Category Archives: monthly yoga

I’m Back! + The Year 2012 in Review

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This is really just a post to say that I’m not dead, seeing as I haven’t updated since October! I left off on Weeks 3 & 4 of the 40 Days Challenge (Round 2), and I’m happy to say that I made it through Weeks 5 & 6 as well; unfortunately, life got kinda crazy and I never got the chance to update anything here.

Even though work and life kind of kicked my butt from mid-October until basically the end of 2012, I was still really happy I could take part in 40 Days again. breathe yoga currently has another challenge happening now, but because I’m starting another teaching gig and slightly hectic schedule in just four more days (eep!), I had to drop out. However, if 40 Days is still happening sometime this spring, I should be around for it and ready for the challenge.

One thing that was really great about this last 40 Days was that all of those who finished this time around got to participate in a master class led by several of the instructors at breathe. Each portion of the class was taught by a different instructor, all of them sort of working within their specialties, so to speak. The only drawback was that they took the group photo of about 50 or so of us after a very sweaty vinyasa practice. Somewhere, there’s a picture of me with pigtails in my hair and a tired-but-ecstatic grin on my face surrounded by a bunch of other sweaty yogis. But hey, what are you gonna do?

By the end of 2012, the momentum that I’d had throughout the year with trying new types of yoga and being really strict about my practice kind of waned. Sure, I still went to classes semi-regularly, but as the weather became colder, I had a more and more difficult time motivating myself to go. For a while, I sort of berated myself for it, too—seems counterproductive, right? Thankfully, this past week I’ve gone twice so far and will probably be in class tomorrow morning, so I think I’m starting to get past my “winter funk” as I call it. (The nice weather we’re having right now helps.) To be fair, too, the same thing happened to me at the end of 2011, and look how great 2012 turned out!

One thing that got me past chiding myself for skipping out on classes (since there was a period of about two weeks where I didn’t go!) was looking back on this year and seeing all the great experiences I had related to yoga. Yes, I know, I still haven’t written about Baron Baptiste and Bryan Kest—give a busy English teacher a break, okay? I promise at some point I’ll type up my notes and you can marvel and laugh at both teachers’ wisdom and humor. (And seriously, out of the three big names to come to Rochester this year [Seane, Baron, and Bryan], Bryan Kest was hands down my favorite!)

So here, somewhat in order, is the great list of yoga accomplishments for 2012!

January

  • got into doing yoga on a regular basis
  • tried Bikram yoga at Bikram Rochester and also tried not to run away screaming from the very intimidating Bikram yogis (I respect you guys, but man, you’re intense!)

February

  • started an unlimited membership at breathe and attended classes multiple times per week for the first time ever
  • did restorative yoga at breathe and wondered why I wasn’t doing that all along (and I’ve gone back a couple of times since then!)

March

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April

May

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Amanda and me at the Memorial Art Gallery, and yes, my phone case is shaped like a cassette tape.

June

  • tried Iyengar yoga at the Beyond Center in Brockport
  • debated signing up for teacher training (thinking I’d have the time to do it), but was thankfully offered employment for the fall semester!

July

fourth

August

  • attended a Hatha class with Amanda at the Memorial Art Gallery, where someone probably should have skipped the bean burrito before class (this isn’t an accomplishment, really, but it still makes us laugh and/or become nauseated at the thought of it; I never wrote about this one and you should probably be glad)
  • started to get excited about the upcoming semester and about the upcoming 40 Days Challenge (v. 2.0 for me)

September

courtesy of breathe yoga. (I'm actually in this pic--points if you can see me!)

courtesy of breathe yoga. (I’m actually in this pic–points if you can see me!)

October

  • completed 40 Days for the second time this year
  • attended a wonderful master class with the breathe staff
  • attended a wonderful and kinda wild master class with the very funny but still insightful Bryan Kest

November

  • attended classes (does this count?)
Winter makes me feel like this guy.

Winter makes me feel like this guy.

December

  • attended some classes, did yoga in a hotel room at one point because the mood finally struck me, and took a much needed break (hey, I guess this counts!)

