Down Under Through the Years

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Down Under Yoga was founded by Justine Wiltshire Cohen in 2004 in a parish hall in Newton Highlands. Justine had been studying yoga with John Schumacher in Washington, D.C., and even taught yoga at the Supreme Court, but when she moved to Newton to marry a local boy, she felt she had found her home. As she put down roots here, her yoga community grew, entirely through word of mouth. New teachers joined the Down Under community after meeting Justine during teacher training with Patricia Walden. Everything about our community today stems from these humble beginnings – a group of friends teaching together and our wonderful students who practiced through irregular heat, malfunctioning fire alarms, and the reverend's dogs wandering through the room. As Down Under expanded and formed into purpose-built yoga studios, we pledged to keep true to these beginnings of community, friendship, and joy in yoga practice.

From its earliest days, Down Under was known for its unique community focus. Our students would meet at a teacher’s home to help them practice for on-going assessments. There were potluck dinners at students’ houses where yogis, from diplomats to artists, shared their work. A decade ago, Down Under began a free yoga program for seniors and people with disabilities that still runs today, taking yoga off the mat with charity classes supporting causes close to home and internationally.

Down Under School of Yoga has grown to become New England’s premier yoga school. Featuring three generations of teacher-to-student lineage, unparalleled credentials, all major yoga traditions, and a powerful anti-commercial platform, the quality of instruction is matched only by the studio’s warm and welcoming atmosphere and the individualized attention given to students aged 3–93.

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The collegiate relationships of Down Under’s faculty cross decades, continents, and traditions. The Iyengar faculty, with its emphasis on alignment and precision, is directed by Patricia Walden, described by Time Magazine as the “best teacher in the world.” The Flow Faculty includes nationally celebrated Vinyasa teacher Natasha Rizopoulos known for her “exacting and nearly flawless knowledge of alignment” (LA Yoga Magazine) and yoga master Barbara Benagh, a veteran of more than 40 years of teaching who is described by Yoga Journal as “one of yoga’s most compelling and distinctive voices”. At 5:45 am, the hardcore Ashtanga practitioners hold a daily Mysore practice lead by the renown Kate O’Donnell, who like others, travels annually back to India to study directly with the Jois family, the source of her teachings.

I got a little taste of the community here and it was like coming home. There is an amazing sensibility here that feels very non-competitive and supportive between teachers—a shared vision of what it means to be a studio and to help students find their own incarnation of yoga. 
— Natasha Rizopoulos

As the only school in New England housing the three major lineages emerging from India, Down Under is a place of teaching and learning. The father of modern yoga, India’s Krishnamacharya, passed the tradition down to three very different young pupils: the powerful Pattabhi Jois (founder of Ashtanga Yoga), the brilliant B.K.S. Iyengar (founder of Iyengar Yoga) and Krishnamacharya’s own son Desikachar, whose life was devoted to therapeutic and meditative applications of yoga. The work of all three lineages is reflected in the Down Under’s offerings.

In late 2016, Down Under acquired Baptiste Yoga Boston and established our Baptiste program through reopening the legendary Cambridge studio along with its famed teachers under the Down Under name. Boston’s original heated flow developed by Baron Baptiste, tests students physical, emotional, and mental edge, cultivating focus, curiosity, and compassion so that what starts as a struggle becomes a source of self knowledge. In Down Under’s Heated Flow School, the permeating power of heat is used intentionally to make muscles more pliable and create a sense of deep presence and physicality. The purpose of the intensity is self-study – bringing you to your edge but also cradling you there.

A lineage is a tradition of teachings and practices that are passed down from generation to generation. If you want to climb Mt. Everest, would you figure it out yourself or talk to someone who had reached the summit? The benefit of being part of a lineage is that you know someone else has walked the path successfully. Because they know the path, they know the pitfalls, the obstacles, what happens when you doubt your ability or have lost your way, and what’s necessary to ‘get to the top.’ You feel supported by the past even as you are seated in the present.
— Patricia Walden
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The studio never blends methods but rather honors the integrity, intelligence and shared intentions of each methodology. The atmosphere at our school owes much to the powerful lattice of relationships woven over decades between senior teachers, trainees, assistants, and practitioners. Each new student at the school embarks on a very personal journey, exploring which lineage, style, teacher and level resonates with them. Each tradition whispers its own secrets. Each teacher works on a different aspect of practice.

Eventually the hierarchy of teacher–student dissolves and the class becomes a conversation, a dialogue about yoga,” says Barbara Benagh. “But it’s also key for any teacher to acknowledge that they are not everyone’s teacher—that’s why Down Under works so well, because we can suggest that a particular student might find what they are looking for in another class, because the teachers know and respect one another’s style of teaching.
— Barbara Benagh

Justine Wiltshire Cohen

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The force behind Down Under Yoga

Australian Justine Wiltshire Cohen was introduced to yoga and the cultures of the East by journalist parents who taught English to Tibetan monks in the Dalai Lama’s refuge in India.

She spent years working in international human rights as a lawyer before marrying a federal prosecutor from Boston and devoting herself to full-time teaching. Cohen decided that if she was going to live in America, she wanted to surround herself with every creative, learned, and inspiring yogi the region possessed. And so was born a major American yoga school, home to some of America’s most senior teachers.

Justine’s teaching career has spanned two decades, holding positions that include Yoga Teacher to the United States Supreme Court, an advisory role to Yoga Alliance, Director of Down Under, and Principal in its teacher trainings. Trained under Iyengar teachers John Schumacher and Patricia Walden, she also counts Vinyasa luminaries Barbara Benagh, Natasha Rizopoulos, and other senior teachers on her faculty as mentors and colleagues.

As a teacher, Cohen is known for her warmth, humor, and lucid instructions. Her class is a powerful blend of vigorous vinyasa, anatomical precision, and poetic dialogue. She combines the joy of movement with the intelligence required to tackle advanced asana and inversions and teaches a range of yoga specialties including yoga for anxiety and depression, osteoporosis, yoga for athletes, and more. Justine’s primary passion is helping young teachers find authentic alternatives to yoga clichés: developing creative and expressive sentence structures, mastering the use of humor, imagery, storytelling, and questions, and sharing the insights drawn from their own personal practice to create fresh, energized material each week. Keenly aware of the burnout rate among young yoga teachers, Cohen is unwavering in her insistence that trainees emerge with a full toolkit of skills crafting multiple “strings to their bow.” Her students are capable of referencing their knowledge of philosophy, anatomy, Sanskrit, yoga texts, history of yoga, and Ayurveda to deliver a class that is set apart from the average “fun fitness” class.