It didn’t take long for Cyndi Lee to fall in love with Lynchburg.
Lee, a former professional dancer turned yoga instructor, moved to the area in 2013 with partner Brad Bateman after he was named president of Randolph College.
During the interview process, the couple visited, and a local realtor gave Lee a tour of the town.
“Her job was to make me love Lynchburg … and she did,” Lee says. “It seemed so cool, and the whole downtown area was so exciting.”
“We just find ourselves coming downtown and eating dinner,” she adds. “We got our bikes from Jeff at Scene 3. We just really like the vibe downtown, and I always wanted to be a part of it.”
Now, with the opening of her new Yoga Goodness Studio, located inside Riverviews Artspace, Lee is part of the downtown scene. She will host an open house there this week during First Friday before officially opening on April 9.
For 15 years, Lee ran a popular, well regarded yoga studio in New York, where she practiced a brand of yoga she developed. Upon moving here, she wanted to continue teaching but found there were no full-time opportunities.
“It’s a weird feeling to not be able to make a living,” she says. “I’m a working woman. … [It’s] a big part of my identity. Not only that, I love what I do.”
She taught a couple of classes locally and continued to travel around the country teaching, but eventually decided to open her own studio.
“I … wanted to be able to have a community, a yoga community, here, and have my livelihood be [here],” she says.
Everything came together when a space became available inside Riverviews.
The space, she says, is perfect, thanks to its wooden floors, ample wall space and high ceilings. But the aesthetics were only one part of it; Riverviews’ role as an arts hub also appealed to Lee.
“It’s really fun to be around artists,” she says, adding that “it feels a little bit like I’m with my people. … It’s something to move. It takes awhile … to find your friends, to find your people. Of course, yoga is always a way. Other yogis find each other. There’s a natural community that evolves.”
Lee first discovered yoga while she was attending Chapman College in California; she was required to take a PE class and chose yoga.
“That turned my entire life in a different direction,” she says. “I didn’t know it at the time.”
She says it eventually became about more than exercise for her as she tapped into the spiritual side of yoga.
After graduate school — she earned an MFA in dance from the University of California at Irvine — Lee moved to New York City as a recipient of an art history fellowship to the Whitney Museum of American Art, and began dancing and choreographing professionally.
Among her credits: A cameo in Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” music video, which she choreographed in 1983, and other videos for the likes of Rick James, Simple Minds and Appolonia.
Starting out, though, she needed a supplemental income when gigs were sparse.
“When I went to New York, I started dancing. You have to have another job, usually it’s as [a] waitress,” Lee says. “So I started teaching yoga. … Sometimes I didn’t have to teach because I was dancing enough.”
In the 1980s, she started practicing Buddhism, which would later inform her work.
“Then my dance started to look more like yoga,” she says. “I realized, ‘I don’t think I want to choreograph anymore.’”
Lee performed her last concert — “Dharma Dances,” which featured her friend, poet Allen Ginsberg, singing his own songs — in 1994. Four years later, she founded OM Yoga Center, where she taught a brand of yoga she created.
“The yoga world has changed so much in the past 20 years,” Lee says. “Everyone is looking for a niche, because it’s a much more crowded market.”
She says her style developed through an organic process that combines movement-based Vinyasa yoga with meditation and Iyengar yoga, which focuses on alignment and “precise placement of your body so you get the benefit but don’t get injured.”
Lee eventually named it “OM,” referencing the “om” mantra, or sound, used in religions like Buddhism and Hinduism.
“It means [the] union of body, breath and mind,” she explains. “That’s really what yoga is about.”
At Yoga Goodness, Lee will initially offer 20 classes, shooting for an average of three a day, maybe less on weekends. She’s been training instructors who will also teach there (she plans to teach six or seven herself), and classes will range from beginner to advanced.
“I like to get the message across that it’s really a yoga lesson,” Lee says. “If you’re taking tennis lessons, on the first day, [it’s] ‘This is a tennis racket. This is how you hold it.’”
“[People think], ‘I can’t go because I don’t already know how to do it.’ You don’t have to already know how to do it. … You can start as an absolute beginner and learn and develop.”
Lee will also offer restorative yoga, meditation and what she calls “yoga church,” Sunday morning lessons that will benefit a local charity selected by the instructor, and she’s teaming up with Lynchburg Parks & Recreation to offer free outdoor yoga in Riverside Park.
In a way, this new business venture came at a less than opportune moment for Lee.
Six weeks ago, she began studying to become a Buddhist chaplain through a Zen center in Santa Fe, New Mexico — something she says felt like the natural next step in her studies.
“You go [to retreats] two times a year for 10 days, [do] volunteer work and figure out what [your] chaplaincy might be like,” says Lee, who returned from her first 10-day session last week.
When the Riverviews space opened up, Lee wondered if she should postpone her studies, until Bateman offered a few words of wisdom.
“[He said], ‘Teaching is your chaplaincy, and the yoga studio will be your chapel.'”