Local Fitness Check-in: Opal Yoga

Posted on November 5, 2013 by


Just over 7 months ago, Charlottesville welcomed its first vinyasa yoga studio, Opal Yoga. A variety of studios around town offer vinyasa yoga classes, but Opal saw the major itch for a vinyasa focused studio, and started scratching.

I sat down with Karen Thomas, the owner of Opal Yoga, to get the story behind Opal, her  journey to Charlottesville, and becoming a vinyasa instructor.

Vinyasa: Not your typical yoga

opalOpal is pretty much all vinyasa yoga – there are a couple hatha classes that are in place for people who are new to yoga or looking for something a bit more gentle, but other than that it’s a variety of flows, heat, and rhythm all under the vinyasa umbrella.

“Someone who’s never done yoga can roll really well through one of our hatha classes. ”

If someone wants to take vinyasa classes, but has never done yoga before, Karen recommends starting with the hatha or the honey flow (a slower vinyasa class) classes to get a grip on the basic yoga poses. She also recommends Common Ground, just around the corner from Opal, because they offer a lot more in terms of beginner classes.

“I like the multi level approach, I like the teachers to be wise to that, how to modify for more experience, less experience, injured, and people who want to take it up a lot of notches.”

An entirely vinyasa studio didn’t exist until Opal opened its doors. There are classes offered at ACAC and Ashtanga Yoga of Charlottesville.

“Vinyasa people are sort of a special breed. They just like this style, there’s a common vibe amongst them.”

Music is also an elementof most of the classes at Opal. The teachers spend a lot of time creating their playlists and trying to integrate them with the practice in ways that make sense. It can vary from really fun and playful rhythmic beats to very deep and pensive. The teachers like to share their playlists out on the Opal Facebook page and their Spotify account – so check them out!

The name Opal

opal 2“Naming the studio is one of the most challenging processes. It’s like naming a baby or naming a band.”

Opal was always a name that Karen had been drawn to, “if I had had a girl, I would’ve called her Opal.”  She loved the symmetry between yoga and another 4 letter word like opal. But the primary attraction and connection to the word opal was in how well it conveys the concept of vinyasa — opals are stones that can manifest any color on the spectrum.

“That’s how I feel about vinyasa. It’s a really creative form of yoga, it has an infinite amount of possibilities. We are all different all the time, while the physical practice and the classes can be really expressive and expansive. We as individuals are always coming out as different colors in different states, and I wanted to be able to respect that. Also, I really like the shortened abbreviated version of Opal Yoga, OY.”

The location

Opal is located on West Main right above One Meatball Place and across from Blue Moon Diner. The studio is covered in windows on 3 out of the 4 sides. Even though bustling, noisy West Main is far from a quiet, zen sanctuary, Karen found this to be is a great and real factor to the studio.

“Everything that goes by really contributes to the energy of the place, the connection to the outside, not completely  separating ourselves from the outside. It’s important to keep it real. Stuff is always changing around us, and we need to learn how to roll with that, not get stuck in our own little isolated bubble.”

Opal is a place that allows yogis to locate their sense of being centered in a world that’s never really a quiet, controlled, zen-like space.  It’s a place aimed at exploring  groundedness and  finding our center amidst the ever-changing chaos of the world around us.  “Practicing with the street sounds invites us to move more deeply inside which can empower us to focus on our own light and positivity when we’re of the mat and interacting directly with all that stimulation and chaos. I knew this space would rock for a yoga studio.”  And for Karen, the rhythm of life is steadied by the rhythm of Opal.


The Back Story

Originally from the New England area, Karen and her husband moved down to the Charlottesville area about 8 years ago. Karen started off at the University of Rhode Island for undergrad and then continued into social work. She had a passion for assisting people, helping them work towards healing and taking care of themselves, which led to her interest in and pursuit of yoga.

Karen started her yoga training in 1999 in Princeton, which predates the yoga alliance, so it was kind of a prototype for their program.  She taught in Providence and and then in Newport; first in a friends art gallery then at a vinyasa studio, Soma Yoga, where she did another 9 month yoga teacher training. Over the years, Karen has done a lot of little trainings here and there and most recently went through a Kula yoga training up in Tribeca. She continues to pursue yoga trainings and tries to attend at least one a year.

3 classes that showcase the variety available at Opal


over easy classOver Easy or Astral – These are primarily hatha, deep and mellow classes, not flow. Over Easy, taught by Cynthia Woodring, She is amazing. She’s very alignment oriented, and people love that class. Great class to learn a lot about the basics. Astral, taught by Jen Waine, is a little psychedelic, she takes you through a yogic journey, incorporates aspects of the stars.

Workout classes 

Opal Power classes – These are taught by, Liz Reynolds. It’s not just a workout, she gets you to really drop inside and the room is heated to 90 degrees so you’ll definitely sweat a lot. She also doesn’t use music.

“Karen” style classes 

Live Dub or Opal Flow LP – Accompanied by a live DJ set. Karen enjoys the integration of a live DJ and how they play and integrate with the flow of the poses. Her Saturday class, Opal Flow LP, has a great balance to it. You’ll start off thinking, “This class is so easy,” but then an hour later think,  “What happened?!” It’s a great surprise!

Pop-up yoga

opalpopupCatherine McMahon teaches at Opal and also has her own private standup paddle company called Mango Yoga Adventures. They work together to offer classes out at Beaver Creek and Chris Green Lake. It’s pop up, so it’s usually scheduled pretty last minute and when it’s warmer about once or twice a week — look for a more regular schedule come Springtime! It’s a great way to focus on balance and it’s really humbling to realize what a challenge it is once you remove the sturdiness of the ground below you.

Favorite Charlottesville Spots

Located in the Midtown area, Karen’s favorite places are close by.

Lunch places: Blue Moon Diner

Evening/Dinner: Maya

Coffee: Calvino Cafe

Smoothies: Integral yoga

Dresses: Eloise and Sustain

Things to look out for in the coming year:

  • Outdoor yoga
  • Cleanses and juicing with Megan Eagle
  • Retail
  • Teacher training program
  • Guest teachers