Eighteen years ago, Sierra Hollister showed up in Asheville with a mission: teach kundalini yoga. Yogi Bhajan, the founder of this yogic lineage, instructed young Hollister to bring the practice to this mountain town in Western North Carolina. Filled with innocent spirit and a sense of adventure, the yoga instructor says, “When I got to Asheville, I was in a pickup truck, turban and all-white clothing, and I walked into Lighten Up (the only studio at that time) and said, ‘I’m here to bring kundalini yoga to Asheville.’”
Owner Lillah Schwartz responded, “If you clean up a bit and get better clothes, you can be my receptionist.”
Hollister began working for Schwartz in the mid ‘90s, and she has been teaching in Asheville ever since. An instructor at Warren Wilson College for the past 17 years as well, she started her own practice while in college at the University of Maryland in 1989.
“At the time, I was into rock climbing and running, and I had a macho approach to fitness,” the 49-year-old says. “My friends took me to a yoga class and I was like, ‘yoga-schmoga.’ And then I was hooked, sold.”
Her initial introduction to the practice was a power-flow class in California with now world-renowned instructor Sarah Powers. Upon returning from the West coast, she shares, “I was going everywhere to find a similar experience. I ended up at Ahimsa ashram in D.C. It was Kundalini, a style I had never experienced. It was destiny.”
Holllister remembers no rational reason for staying in the ashram, especially because she would cry in class, and the guy next to her would be smiling. But there was something about this particular lineage that caught her attention and has stuck with her ever since. However, it differs from traditional flow classes.
“In Kundalini,” Hollister says, “you do not make up your own sequences. It is passed on for hundreds and thousands of years. You have to be true to it. You go in the order it is given.” That is a piece of wisdom she passes along to her students at Asheville Yoga Center, where she teaches on Mondays and Thursdays. At Warren Wilson College, Hollister teaches a two-credit, beginners yoga class that explores many styles and lineages of yoga, and she also teaches a free Kundalini class for all students on Mondays, offered through the wellness program.
“Hopefully something catches,” she says about teaching to the college students. “They attend my classes for four years, and then some people stay in Asheville and keep coming to my classes. I love that the college offers it for free to the community. It helps them explore their spiritual self and keeps them feeling good.” Hollister, mother of three and wife of the owner of Sundance Power Systems, says that a person can have a home practice even if it is only sun salutations. It takes 40 days to make a shift within, she says, and once you get that, a person can have the power to do anything.
The instructor remembers when there was only one studio in Asheville: the one she walked into years ago, which is now merging with Cindy Dollar’s One Center Yoga. “Lighten Up was the only studio in 1995. There were four or five [teachers]. All the classes were spilling out. We knew every Kundalini teacher in the world then,” Hollister recalls.
She has been at a lot of beginnings, including her tangential passion for environmental activism. “I studied environmental ethics in college before it was a thing to study. The problem was frustrating. We were viewing resources as a crop for us instead of as a part of us. I eventually became the Forest Campaigner for North America with Greenpeace,” the yogini says. She feels a connection between the work she does for environmental health in alliance with personal health and well-being. A yoga practitioner for over 30 years, Hollister has witnessed many shifts in both the yoga and activism world. “There are lots of positive changes,” Hollister says, “And as a commitment we have to make sure we are rising to meet yoga, rather than pulling down yoga to meet us.”
Hollister teaches at Asheville Yoga Center on Mondays, 10:15 a.m.—11:45 am, and Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.—9 p.m. Her blog is http://dragonflysamadhi.blogspot.com.
Kate Lundquist is a yoga instructor and freelance writer living in Asheville, NC. Her website is www.facebook.com/katelundquistyogaandwriting