The end of the year may not have been ideal, but some good came from it. One of my favorite instructors, Dahn, actually raised $20,000 for the SEVA Challenge this year on her own (not an easy task), and in order to raise money she held a silent auction back in November. I went to help support her and ended up bidding on and winning a private lesson! I’ve never had my own yoga lesson, but in a couple of weeks Amanda and I will be there, so we’ll see how that goes. I also won on a bid for lessons at another area yoga studio, and since I think they have a Kripalu class, which I haven’t tried yet, I’ll attempt to make it over there sometime this winter. Also still on my list to try are Kundalini, Ashtanga, Yin, and Raja classes, although these seems to be pretty rare in the area; most studios around here have Vinyasa, Hatha, Iyengar, or Anusara classes. At one point during my search last year, I also found a “Spinyasa” class (half spinning, half vinyasa). Maybe I’ll get to that this year, too.

I’m at the point right now where, surprisingly, I don’t have any goals for the new year. It’s not that I’m unmotivated, but currently I’m just trying to see where I end up and what my schedule will allow. In the coming weeks, though, I should have a better idea of my direction for the year, but for now I won’t stress over it.

Do you have any yoga-related goals for 2013, or do you not let yourself plan when it comes to your practice?

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Monthly Yoga: July, Jivamukti Yoga

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About this series: For 2012, I vowed to try a new type of yoga each month and write about it here. This is the seventh of 12 reviews–keep checking back for more!

Apologies for the wait in the write-up! August continues to be a busy month as my school year starts. I’m finally back to teaching after a semester off, and while it does cut into my yoga time, I’m incredibly happy to be back!

Before I begin this month’s Monthly Yoga installment, I have some exciting news. The first is big: Baron Baptiste is teaching a master class next week in Rochester! I signed up the day the enrollment opened up. Baron, as you know, is the creator of 40 Days to Personal Revolution, the challenge I completed in the spring, so I’m really excited to study with him. The second bit of news goes along with the first—40 Days is back! It runs from September 17 to October 26, and I’m participating again. Although my schedule will be busier, I am determined to make it through the challenge once more. (Due to time constraints juggling teaching and the 40 Days challenge, there’s a good chance that Baron’s visit will count as my monthly yoga requirement, but if I can, I’ll try to fit something else in.)

For the month of July, I visited Prana Yoga in Fairport for a Jivamukti class, which the studio offers in addition to their usual vinyasa classes. My instructor for the class was Carrie, Prana’s owner and certified Jivamukti instructor. So what is it exactly? Jivamukti is a style of yoga that originated in the 1980s in New York City, created by David Life and Sharon Gannon (who are kind of fabulous) and loosely translated as “liberation while living.” Essentially, it’s a vinyasa flow, but it incorporates a bit of philosophy and chanting. It is somewhat controversial for emphasizing a vegetarian or vegan diet through the principle of ahimsa (or non-violence/non-harming); however, this aspect was not brought up in class. Carrie said, toward the end, that doing yoga (asana) without the philosophical understanding is robbing yourself of a true yoga practice. While studying the philosophy behind yoga was not an initial goal of mine when I began practicing, it reinforced my assertion upon starting my blog that I am a “novice” with much to learn—and I’m glad for it!

Inside Prana’s studio.

This class was fairly small, perhaps because it was a Sunday morning, with only three other students (who all seemed to know each other and sat together, which could be awkward, but I didn’t mind). The class followed a pretty standard vinyasa flow; there were some variations on sun salutations and side angle that I wasn’t used to, but they weren’t too extreme. Carrie was very specific about side angle pose and where each arm goes (lower hand goes outside foot, not inside like I’m used to, and the upper arm hangs at a very precise angle). It wasn’t quite the “anything goes/take a modification” attitude I’m used to at breathe. To be honest, I didn’t really like that, but every studio/discipline is different. Since it was only one part of an otherwise very enjoyable class, I’m not too concerned. Toward the end of class we did frog for our hip opener, and we set up shoulder stand with blankets—something a bit different than what I’m used to.

Before our Savasana we got to the chanting; that day we chanted the mantra “lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu.” It sounded quite beautiful, actually, and has this very long meaning (from the Jivamukti page here):

May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.

