Friday, November 18, 2011

The Floating Lotus
A dozen years ago, Cassandra Smith fell in love with yoga, and now folks in Little Rock are falling in love with her yoga studio, The Floating Lotus.

"I just love Cassandra," Pam Rusch of Little Rock said. "I started going when she opened her studio about two years ago, so I've been with her from almost the beginning. I always look forward to going. It's so warm and welcoming. I always feel really good after I leave. I've just become addicted to The Floating Lotus and Cassandra."

Ms. Rusch said she'd always been active and was a runner until an injury brought her to yoga.

"I just turned 54, and I feel stronger and healthier than I have ever felt in my life, and I've always exercised. Yoga is my real passion now," Pam said.

When Ms. Smith graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway in 1998, she was athletic too, but she was looking for a different type of exercise that was more calming and "not so harsh."

Cassandra bought a book about yoga and began practicing at home.

"After six months, I felt like I really needed guidance. I started taking classes with Katherine Rogers at Barefoot Yoga."

Then she began workshops and worked with other instructors.

"I started really falling in love with it."

Ms. Rogers told Cassandra that she should teach, and she took the advice and became certified in 2000. Then, she studied with a number of yoga instructors who were coming to Arkansas to teach in the early part of the decade, and later became "big names" in the yoga community. Later, she took individual instruction with Shiva Rea in California.

"There comes a point when you need to study with one person. Shiva has a background in dance, and I love dance. I met her in 2001, and knew she was the person I wanted to study with."

Cassandra began working at different gyms and day spas in 2008 and opened The Floating Lotus in 2009. Recently, she relocated the studio to a bright, colorful new space at 900 North University.

"Business has been good, very good, especially with the new digs, The space is very inviting, very welcoming."

Alana Tyson of Little Rock enjoys her classes at the new location. "Now she has this new, huge space. It's really gorgeous."

Ms. Tyson likes Cassandra's teaching style too.

"I think her style is kind of structured. She's got an intention in mind, and she works to help you get there. She teaches very gently, and she explains what is happening. You get a lot of information while you learn the poses. She tells you 'why.' I like knowing why. I think she invests in your foundational learning," Alana said.

She had attended other yoga classes that were sort of "free floating," where she was instructed to do one pose and then another, but with no real sense of progress. "Working with Cassandra, it's like we are moving toward the intended goal."

Cassandra said the practice of yoga has many benefits, including stress reduction, improved strength and flexibility, and the gaining of self knowledge. She said the Sanskrit word "yoga" literally means "yoke," from a root word meaning to unite or join.

"The practice helps settle the mind and enables you to get in touch with your body. You connect with your body in a way that is just not possible running on a treadmill and watching TV at the same time. Yoga turns the satellite dish inward. It allows you to come into your own body and experience what is there."

The physical movement of the poses helps to put you in a better mental place for meditation, she said.

"If someone comes to yoga to get more flexible, to lose some weight - whatever brings them, it's great. To just sit and meditate, that's so hard. The mind is like a brand new puppy. Tell it to sit, stay - you have to train the mind. If you go through the poses, you can come into a place where you can sit and meditate. You will be clearheaded, calm and relaxed. The poses prepare you for meditation."

The first class at The Floating Lotus is free.

"The first class is always free, and the reason I do that, in my journey, and I have been teaching for 11 years, I hear these negatives associated with it. Often times I find it's a Type A personality who went to a Iyengar class, which is a long, slow class with a focus on body alignment. But for them, that's not going to speak to them. I wanted it to be a free experience. Maybe it's for them, maybe it's not. The free class is a welcoming for the community to just be able to experience it for the first time. They are not out anything."

Cassandra teaches vinyasa flow yoga, which has much more movement than lyengar. She and other instructors at The Floating Lotus also offer restorative, therapeutic, and "hot" yoga. During hot yoga, the temperature in the studio is turned up to help muscles open up and stretch better.
The other yoga instructors there are: Mary Anne Wildman, who has been with Cassandra for two years and also offers physical therapy at the studio; Emma Gray, who has been there for a year; and Kali Empl, who started teaching there in July.

