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Art of Yoga

The human form always inspired artist Melissa Cooley. Nearly 20 years since trading a painting for a year of yoga classes, the Indian philosophy colors Cooley's artwork.

"I'm able to infuse the pieces with more meaningful elements," says the 40-year-old Talent resident. "Most of my art really started merging more into that spiritual inquiry."

Cooley is one of five local artists exhibiting yoga-related works at Ashland's Illahe Studios and Gallery in conjunction with the Rasa Revolution Festival — the region's first big yoga celebration — Friday and Saturday, June 29 and 30, and Sunday, July 1. Other featured artists are Cate Strom, Scott Lewis, Krista Holland and Carlos Bracuto. An opening reception is set for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday at Illahe, 215 Fourth St.

"It's kind of an interesting idea to ... expand the concept of yoga in kind of a spiritual, artistic expression," says Illahe owner Sue Springer, adding that it's the first yoga-themed exhibit the gallery has ever hosted. The majority of pieces are paintings with an "Eastern sensibility," she adds.

Cooley plans to show a mixed-media diptych, titled "Dream Maker." Rendered in colorful acrylic and oil pastel, each painting depicts a woman in prayer.

"There's like a sphere above her head that's turning into a flower," says Cooley.

The Ashland native has exhibited around the Rogue Valley, including the former Nuwandart Gallery, Evo's Coffee Lounge and other restaurants, as well as in Portland. For the past year and a half, Cooley's own business, Om Sweet Om Yoga in Talent, has displayed her paintings. The yoga studio, itself, is another of Cooley's masterpieces.

"It was the perfect space," she says. "When people walk in, they can feel the difference."

Perched on the second floor of the Talent Railroad Depot between the railroad tracks and Talent City Hall, Om Sweet Om furnishes an old-fashioned aesthetic for an even older discipline for body, mind and spirit. Wide-plank fir floors warm the room under vaulted, timbered ceilings. A window at one end of the long, narrow room overlooks the coffee shop below.

Cooley opened Om Sweet Om in January 2011 after teaching private classes out of her home and at Ashland Yoga Center. The difficulty of earning her living as an artist convinced Cooley to center her career on yoga about a decade ago.

She cites training with Kristin Laak, well known in the yoga community of Boulder, Colo., and featured instructor at Rasa Revolution, as well as Amy Cooper of Shasta Yoga.

"I had no intention of teaching; it actually found me," says Cooley. "Life kind of tells you this is what you should be doing."

She teaches stress-relief, gentle flow and vinyasa yoga classes Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, respectively, at Om Sweet Om, 100 E. Main St., and rents the studio to five other teachers.

Classes usually have eight to 12 participants, some coming from as far away as Northern California, says Cooley. The cost per class is $10 to $12 on a sliding scale, with discounts available for multiple classes. For a schedule, see www.yogaomsweetom.com.

Om Sweet Om also hosts special events, such as next month's lecture series by a visiting Indian yogi and retired professor of Sanskrit who holds a doctorate in yoga. Known to his students as "Acharya," he will speak Thursday through Sunday, July 12-15. For more information, see the Om Sweet Om website.

Cooley also will lead the opening ceremony of Rasa Revolution from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday, June 29. The all-level vinyasa class costs $35 or can be included as part of a festival pass, ranging in price from $150 to $200.

The yoga festival — to be held at a variety of locations around Ashland — will feature asana classes and lectures with master teachers, some based locally, others internationally renowned. A street fair and live music also are planned.

For more information and to register, see www.rasayogacenter.com or call 541-245-2667.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com.

Yoga instructor Melissa Cooley, owner of Om Sweet Om yoga studio in Talent, is one of the featured teachers at next weekend's Rasa Revolution Festival, a three-day celebration of yoga held at multiple venues in Ashland. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Bob Pennell