Let’s look more closely at the meaning of each word of this invocational mantra:
lokah: location, realm, all universes existing now
samastah: all beings sharing that same location
sukhino: centered in happiness and joy, free from suffering
bhav: the divine mood or state of unified existence
antu: may it be so, it must be so (used as an ending here transforms this mantra into a powerful pledge)

Even though I’m not used to chanting, I actually kind of like this phrase. It sounded very pretty coming from all of us at once. I’m not necessarily sure that the chanting itself does any good, but I think taking the attitude of happiness and love for all off your mat certainly has benefits (power of positive thinking and all that!).

Overall, this wasn’t a bad class; it made me want to investigate yoga philosophy a bit more (especially after overhearing one of the other students discuss her teacher training, which is something I think I could be interested in eventually, if anything for the additional instruction on philosophy). I think studying some of these ideas might be a good way of keeping myself centered for 40 Days and throughout my semester—if I can get the time!

Monthly Yoga: June, Iyengar-based Hatha

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About this series: For 2012, I vowed to try a new type of yoga each month and write about it here. This is the sixth of 12 reviews–keep checking back for more!

Seeing as for the month of May I counted Seane Corn’s visit as my monthly yoga “requirement,” for June we return to our regularly scheduled series. This month, I visited the Beyond Center for Yoga and Pilates in Brockport, NY—not too far from where I live and work! The Beyond Center is one of very few places on the west side of Rochester that offers yoga (although good news on that front is that a studio just opened in Spencerport and there will be another one sometime soon in Greece). Still, it’s a strange trend that we have so few over on this side of the city and so many concentrated on the east, but it looks like this is slowly changing.

Cute studio! (Prop room/office in the back, pilates machines [which we did not use] off to the side.)

The class I attended back at the end of June was actually the Level I-II class offered at Beyond, which basically puts it at the beginner-intermediate level. I decided to try this level, seeing as I hadn’t yet taken an Iyengar (or Iyengar-based Hatha, according to the web site) class before and wasn’t sure what to expect. The owner, Stephanie, greeted me when I arrived and was very friendly, asking what kind of yoga I regularly practiced and explaining some of the differences between Iyengar and vinyasa; Iyengar focuses primarily on holding poses rather than using a flow sequence like vinyasa yoga. This particular class took on more of a foundations-style environment with a focus on correct alignment, so while it moved much slower than what I’m used to (even slower than the foundations classes at breathe yoga), I still found it enjoyable.

Class started with a meditation in a variation of hero’s pose (using a bolster). This definitely started to wake up my feet and calves with how long we were in the pose, and I really had to fight to not be so restless. Oddly, I think just sitting there and breathing in this pose was the most difficult part of the class; if you remember my experience in a restorative class in February, you know that I don’t do well not fidgeting after long periods of stillness.

We used several props throughout class: two blankets, a bolster, a strap, a block, and a sandbag! After our meditation, we moved on to some cat and cow pose to wake up the spine. When we worked our way into downward facing dog, we spent a lot of time focusing on alignment with regard to our shoulders and wrists. One way we accomplished this was by setting a block between our hands and gripping that to get more of a feeling of openness in the shoulders. (We also practiced this by coming down onto our forearms for dolphin pose, still keeping the same alignment in the upper back.) The class also included some forward folds and leg stretches (basically reclining big toe pose, or Supta Padangusthasana, but with a strap), the latter with a focus of keeping our hips even on the ground to work the hip joint.

When I had first grabbed the props I was told to take before the start of class, I was pretty confused as to what we would use sandbags for. I had never actually seen anyone use these small weighted canvas bags in a yoga class. Toward the end, we finally got them out to use. The students in the class stood with one foot on a block and the other foot set on the window sills around the room (about three feet from the floor). From here, we used our straps to hook the sandbag so it hung from our outstretched legs. The idea here was to be able to find flexibility in our hip joints, like with the reclining big toe pose. We then worked trikonasana (triangle pose) into the alignment that we had just found with the sandbags; we all partnered up to help each other find the same action in our hips and legs. Stephanie walked around the room checking students’ alignment and helping them make adjustments and modifications based on their anatomy and any conditions or injuries they may have had. She was very attentive to their needs and didn’t try to overcorrect anyone, from what I could see; correcting students rather than providing assistance or adjustment is a pet peeve of mine, seeing as it tries to make your yoga into someone else’s, in my opinion, and thankfully Stephanie didn’t do this. As she said to one student who mentioned having back problems and was trying to determine whether she did the pose “right,” a little bit “incorrect” can be good, especially if you risk injuring, or re-injuring, yourself! This part of class was my favorite, and seeing as trikonasana is one of my favorite poses, I really appreciated the insight on improving my alignment in triangle.

