A History of Pilgrimage of the Heart
In 1985, after attending UCSD, I moved from the beautiful coastal town of La Jolla to Adams Avenue in Normal Heights to help open Jyoti-Bihanga Vegetarian Restaurant. The restaurant is still there and now San Diego’s oldest vegetarian restaurant. I worked there for five years and then spent the better part of the 1990s traveling around the world, offering free meditation workshops on behalf of the Sri Chinmoy Centre.
Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga began as a small gift boutique store in 1999. My inspiration was to create a business that could spread spiritual energy and be a viable business.
I told my teacher, Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007), about the business idea, and he offered the name: The Pilgrimage of the Heart. My mother, a doctor, passed away in 2003. She provided the seed money for the adventure, and my father was always there for business advice.
The Pilgrimage of the Heart operated as a gift shop for 4 years in today's East Room lounge. Three years later, the space next door, the current East Room, became available. We did some remodeling, and soon the gift shop expanded to fill the entire space.
In 2005, after some soul searching as to what gave me the most joy, I decided to shift the business's focus to yoga. Since the early days of Jyoti-Bihanga, I had always preferred the service industry to retail.
In that same year, we created the first yoga room, the current East Studio Lounge area. Sean O’Shea, my main yoga advisor and yoga teacher, advised on the studio format and taught me privately for 14 months before his untimely passing. Soon the yoga room was operating at full capacity: 12 people! We then created the East Room, as it is known now, and used the lounge area as a reception area.
Sri Chinmoy, with whom I studied meditation and spirituality for 27 years, passed away in 2007. It was then that I decided to pursue the yoga studio full time. Maral Hadidi offered the wisdom to take the studio to the next level.
In the spring of 2007, Blair Hartwell, who spent 12 years with the company, became the studio’s first full-time manager. Over the next 2 years, a true yoga community came into being. Lifelong friendships were formed. We went from 14 classes a week to 35 and eventually to over 100. In 2009, we offered our first teacher training, taught by Haunani Chong and Nikole Fortier. Nikole went on to spearhead 21 trainings over the next ten years, graduating 183 students.
The Main Studio opened in the spring of 2011. Linda Martone, who is currently the General Manager, became the Normal Heights Studio Manager. As the studio and community grew, so did the need for precise and careful business management and organization. Linda provided that attention to detail, allowing us to expand to the next level.
In the Fall of 2012, we opened a second studio in North Park at the corner of 30th Street and North Park Way. Carolina Moreira became the North Park Manager, followed by Meghan Sciascia. In 2016, we moved to our current North Park location under the management of Kara Willingham.
In 2019, we restructured our management system: Marie Barranco became Normal Heights Manager as Linda moved to General Manager. Desiree Iacono became the Assistant Manager for both studios. At the end of 2019, our yoga teacher training administrator and experienced teacher, Lauren McLaren, took over as teacher training lead, co-leading the Spring session with the seasoned Pilgrimage teacher training graduate, Jamie Lee.
In 2020, like other businesses, we had to change our offerings due to the pandemic. We closed our North Park location and are now offering indoor yoga and outdoor yoga in Normal Heights San Diego, Live Stream yoga via Zoom, and On Demand yoga classes.
One never knows for sure what the future holds. Still, the future definitely exists in seed-form in our intention: To offer a wide variety of yoga classes taught in a welcoming environment by caring and knowledgeable teachers.