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Conversation with a Yogi

Meet Rolf and Mary-Gail Sovik,who are leaving the Himalayan Institute of Buffalo after 20 years

In and around Buffalo, the opportunities to experience yoga are abundant. It seems there are so many styles and techniques, from hot yoga to hatha yoga.

“Years ago there were just three yoga studios in the area, now there are 30!” says Rolf Sovik, Psy.D, long-time director of the Himalayan Institute of Buffalo ( After 20 years in Buffalo, Dr. Sovik and his wife and co-director Mary-Gail will soon be moving to the Himalayan Institute headquarters in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. They leave behind a thriving yoga center on Delaware Avenue, which they are certain will continue to grow. “Our institute’s work expands each year,” Sovik says, “and it is in the very capable hands now of an experienced teaching staff and a new management team of couple John Daskovsky and Amanda Masters.”

“Yoga was the best thing that ever happened to me,” says Sovik. “I was a frenetic musician looking for a way to play music from a less stressed and more centered place.” Not only has he found that place, he trains yoga teachers to assist others to find that place as well. “Yoga becomes powerful in someone’s life when they turn towards practicing and towards balance.” Balance is synonymous with health in Sovik’s eyes, and yogic practices can help us get more of it. “One or two yoga classes per week are more powerful than people think. Yoga can really bring us back to ourselves…yoga is meant to be healing, a way to resolve inner conflict and restore health.”

The Himalayan Institute’s method of yoga is a systematic approach toward relieving high stress levels and sleep deprivation, which prevails in our culture. “In every class we teach relaxation skills,” Sovik says. “This teaches us to hold on to ourselves with a softer touch, so we are not as overwhelmed by life. The ability to be aware of yourself from the inside out is really an important theme in yoga.”

The center also has a shop that is a nice place to visit even if you don’t have a class to attend. There you will find many resources that can support a person’s path of wellness, including yoga props, and comfy socks, as well as books and audio and video recordings that reinforce the relaxation, yoga, and meditation skills the Institute teaches.

“Life is complicated and over-absorbing. It can take you away from your core and distract your peace of mind when too much time passes without a centering practice.”

Sovik recommends having “a small or medium-sized meditation practice that is satisfying to you. Then set aside some time daily to make that practice yours. Just as time at the piano each day will gradually make you a pianist, a little yoga each day will make you a yogi!”

What about the days when we just don’t feel like it? “Those are the days you do it for the joy of the discipline,” he says. “Cultivate the idea that there is joy in the discipline as well as the practice.”

So, Buffalo, in an effort to move toward balance, maybe engage fewer of those things that cause imbalance this year—strive for a little less intensity in our reactions to stress, pay a little more attention to good driving habits, make efforts to manage anger, and consider more moderate use of sugar and alcohol. Then insert a regular 10- to 15-minute practice into your life that includes some physical movement, relaxed breathing, and a daily meditation. If you are looking for a more advanced practice, Sovik recommends considering a dose of “trustful surrender to the Infinite—however you conceive of the Infinite in your life. Something higher than ourselves guides us, as every great spiritual tradition seems to suggest. Trusting that source of higher wisdom goes a long way in giving direction to life.”

The efforts and presence of Rolf and Mary Gail Sovik have been a gift to Buffalo’s spiritual community. You can still catch Mary Gail’s meditation classes in Buffalo through the end of April. Rolf will be leading advanced yoga teacher training and meditation workshops and delivering lectures on ancient yoga philosophy in Honesdale and around the US. Also, look for his illuminating articles in Yoga International magazine.

Jennifer Russo, MA, RYT, teaches public and private yoga classes at Hand to Heart Yoga, Niagara Ayurveda, Universal Design Yoga at UB, Wegmans stores, Westminster Early Childhood Program, and Heritage Centers.

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