What could possibly be the link between, say, the combat form of kung fu, and the peaceful practice of yoga? Just watch Hawaii’s own Liz Arch transition seamlessly from Warrior Two to a side-lunging kung fu pose, and you’ll immediately see the perfect blend of seamless motion and breath.
Arch is the creator of Primal Yoga®, which marries yoga with flowing movements inspired by tai chi and kung fu into a harmonious dance of breath, balance, and strength. When practiced with intention, Primal Yoga cultivates both qi (chi) and pranic energy throughout the body.
“It’s the best of all the disciplines, and put together into a really fluid form,” explains Arch, who describes her practice as 80 percent yoga and 20 percent martial arts. Styled after vinyasa yoga, Primal Yoga is indeed slow and thoughtful, with each component designed to “intelligently move into the body.” Arch should know, having won local and national tai chi and kung fu competitions, coupled with numerous yoga certifications under her belt.
It’s not far-fetched to compare the clean lines, strength, and grace of kung fu’s forms, with yoga asanas. Arch adds punctuated breaths to specific poses, however, mimicking the exertion and explosiveness of kung fu moves. In her flows, one can experience the intuitive parallels between the graceful choreography of both tai chi and vinyasa yoga. Added to her flow is the self-healing dimension of Qi Gong, which uses breath and movement — similar to pranayama (breathing) in yoga — to move physical and emotional obstacles.
And while Arch experienced the strict discipline of martial arts first hand, she approaches Primal Yoga from the unique perspective of a woman. “That’s really my intention — to teach powerful movements from a really compassionate place.” Martial arts experience isn’t necessary to practice Primal Yoga. “My guiding principle is always ahimsa (non-injury),” explains Arch, “so that my students feel safe in their bodies.”
After a 75-minute Primal Yoga class, it’s almost impossible not to feel empowered and grounded.
“It’s built on the radical premise that we have the tools innately within ourselves to self-heal and create empowerment,” says Arch of her practice.
It’s no surprise that some of her female practitioners credit Primal Yoga to helping them overcome break ups and other tribulations.
Not only is Primal Yoga taking off among yogis nationwide, but the martial arts edge seems to make Arch’s yoga more accessible to men. “It’s a gateway drug into yoga,” she laughs, adding that she gets a relatively even mix of men and women in her classes.
At 5’8”, a model-esque build, exotic hapa looks and martial arts skills to boot, you’d imagine her confidence is sky high. But in fact, she surprised many in her close circle when she turned to the public forum. Calling herself “painfully shy,” Arch overcame hurdles of self-doubt in order to teach. It wasn’t until she realized her students showing up class after class, that she knew she had found her path. “It always humbled me when students came back,” she says. “I was able to witness my own growth as a teacher through witnessing the growth of my students.”
Neither teaching nor yoga came naturally to the 34-year-old Kailua native. Describing her first yoga experience as a teenager, “It was definitely NOT love at first sight,” says Arch, “Let’s just say it was more an on-again, off-again relationship.” She recalls her first yoga class at the local YWCA, holding back laughter as the teacher roamed the class chanting and naming poses with a foreign tongue. It wasn’t until Arch moved to L.A. and discovered power yoga, that she realized yoga could rival the athleticism of any other sport.
“The physical practice was the initial attraction for me,” says Arch, “But it was the mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits that really made me
a yoga convert for life.”
Even then, it took personal turmoil in order to discover her true yoga practice. Arch had followed a successful college career at the University of Southern California with a steady job in corporate PR and marketing at the energy drink company, RedBull. But faced with challenges in her personal life, and fighting insecurities and traumatic memories from the past, Arch found herself turning to her mat more and often.
Realizing that the corporate world was not her true calling, she took a leap of faith to pursue teaching yoga. “I thought, ‘you know what, just take a leap of faith,’” says Arch, “Trust that the universe would catch you.”
The universe did more than catch Arch. It launched her into becoming a star yoga teacher to celebrities and athletes around the world. Her home base remains L.A., where she teaches weekly classes at two studios, and online through the web site oneOeight. And if teaching classes and modeling as one of Under Armor’s featured athletes don’t keep her busy enough, Arch leads teacher trainings and retreats at least once or twice a year. The latest retreat was held in the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya, where she led a dozen yogis in blissful sessions with the African savannah as a backdrop. The next is scheduled for Baja, Mexico in March 2017.
So how does a jet-setting yogini unplug in real life? The self-proclaimed “extreme introvert” needs alone time to recharge, which means she spends her down time at home, cuddling with her rescue dogs Faith and Nalu.
There’s a slightly somber side to this beauty, too: she finds solace in graveyards. Her family owned a funeral home when she was growing up in Hawaii. So when she moved to L.A., she sat in cemeteries because they reminded her of home. And home is still where the heart is for Arch, who looks forward to her yearly trips back to Kailua — and Cinnamon’s guava chiffon pancakes — around Christmas time.
Today, Arch is sure she found her “soul purpose” through teaching yoga. “Yoga has been a guiding light for me through so many challenging moments in my life,” she says, “I want to pass that on to others.”
Suzanne is a freelance writer, translator, certified yoga teacher, and fascial stretch therapist. She teaches in the vinyasa style, harnessing her background in mobility training and myofascial stretching to help practitioners improve overall movement, body awareness, and reach new levels of feeling awesome. Her power yoga classes are held at Corepower Yoga, and bilingual Japanese classes at Ohana Space Yoga.