Cassandra said you need no special equipment to practice yoga. Just bring yourself.

Unlimited classes are $65 a month. There is no contract, and you may begin at any time during the month. A four-day class pass for use during one month is $40. A six-day class pass for use during a two-month period is $60. An 11-day pass for use during four months is $100. It's $13 to just drop in for a class.

Yoga classes are not the only adventures at The Floating Lotus. It's also an organic day spa offering facials, physical therapy, massage, waxing and eyelash extensions. It carries Eminence Organics, an organic skin care line that has been available since 1958.

Cassandra, who received her esthetician license in 2005, really enjoys doing facials. "I like to put people in a relaxed state. When I do a facial, people usually fall asleep."

Facials offered there include deep cleaning organic, biodynamic organic, Eminence paprika, Eminence yam and pumpkin enzyme peel, "fire and ice" with natural fruit acids, gentleman's facial, back facial, and ultrasound facial.

Microdermabrasion is available, as well as LED therapy, which is a non-invasive light treatment that reduces the signs of aging and promotes collagen production.

You can also avail yourself of wraps, Shirodhara warm oil therapy, and ultrasound skin treatments.

Massage services include Swedish, pre- and post-natal, sports, aromatherapy, deep tissue, hot stone, and reflexology. Pre- and post-natal massage is done by Kenley Throgmartin, a labor and delivery nurse at a Little Rock hospital.

For detailed information about spa services and prices, visit
Don't you need a bit of relaxation and healing in your life? A little bliss? Call Cassandra at 664-0172 or 940-9642 or e-mail

Getting to Know Cassandra Smith

Cassandra Smith

What's your favorite Little Rock restaurant? I really like Sushi Cafe.

What's your favorite movie? Billy Elliot. It's an English film about a young boy who lost his mother. His coal miner father sends him to a boxing gym, where he stumbles onto a ballet class. He wants to learn ballet. It's about loving someone for what is their true nature. There's this moment at an audition when they ask him what he feels when he dances. He says, 'Like a bird, like I'm free, like electricity.' That's what yoga feels like.

Do you have favorite actors? Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

Is there anything you'd like to learn how to do? Oh, yeah. Lots of things. I would like to learn to write ... to tell a story more poetically.

Where were you born? Beebe, Arkansas.

How long have you lived in Little Rock? Since 1998.

Where did you go to school? Beebe and then UCA.

Where do you live? West Little Rock.

Tell us about your family. My mother lives in Beebe with my stepdad, and my father lives in Hot Springs with his wife. (Both couples) have great relationships with the other. I'm very blessed with that.

What's your favorite city? Venice Beach, California. I love that area. I go and do my teacher training out there. The beach is right there. It's like my own little slice of heaven.

Do you have any pets? I have two dogs. Jager is a 12-year-old Weimaraner, and Frank is two years old. He's a mixed breed.

What do you like to do in your spare time? Walk my dog and cook. I walk Frank. Jager is too old to walk.

Do you have a favorite writer? Tom Robbins and David Sedaris.

What do you like to watch on the tube? I love anything on HBO. Their shows are just phenomenal. And I'm really into Terra Nova.

What would you do if you won a large lottery? Give it all away. Secure the future for any future child, and, then, build my mom a house. I'd invest in seeing my mom happy, and, then, laying it out for different causes.

What are your favorite charities? CARE for Animals and Our House.

Do you have a favorite book? The Autobiography of a Yogi, by Yogananda. It is really one of the most profound books I've ever read from the aspect of spirituality.

If you could have a dream dinner party and invite any three people, who would you choose? Yogananda. I would love to be in his presence. the Dalai Lama and the Buddha. I would have a dinner party surrounded by great spiritual thinkers.