For 21 years, people have come to Lifework Yoga on Cleveland Street for different reasons.
Some wanted a workout. Others sought peace from the chaos of daily life. And once, two decades ago, a 19-year-old man with a severely curved spine turned to the yoga studio and Claude Griffin to avoid going under the knife.
"Claude Griffin paved the way for my greater spiritual awakening with firm patience at a time when my very young body and mind were twisted," said Chris Acosta, now himself a yogi.
Using yoga postures and stretches, Griffin helped Acosta increase his flexibility and avoid surgery to fuse his spinal column to rods. Today, Acosta owns a St. Petersburg yoga studio and credits his success to the teachings of the yogi on Cleveland Street.
"In an environment where yoga's popularity is defined by tiny and isolated aspects of the practice, Claude instructs from the original full body of the millennia's old yogic tradition," said Acosta, now 40. "He showed by example through his Lifework how to become a yogi, passing on the ancient lineage of authentic yoga."
To do so requires focusing on one person at a time. And that's exactly how Griffin runs his studio, which he bills as the oldest yoga facility in Central Florida on his website. One of the first questions he asks new students is, "What brought you here?"
"So many people come in with back and hip pain and we help them," Griffin said. "We offer classes for the body and for the mind and a special class called yoga for the mind.
"We help people learn meditation, deep relaxation and teach them how the body and mind can be trained to work in harmony."
Griffin, also a trained psychotherapist, has studied and taught yoga for 45 years.
He is 79 now and still openly shares his yoga knowledge with everyone who enters his door. After 21 years in the same spot, Lifework recently moved to a new location, about a mile west but still on Cleveland Street.
"We used to be next to Nature's Food Patch until they moved," said Martha Landry," Griffin's wife of 14 years. "Now we've moved next door to them and I think that will be a good mix."
Landry talks about the way her husband helps people transform their lives. She credits his passion for yoga, his focus on individuals and his education with world famous teachers, like B.K. s. Iyengar, for the studio's longevity.
And while Griffin has been trained in various styles of yoga — Iyengar, Astanga, Kundalini, Hot, Power, Raja, Bikram, Siddha, Integral and Karma — he doesn't teach one style. He focuses on people and their individuals needs.
"Iyengar and others taught Claude that yoga isn't about money, that it's a calling," said Landry, who declined to give her age. "Yoga is Claude's life's work. He puts all his effort into being with people and joining the world. He says you can't have transformation by yourself."
Landry met Griffin at Lifework when she came searching for relief from shoulder pain after years working as a hair dresser. Their friendship through yoga blossomed into romance.
Landry, also was inspired by Griffin's teachings in yoga, is now a certified yoga instructor at Lifeworks and a Suncoast Yoga Teacher's Association member, a group in which Griffin was one of the first members.
Jeannie Job of Clearwater, who works as a sonogram technician at Morton Plant Hospital, came to Lifework for relief of back pain.
"When I started strengthening my muscles, I didn't need the doctor anymore," said Job, 51. "My body began to align itself."
Her desire to learn led her to seek certification as a yoga teacher. She now teaches part time at Lifework.
Yet in her day job, she sees people suffering from injuries and illness everyday and wishes they knew about Lifework and yoga.
"Claude and Martha are so strong and healthy without taking medication," Job said. "It's inspiring to see them and through yoga they teach people to heal themselves."