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More Than a Good Stretch at Painted Elephant Yoga Studio

Jul 27, 2015 04:56PM ● Published by Brandi Barnett

The Painted Elephant

August 2015
By Fache Desrochers
Photos: Jacki Potorke

You know that feeling of a good stretch after a slightly too-long stint at a desk? Arms extending toward the ceiling… back muscles flexing…and a deep breath expanding the lungs. That sense of awakening movement is a deep and primal joy, a quick and direct connection to the wild, active spirit that lives inside us all. But in the face of the demands of modern schedules, that stretch which heralds the care of our bodies and spirits is often neglected for too long, resulting in excess stress, lethargy and muscles knotted until they resemble the rigging of a ship.
And that is no way to live one’s best life, if you ask Denise Head, owner and operator of the Painted Elephant Yoga Studio and something of a local fitness guru. Head’s expertise spans everything from Crossfit coaching to windsurfing instruction, but it was her background in yoga that she deemed most essential to serve Visalia. “When I was coaching Crossfit athletes, I realized we were making people really big and strong, but we weren’t doing much for their range of motion or flexibility,” explains Head. “So I decided to move into this space so I could offer my athletes a place to practice yoga.”
The space to which Head refers is a beautiful, airy building in Visalia’s burgeoning downtown industrial district. “Oh, it was kind of rough at first, but I could visualize it,” Head says. “And then I found a couple of great local artists here who helped me incorporate some of their work into the design, and the studio just took on its own life very quickly.”
The Painted Elephant is one of a scant few yoga studios in Visalia. But when it opened its doors, the responsive rush of mat enthusiasts of all levels who flooded through them demonstrated just how overdue its presence was. But this yoga studio is as unpretentious as it is popular. “My intention was to make this place accessible to anyone who walks through the door,” muses Head. “I understand that the first step is the hardest, and walking through our door can be challenging for someone who is new at this. So I really treasure every person that comes in here.”
The studio offers a familiar selection of yoga classes intended to suit a range of needs and abilities, such as Yoga for Athletes, Vinyasa Flow and Sunrise Yoga. But at the Painted Elephant, there exist a few classes with a newer twist, such as PiYo, an upbeat, musically driven workout that combines yoga with Pilates movements. And then there is a class with…well, more of a literal twist: a silky, suspended one, in fact.
The Painted Elephant’s Aerial Yoga class is perhaps the offering for which this studio has become best known. In this practice, each student spends just under an hour moving through a series of traditional yoga poses that are enhanced with a large swatch of silky, dangling fabric. These substantial yet ethereal loops enable the classic downward dog pose to flow into a Cirque du Soleil-style progression of lifts, flips and suspensions that invoke the adventurous, childlike spirit that has lived in many of us since those grammar-school days on the monkey bars. “I think that the aerial adds a whole new dimension to the yoga. It’s playful, it’s fun and it strengthens you on a totally different level than traditional yoga does,” says Head. “The main thing I tell everyone that comes into aerial is ‘channel that inner child.’ Letting go and having fun can give you power.”
Helping people find their own power is one of Head’s most cherished pursuits in life. “I love empowering people and making them stronger,” says Head. “It’s my thing, figuring out how to build someone up – physically, spiritually, emotionally, whatever it is that they need in their practice.”
Serving her community is at the core of what the Painted Elephant is all about. Classes are affordably priced, and running discounts abound for military personnel and students. Head subscribes to the philosophy of like minds coming together, and she celebrates that communal spirit in every way she can. “I like to do something community-oriented here about once a month,” says Head. “And apart from the good vibes, it’s nice to use these events to benefit the Visalia Rescue Mission. That organization is very dear to my heart.
“It’s a dream to be able to come here and share what I love,” says Head. “But the real blessing is how this studio brings people together. Guys, girls, old, young…this place is for everyone.”

Painted Elephant Yoga Studio • (559) 737-7776
525 E. Acequia Ave., Visalia
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