For our savasana, we took supta baddha konasana by reclining with a bolster propped up with a block and our knees supported by a rolled-up blanket tucked around us. The entire class did not use music, other than a bit of relaxing music before class began. Sometimes silent savasanas like these are very relaxing and enjoyable, so it was a nice change from hearing music. At the end of class, Stephanie read a quote from B.K.S. Iyengar, which I unfortunately don’t remember, as it was rather long, but it was inspiring.

The class had been a bit more relaxing than I anticipated, but with how Type A I can get about yoga if I’m not too careful, sometimes this is actually a good thing. Overall, however, I enjoyed my trip to the Beyond Center and would like to try one of the Level II-III classes when I get a chance. If you’re interested in attending, the studio offers one free week of classes on their website. (Just sign up and print out the form emailed to you. Be sure to actually fill out the new student free class request in the box provided; I had forgotten to do so the first time I filled it out.) The schedule changes throughout the year, so there are always new offerings. In addition to the Iyengar-based classes, they offer gentle yoga classes, along with a newer vinyasa class and a community class once a month; the rest of their classes are pilates. In a nutshell, they provide many different types of classes to suit all types of needs, making them truly unique to Rochester’s west side.

In the future, I may try another Iyengar class to get a better idea of this type of asana practice and the philosophy associated with it, so don’t be surprised if you see one here! This is a very popular type of yoga, and with how different it is from what I’m used to, I definitely want to understand it better (and getting more comfortable holding poses for an extended period of time is a good way to do that).

Exciting news coming to The Novice Yogi soon! I’ll announce it shortly!

A Day with Seane Corn

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Again, here I am with a late entry! So sorry! As I mentioned in a previous post, the Seane Corn All-Day Chakra Flow Immersion event will take the place of a regularly-scheduled Monthly Yoga entry, due to how busy I was for the month of May with 40 Days.

For those who don’t know much about Seane, she is a vinyasa instructor who started Off the Mat Into the World, an excellent organization which seeks to inspire yoga practitioners to get involved in charitable activities and act as leaders in their communities. This group also heads the SEVA challenge, which raises money each year for a different cause in a different country (this year, it’s providing resources to victims of sex trafficking in India!). I definitely felt honored to take part in this immersion with Seane, who is a very inspiring woman, yogi, and teacher!

I took a ton of notes, and unfortunately, because I’ve let so much time pass by, I don’t quite think I remember the context of everything I’d written down. I have good and bad things to say about the event, but I’ll cover the good first, which definitely outweighs my criticism.

First off, Seane was an excellent speaker. She wasn’t just sort of there, phoning it in; she spoke passionately and I found her engaging to listen to. She came across as sincere and funny, and rather than using pretty, flowery language, she wasn’t afraid to curse like a sailor at times when it suited her point. She started off by asking if we’ve ever gotten emotional during yoga (i.e. during a hip opener); she said this was a natural part of the mind-body exploration done in yoga, and she then headed into a lecture/discussion on how we should confront our emotions rather than bottle them up. Yoga helps with this release.

