Savannah's New Spiritual Leader
Meg Shuba is bent over a burgundy harmonium filled with scratches. The color of the wood matches the beehive bun at the top of her head. When she pumps the bellows and presses the keys, she raises her slender body back up to her full seated height and the voices of students on their mats reverberate in an ommmmmmm.
Otium sits in the corner of Drayton and Liberty in downtown Savannah. The name comes from a Latin word that can be roughly translated to "inner sanctuary." Employees also use the more elaborate, less accurate, and somehow favored option of "escape from business to participate in personal wellness."
Meg Shuba, a yoga teacher in her early thirties, moved to Savannah to bring the sleepy, Southern city a “much needed oasis.” And although there are competing studios in the city, Otium is the first to have its own Creative Director: Meg.
“I consider myself an artist,” says Meg when she’s asked what a Creative Director does at a yoga studio, “because I’m creating with movements.”
For Meg, yoga classes are about catering the mantras, music, and poses to the overall feel of the class. After she leads the class into the first downward dog of the day, Meg weaves her way through the mats in between twisting bodies to fix a hip here, a hip there. Throughout the day, she looks as she does now: black leggings and a loose tank top. She’s ready to spring forward into a Parivrtta Parsvakonasana at any moment.
“You have to be okay if the ground is pulled out from underneath you,” Meg says. She places her hands underneath a teenager trembling as she suspends her weight up in wheel pose. “Security is nice and comforting,” Meg says, lifting the student half an inch higher, “but it won’t let you grow.”
Photo Credit: Bud Johnson
Before teaching yoga, Meg worked as an account manager for skincare brands and focused on sales. She began attending yoga classes as a physical practice but eventually found that it helped her deal with “some difficult times” in her life. She met the investor for Otium Savannah while doing a visiting workshop in the original Otium location of Long Beach, Florida where they decided to join forces to pop out the first franchise.
“Even if we are shaky, our practice is not shaky,” Meg says in class. “Remember to breathe, to be here, and to be with your body in this uncomfortable situation.”
And that usually is said when people are straining through moves, like sitting in low squats during Utkatasana with their heels raised from the ground in a display of balance. The subject of letting go is strong in her classes, perhaps because Meg thinks that her own learning process has been one of letting go.
Earlier that week, a student asked her about her decision to move to Savannah. She took a leap of faith, she claims, based on her love for the original Otium and the practice of yoga, and moved to Savannah without having stepped foot on the quaint cobblestones of the historic district.
Sometimes Meg pulls out a white crystal singing bowl and its mallet. She strikes the sides to create a chiming bell sound, and begins to run the mallet in the inside of the crystal bowl and makes a high-pitched, long note. “Be in the moment,” she says as an ambulance speeds down Drayton blasting its siren, “and catch yourself when you’re tempted to leave it.”
Photo credit: Adele Trefry
After class is done, Meg retreats to her stool at the entrance of the studio. From there, she’ll talk for a minute or two to each student that leaves Otium. When someone asks what she would say about Otium to people who have never practiced yoga, Meg says, “You are welcome and you can come to Otium exactly as you are.”
She lights a stick cut off from a branch of Palo Santo and moves the stick in circles around the entrance of the studio door once, twice. “We’re all just trying to recover in some way from life. Wherever you are in your journey, know that we’re all in the same place here.”
Meg watches the trail of smoke waft from the glowing red, burning end. It ascends in a column, curls, and dissipates when a student leaves and the studio door closes. For a second, her face is cold, crystal blue eyes set on the burning edge. Then Meg lays the stick down and turns towards the door, radiant and smiling again.
“Stiff muscles,” she says. “Achy bones, flaws, and neurosis, and craziness, and anxiety… Bring it all.”