By Nina Silberstein
Given that there is an abundance of yoga offered in Portland, there are certain qualities that set some studios apart from the rest.
Although Unfold Yoga & Meditation offers classes that are focused on strength and balance, the emphasis here is on healing. Classes tend to be gentler than those of other studios and more than half of their teachers are specifically trained to work with the traumatic brain injury community.
E.B. Ferdig is one of three co-creators of Unfold Yoga, (the others being Rachel Plies and Leigh Drake), which opened in spring 2013 at SE Division and 28th, across the street from Pok Pok.
After five years their landlord sold the building and they moved to SE 37th and Caruthers Ave. behind Collage.
“What brought us together was our training as integrated movement therapists,” Ferdig says.
Integrated Movement Therapy (IMT) is a holistic healing modality that uses the wide array of yoga tools to support people in their healing – “physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.”
The IMT philosophy holds that people are not broken and don’t need to be fixed, and that the teacher/therapist is simply a partner in the healing process.
“The three of us are united in our commitment to social justice and using yoga practices and community as a vehicle for creating more equity and inclusivity in the world,” Ferdig adds.
People who are interested in IMT are often those who feel “stuck” with other methods of healing and are looking for a partner-oriented, holistic approach.
“We work with people with all kinds of life challenges,” he continued, “but most often those with anxiety, depression, substance use and addiction, body image challenges, ADD/ADHD, Parkinson’s, cancer and grief.
“We work best with people who are interested in how yoga tools like breath, movement, meditation and philosophy can help navigate the mental/emotional challenges of major life changes.”
The three co-creators were less interested in opening a yoga studio, wanting more of a place where they could build community around the ideals of healing, growth and social justice. Still, a yoga studio is what made sense to people, so Unfold was born.
“When we opened, we had each been teaching yoga and practicing as yoga therapists for varied amounts of time,” Ferdig explains.
“Prior to that Leigh was in corporate banking. I was fundraising for the Columbia River treaty tribes in Portland, raising my kids and started teaching yoga,” she said.
When her son was nine months old, Ferdig and her family moved to Eritrea, followed by Ethiopia, and then on to Indonesia for a total of five years away from Portland.
“My husband worked for Mercy Corps for 20 years and I started teaching yoga soon after we arrived in Eritrea. Rachel had been a student prior to the yoga teacher and IMT training.”
Unfold’s regular, weekly drop-in classes are titled as simply as possible: Meditation, Gentle, Flow, Strength & Balance and Gentle Core Strengthening.
There’s always a topic of the month and classes start with a brief talk or framing of that healing quality.
“We practice that healing quality in class so that we can take it out into the world and make a difference in our varied communities,” she notes.
Yin Yoga focusing on relaxation and energetic aspects of healing and Yoga Nidra, a lying-down, guided meditation, are also offered and for a deeper dive, there’s professional development.
“Our teacher training and professional development offerings lean toward social justice, accessibility, cultural appropriation, anti-racism and anti-oppression,” Ferdig said.
Upcoming programs include Bone Health, Partner Stretching & Massage, Yoga for Parenting and Exploring Sobriety. They likely will be shifting to weekend-focused trainings, as opposed to the 200-hour yoga teacher training they offer now.
Other focus areas: making yoga accessible, yoga and social justice, simple movement and meditation for addiction professionals, and cultural appropriation.
While Unfold had adapted to their new space, they were forced to stop holding classes there when COVID-19 hit. Thankful their new landlord agreed to negotiate a price to get them out of their lease, Unfold has shifted their work to be almost entirely online.
The challenges of COVID-19 and social isolating is the kind of thing Unfold has had to prepare for. Many of their students have expressed how grateful they are for Unfold as a lifeline during this time. As a result, they intend to keep their business 95-99 percent online.
“We believe that it makes our practices more accessible to not have to travel to a studio, so it fits well with our mission,” says Ferdig.
They don’t intend on taking on another lease, but as needed, will drop into parks and other places for pop-ups, and will partner with organizations looking to host classes and trainings.
“We’re really open to ideas that like-minded businesses and organizations have in this arena and encourage them to contact us.”
Know that the heart of Unfold is not defined by a physical location but by its people, inclusiveness and focus on healing.
Unfold Yoga & Meditation
2370 SE 37th Ave.