One story in particular that Seane told was about her time taking part in the annual SEVA challenges. There were two incidents in particular that stood out in her travels. On one SEVA trip, she mentioned a man she had seen talking near some of the people in their group. From a distance, Seane thought he was wearing a red shirt; when she got closer, she realized that the front of his shirt was covered in blood. He had tried to commit suicide by slitting his throat, and failed, and she could see the sadness in his eyes from his attempt, as suicide was a source of shame in his culture. She said that she felt almost powerless in not knowing what to say or do for this man. Another incident was witnessing the “killing fields” in Cambodia—places where genocides had actually taken place. The worst, she said, was seeing a tree all gnarled in strange places and stained—from the blood of babies hit against the tree. Even just seeing the tree horrified everyone who came near it. Seane said that after everyone saw this place, and felt the unhappy energy permeating it, each couple and group went back to the hotel and didn’t know what to do. Almost everyone, she said, got into an argument—either with someone in the group or by calling someone on the phone. No one knew what to do—except for Seane’s teenage son. He said that he just felt “sad” after seeing the fields. He didn’t get angry or try to bottle up his emotions; he was the only one, Seane said, who actually confronted his feelings. The other incident, with the man who had attempted suicide, almost provoked the same response—not wanting to deal with what Seane termed “big feelings.” Her point was that when we get emotional during yoga, we’re finally letting go of something that we’re holding onto, whether it’s through tears or actually having a conversation to talk about what we feel. It’s healthy, and, to relate to the theme of the day, it balances our chakras so we don’t (in her words) end up “chakrically fucked.” Yoga, with its focus on the chakras, helps us to release these emotions.

From there, Seane went into detail on the different chakras. Some of this I’ve already covered in my entry on chakras and essential oils, so I won’t go back into it here. Here, though, was some information Seane gave on the duality of each chakra and what it can stand for, either when it is strong (not too strong but just right) or deficient:

1st Chakra (Muladhara/Root)
Strong: Tribe
Deficient: Fear

2nd Chakra (Swadhistana/Pelvis)
Strong: Relationships
Deficient: Guilt

3rd Chakra ( Manipura/Abdomen)
Strong: Authority/ego
Deficient: Shame
(To clafify, this chakra relates to how we define ourselves. Seane stated that defining ourselves by changeable things is dangerous and can lead to a deficient chakra [e.g. if you define yourself by your money, and suddenly you don’t have any, it can lead to a feeling of shame]. For some reason this point really resonated with me, seeing as I find that I do attempt to continually define—or redefine—myself at certain stages of my life.)

4th Chakra (Anahata/Heart)
Strong: Love
Deficient: Grief

5th Chakra (Vishuddha/Throat)
Strong: Communication
Deficient: Lies

6th Chakra (Ajna/Third Eye)
Strong: Intuition
Deficient: Illusion

7th Chakra (Sahasrana/Crown of the head)
Strong: Thoughts about or relationship to the divine
Deficient: Attachment

During our asana practice, she talked more about what happened when a chakra was too strong, deficient, and just right. Unfortunately, this was a time when I couldn’t really use my notebook, so I didn’t worry too much about wanting to take notes. She rattled off long lists about each chakra, but what I really liked was that she set up our flow so that our poses emphasized each chakra one at a time. In other words, we started with grounding poses, moved on to poses in our hips and abs, worked heart opening poses, and then, to a lesser degree, practiced asanas that concentrated on the throat, third eye, and the top of the head (even if it was just savasana for that last bit). Our vinyasa flow lasted for about two hours, and although it wasn’t really hot in the room like it is in the studio, and a much longer flow than I get in my regular classes, it definitely provided an adequate amount of movement.

After a break, we came back for a question and answer session. Some people got somewhat emotional around her, and actually started to ask some pretty intense questions, almost as if they were looking for advice. Seane kind of chuckled and said that she didn’t have all the answers—wise of her to admit! She was certainly thorough and tactful when giving her responses, but I’m glad she didn’t pretend to be some kind of spiritual guru here. (There was an earlier point, however, when Seane attempted to “read” a young woman in the audience and asked about her early life, then claimed she couldn’t complete her reading because [not making this up] she felt that the spirit of the woman’s mother was “blocking her energy.” This was just weird. I really wish she hadn’t done this, since I was on board with most of what she said that day, but the spiritual medium thing was totally out of nowhere and not really something that I believe in.) At the end, Seane stuck around to talk to people individually and answer their questions.

As I stated before, Seane was a very engaging speaker, and at times she was humorous. Here is some of her wit and/or wisdom (both quoted and paraphrased):

  • We need to learn “light” (our enlightenment) through “shadow” or the bad—no matter how much we want to stay in the land of “rainbows, strawberries, unicorns, and butterflies.”
  • Seane: “Can you define what ‘enlightened’ is?” [Teacher trainee pauses] “‘No’ would be the right answer.”
  • The ego “c-blocks” our soul.
  • If we want to do more in the world—tackle big problems like war, terrorism, famine, rape, etc.—then we need to deal with our own internal war first and forgive and accept those around us; we have to eliminate the “Us vs. Them” mentality through yoga (which means “union”).
  • Seane (on confronting the “big feelings” we all have):“You can’t get to the ‘bless you’ until you get to the ‘fuck you.’”
  • Seane (on opening the chakras in our asana practice that day): “Don’t go into this dark scary place where you’re chakrically fucked.”

