Five Years Plus











{June 20, 2010}   The Traveling Yogini

I’ve written several blogs this year regarding local foods and perspectives. I also enjoy the expansion I experience through travel, so when Chuck invited me to accompany him to Los Angeles last week I jumped on the opportunity.

As I walked on the beach in Santa Monica, CA, I saw cyclists, runners, roller skaters, dog walkers, swimmers, surfers and volleyball players. Everyone seemed to be physically active and that active SoCal lifestyle is reflected in a large number of yoga schools in the area. One of my favorite out-of-town activities is to check out the local yoga scene. Here in upstate New York we are mainly offered fairly gentle yoga options, so I usually opt for a more intense version when I have the opportunity.

I chose to attend classes at YogaWorks, as this is a studio I have seen advertised in Yoga Journal and it was in walking distance from our hotel. On our last morning, I made a special effort to attend an intermediate level class that I heard would be taught a popular teacher who had just returned from vacation. Below is my story.

*****

I arrive early as this class is sure to be full. Already twenty or so women and men sit on rolled up yoga mats in random small groups. There is excitement in the air and a solid-looking woman sitting nearby announces, “Oooh. It’s going to be really hard today. He’s going to punish us.” In jest I reply, “Where’s the best place to hide?” She responds in her deep silky voice, “There’s nowhere to hide. You’re only hiding from yourself.”

This is clearly a conversation stopper. I don’t explain that although I have practiced yoga for nearly 30 years, where I live I don’t have access to high intensity yoga classes like this one. My personal challenge today will be to stay focused without pushing; to breathe, move and enjoy without following my natural inclination to take every posture to its fullest expression. I know the places where old strains and injuries are only too ready to re-announce their presence. With a trans-continental flight immediately following the class and a demanding weekend tennis tournament starting in two days time, I have a responsibility to myself to stay alert and healthy.

In truth I am a little nervous about the upcoming class and also lonely in this crowd where everyone seems to have at least one friend. It doesn’t help that the woman is now proclaiming: “He’s going to really hurt us today. I’m sure of it”.

I turn to the man sitting beside me and comment, “I hear this class is really famous”. I’m wondering just what it is about this teacher that draws such numbers.

“It depends on what you mean by famous”, is all I get out of him. I guess that was a dumb thing to say, but really, I was just hoping for some interaction.

“I guess I mean popular. How many students does the studio fit?” I continue. By now one of the receptionists is stationed directly at the front entrance to check in the steady stream of students flowing in.

“Eighty-five”, he replies. It’s going to be very tight, I think to myself. At last it is time and the mob purposefully descends, quickly filling in the front and back rows with multi-colored yoga mats, many covered with what looks like a cross between a towel and blanket known as “yogitoes”. I have an extremely thin travel yoga mat that weighs less than two pounds and can fit in my carry-on luggage. I find a spot in the second to last row and count 70 bodies in five rows before we close up every remaining gap to squeeze in a few more.

The teacher is a large man with a soft yet commanding voice. Although I don’t know the background to this YogaWorks flow series, I recognize the first part of the class as similar to the Ashtanga form I practiced in my early 30s. As in Ashtanga yoga, the 5 rounds each of surya namaskar A & B (salute to the sun) heat the body from the inside out. I am delighted when the teacher turns the music up and we are left to complete the final 3 rounds of surya namaskar B on our own. Directly in front of me high up in a window is a circular Shiva Nataraja figure (image above is from Wikapedia). I softly gaze at this each time I flow into Warrior II, feeling the power of being simultaneously grounded and uplifted. By now everyone has broken a sweat and some are already dripping on to their mats. Profuse sweating is supposed to detoxify the body and the heat certainly makes it easier to stretch deeply.

The main body of the class is a series of standing postures and balances linked together by vinyasas, a strenuous combination of linked postures that rebalance the body and maintain the internal heat. The postures include the usual suspects: triangle, lateral angle, half moon and their twisted versions, all three warriors, planks and side planks, the eagle and the crane.

Fifty minutes into the class I am beginning to struggle. Not only am I tiring, I am facing equipment failure. My mat is slick and I am dripping more than I can mop up with my one washcloth. I grab the hand towel I had reserved for showering after class and move it under my hands or feet, wherever I need the most stability. At last we begin to slow down. A five minute inversion (I still enjoy standing on my head) is followed by a couple of longer held postures. Savasana (final relaxation) is brief, class is over and we disperse.

As I walk into the cool freshness of the outdoors I reflect on the question that motivated me to spend my last morning in Santa Monica in a stuffy room with 75 sweating strangers. What makes a class this popular? This particular teacher exuded confidence without being overbearing, seeking to inspire each student through his voice, brief moments of individual attention and appropriate, uplifting music. I am happy to report that in no way did I find him punishing or hurtful. There were plenty of reminders to be respectful and aware of my body and ample opportunities for modification of the postures.

*****

I have to admit I enjoyed the novelty of this action packed, packed class. I am also grateful to be home, to breathe the fresh air and jump in our cold pond that has filled in our absence. When I arrive at the Monday morning class which I have taught for over 7 years, I am struck by how relaxed and friendly it feels. Perhaps this morning I teach with a little extra intensity; my students keep up.

One of the great things about yoga is that it is available world-wide. Obviously it is helpful to get some information about the class you plan to attend beforehand. Even so, no matter how challenging the class you find yourself in may be, the most important thing is to be present in your body and respect your limitations. With this simple safety measure it is possible to experience the different flavors of yoga whenever you’re away from home.

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