Good-bye Fear, Hello Yoga

Michelle Goodrick at her studio / CHARLOTTE ALDRICH

Through an integrated, active and highly scientific approach to yoga, Michelle Goodrick, founder of Good Yoga in Seville, fuses her past teachings with the present world in order to create a unique yoga experience that aims to connect and improve each student’s physical and mental well-being.

“Take off your shoes.”

The empty room, tucked away by pink floral curtains, on the first floor of number 19 on calle Pagés del Corro, in the neighborhood of Triana, begins to fill with students, the noise of bare feet shuffling against the lukewarm hardwood floor.

“Grab two blankets, two blocks, and a belt.”

The walls are painted a mint green, but take on a much deeper hue in the dim yellow that bathes the room. It’s now a dark green forest, the light a weak winter sun, the students eager cubs and Michelle a confident force of nature.

“Let’s begin,” she breathes.

Michelle Goodrick, born in Kansas in 1984 but now a four-year resident of Seville, is a yoga professor and the founder of Good Yoga, a unique blend of yoga styles that she has learned and adapted throughout her longstanding journey with this ancient Indian practice.

“How did I even get started?” she laughs. Her nose ring bounces in sync with her sandy blonde hair, a warm smile spreading across her face, welcoming the pensive silence that follows. Her eyes widen, as if trying to broaden her view to find her story, which begins very far away in Ecuador.

“In 2007, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador for a while, and it was actually that that got me first into yoga.” Her cat, Suka (meaning “happiness” in Hindi), jumps onto the couch to get a front row seat for the story.

“I was dancing with some friends in Ibarra, and I fell and busted my knee,” she begins. “The doctor told me that I had to get surgery because I probably had arthritis, and all of this stuff scared me. I was a runner before, and I couldn’t run anymore; I had to start doing something else; so, I started doing yoga.”

And it worked. “With yoga, I haven’t had any problems with my knee. I probably have better knees than most people, to be honest!” Her laughter, open and unapologetic, fills the room.

Before moving to Spain in 2013 to start her yoga business, Michelle worked in South Korea for a couple of years. “I was teaching English there to basically pay off my student loans.” It was there where she met her ex-partner. “I was living with him at the time. He got a job in Northern Spain, so I came with him.”

When she arrived, she met the person who would guide her through the most critical steps in her yoga journey, Domingo Gil. “He had just opened up his yoga center, in this little town called Aranda de Duero in Northern Spain.” She smiles. “Nobody will probably know where that is,” she says through muted chuckles. “It’s in the middle of the Ribera del Duero wine country. Highly recommend going.”

She continues, “I was really fortunate because he had 20 years of experience under his belt. So with him, I started to take yoga classes, and it was with him that I got introduced to Iyengar yoga.”

Michelle Goodrick with one of her students / MARÍA JIMÉNEZ

Iyengar yoga is a specific form of Hatha yoga (developed by Indian guru B.K.S. Iyengar) that focuses primarily on posture (“asana”), alignment, and breathing (“pranayama”). For Michelle, it was an enlightenment, a clear sign that she was heading in the right direction.

“I said to myself, ‘Oh my goodness, this is what yoga can feel like. This is what yoga can do.’” It was not just physically empowering, but mentally, as well. “I started to feel a huge difference in how the movement of my body within these poses was able to help me deal with a lot of stress and anxiety that I’d had in my life. It didn’t cure it completely, but it definitely helped, a lot.”

With her newfound love for Iyengar yoga, she came south to sunny Seville in August of 2013; but when she got here, this love–and even the faintest knowledge of yoga–was lost on the people.

“Nobody had even heard of yoga when I got here. Everybody knew what Pilates was, but they had no idea what yoga was. They thought it was a cult or something.” Her breath spills the air trapped in her belly. “It was a real struggle when I first got here.”

In order to make ends meet, she fell back on an old skill: teaching English. “I started off teaching English classes in various academies here. It was probably 20% yoga, 80% English. Then as I kept moving through and kept trying to find more people and places to teach yoga, that slowly changed, and eventually, I was able to say: ‘I’m not going to teach any more English classes.’”

Four years later, Good Yoga stands as a testament to that persistence. Michelle now has her own group of dedicated students. Between her three group classes, she calculates, “I have between 30 and 50 people that I teach at the moment. But, I try not to have more than 10-12 people in a class.”

Michelle Goodrick at her studio / CHARLOTTE ALDRICH

For Michelle, the fewer students in the class, the better. Establishing a mind-body connection is the most important thing in Good Yoga, and this connection comes from the individualized attention and active intervention she strives to provide each of her students. This, she asserts, is what makes her class stand apart from standard Iyengar practices. This is what makes Good Yoga its own practice.

“In Iyengar classes, they don’t necessarily come around and move you manually, whereas I am very much about doing that. I will tell my students ‘if you don’t want me to touch you then let me know,’ because I’m gonna come around,” she laughs.

“That’s what has encouraged me to keep going, seeing an amazing mind-body connection taking shape in my students.”

One of them, El, a Good Yoga frequenter for five months, attributes her current health to Michelle and her practice.

“I went for the first time to Michelle because a friend of mine, who was her student, constantly recommended her to me. I had really bad shoulders: partial breakage in both supraspinatus muscles, with very little mobility. I went to multiple orthopedists and physical therapists, and none of them helped me.” She smiles softly, anticipating her next words. “Michelle taught me some specific exercises. She helped me to correct my posture, and thanks to her, I now have good shoulders.”

El lifts her arms, perpendicular to her body, to show full mobility of her shoulders.

She continues, “Michelle also helped me emotionally to be more calm and more cheerful. In the final minutes of class, she directs a relaxation session with a focus on breathing. Ever since I’ve come to her classes, I’ve had better health.”

“I tend to take a very scientific approach in my classes and to yoga in general,” says Michelle. “I always really try and figure out why is this working, why are we doing this, and so I then have that information ready to explain to my students.”

Suddenly, something pops into her head. She leans forward and grabs a thick stack of papers bound by a clip on her coffee table.

“Yeah, there it is: The Polyvagal Theory for Treating Trauma. It’s very interesting,” she says, skimming through the pages. “It’s by Dr. Stephen Porges. Basically, it talks about how we have this nerve that starts up behind the ear and comes all the way down through the neck, through the sternum, connects to the heart and down into the digestive tract. And that is directly connected with the parasympathetic system, which is our fight, flight, or freeze response.”

She continues, her words accelerating with excitement: “Good Yoga poses work directly with that. As you work with your polyvagus nerve, you’re helping regulate your entire nervous system.”

Each inhale brings more security; each exhale more tranquillity; silently, Michelle demonstrates her practice. “If you can keep your own response calmed and unthreatened, then that means you are going to be sharing that same message with the people around you.” Coolly, she breathes, “With yoga, you can actually start to control the environment around you.”

In a world where fear runs rampant, where uncertainty over our personal health, our relationships, our careers and our overall well-being engulf our day-to-day life, one thing is certain: the world within the dark green forest is calm.

“Take off your shoes.”

Only the sound of breathing and rich laughter can be heard.