hour yoga teacher certification through a class at Aspen High School last year. The series — a collaboration among Aspen High School, King Yoga and the local mental health advocacy nonprofit Aspen Strong — is led by students and for students, with a focus on supporting mental fitness for young adults.
“I don’t even really see myself as a yoga teacher,” Rafelson said in a recent phone call. ”I just see myself as someone who loves yoga, and I can expand upon that knowledge with other people, and I really, really enjoy that.”
The care and love for the lifestyle that Rafelson and his fellow Aspen High School yogis demonstrate in the class has impressed Aaron King, a longtime local instructor who owns the King Yoga studio and attended the session July 30.
“I’m just blown away by their commitment to coming into practice and their true love for yoga — like it really increases their flexibility, their strength, their peace of mind. … I’m just really honored to be able to be part of it,” he said.
King helps out a bit with adjustments during the class, but it’s student teachers like Rafelson who take the lead for the hour-long sessions.
“Your teachers teach you and then you teach the next generation, so (I’m) just passing my knowledge and wisdom and just experience on to him but also letting him sort of cultivate his own sort of message and vibe, energy and music,” King said. “But the flow is similar to my flow. … He is devoted, he’s committed, he truly loves it, and so I see a lot of myself in him.”
King, with his two decades-plus of experience in the field, was effusive with praise for Rafelson and other high school participants who are receptive to feedback and who are embracing the yogi lifestyle.
“At 17-, 18-years-old, I was lost at that age, and these guys have their stuff together, man,” King said. “It’s pretty amazing. Yoga has definitely been a positive influence in these kids’ lives.”
Classes are free with a student ID, though anyone can participate; Rafelson and three of his fellow Aspen High classmates were joined by community members including Aspen Strong executive director Angilina Taylor and the organization’s co-founder, Lawrence Altman.
“At the end of my class, I always bow my head, put my hands together, and I say ‘Namaste, and thank you to everyone for participating in the practice with me,’” Rafelson said. “And when everyone bows their head back to you, and the whole room comes together for the beautiful phrase ‘namaste,’ it’s a really powerful thing. You really feel the energy in the entire room come together.”
As with almost any yoga class, there’s some flexibility involved, but the series focuses on the mind as much as the muscles.
“Yoga doesn’t have to be physical movement on a mat,” Rafelson said. “I mean, practicing mindfulness and connecting with your inner consciousness can happen from just sitting still, so it’s really cool that you can get so many benefits in so many different ways.”
That’s a message that King, who sees yoga as “the ultimate healing modality,” hopes to impart as well. In his eyes, it seems to be sticking among participants in the “Root Down to Rise Up” series.
“It’s a lifestyle, it’s not a sport, and they get it. They live it, man,” King said. “It’s really inspiring and motivating for me as a teacher … watching this next generation be able to embrace it and really enjoy it and support each other, and just their camaraderie among each other is so beautiful to watch.
“It just makes you feel good, like here’s hope for the next generation in a positive way, that these are young yogis that are going to live this for hopefully the rest of their lives.”
To register for a “Root Down to Rise Up” session or another class at King Yoga, visit kingyoga.net or contact Aaron King at 602-300-0839.