To be honest, I think I’ve been putting off writing about the Seane Corn event (for a month now…) because, well, frankly… it was a bit underwhelming. It was good, don’t get me wrong; it just wasn’t quite what I expected. I would love to say that the day was “life-changing” or “mystical,” but really, it wasn’t, even though I did actually enjoy the day.

What did I expect? More yoga! Despite coming directly out of the 40 Days Challenge, that day I was definitely bursting with energy. (Maybe that’s why I wanted more asana practice!) I knew that the event would be part asana practice and part discussion, but honestly, about 2/3 of it was discussion with and lecture from Seane. While our asana practice was challenging at times (have I mentioned how much I hate lizard pose?), I expected her to be even tougher on us. She even admitted that she went “easy” on us. I’m sure most participants, self included, wouldn’t have chosen that word specifically, but, well, why? Why hold back for us? If we’re there, we’re in for a challenge!

There were also issues with time constraints; we were supposed to break halfway through for lunch, but instead our break came after four hours! Seane lectured/discussed with us for two, and after a short bathroom break for everyone, we began our asana practice. This lasted for about another two hours. We then took a one-hour break for lunch, which at that point seemed useless (however, probably a good break for Seane, who had done a lot of talking). On the upside, I got the chance to talk to some other yogis at the event. Finally, we came back for another hour/hour and a half of question-and-answer with Seane. Although many people probably didn’t want to do more yoga after eating, I think at the very least a short restorative session would have been an excellent ending to our day, but instead we just sort of ended abruptly after she wrapped up the Q & A.

Still, I’m incredibly happy that I had the opportunity to attend Seane’s all-day immersion. If I ever have the opportunity to take another class with her, I think I will. Although not everything she said struck deep for me, there were a few things that I took away from the day that have stuck with me since then—especially concerning understanding where our emotions come from and letting them release through yoga. Also, now that I have finally finished writing this entry, I can say that it was nice to revisit some of these points as a reminder to stick with my practice and make it through the rest of this incredibly hot summer. They seem far away now, but both the 40 Days Challenge and Seane Corn’s workshop created a new air of confidence and happiness within me, and I intend to take that positive energy into the fall when I start teaching again. (Hooray!)

Thanks for your patience with this entry! Up next, I’ll talk about my Iyengar-based class that I took for the month of June!

Monthly Yoga: April, Anusara Yoga

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About this series: For 2012, I vowed to try a new type of yoga each month and write about it here. This is the fourth of 12 reviews–keep checking back for more!

For the month of April, I decided to try Anusara yoga, a fairly popular and newer style of yoga that has appeared in the news quite a bit recently. As I mentioned a while ago, Anusara yoga has come under fire for founder John Friend’s misconduct involving drugs, affairs with students (some married women!), and various business issues. Attending an Anusara yoga class, however, has nothing to do with those allegations. I’m fairly certain that Blue Lotus Yoga, where I visited for the month of April, may refer to themselves as Anusara-inspired, perhaps in distancing themselves from this scandal, but this label (or any, really) never came up for the course of this class.

In fact, once I left the class, I realized that besides the aforementioned scandal, I knew very little about Anusara. It’s a form of yoga in the vein of Hatha yoga, founded in 1997 and unifying “a life-affirming Shiva-Shakti Tantric philosophy of intrinsic goodness with Universal Principles of Alignment.” Okay, that’s actually a bit vague. Some common attributes of an Anusara class include:

  • each class beginning with an invocation or centering
  • movements and action coordinated with breath
  • postures in keeping with the Universal Principles of Alignment, a set of guidelines in Anusara that are applied to ensure maximum strength and stability in the poses along with different focuses of one’s energy; it relies on the Three A’s of Attitude, Alignment, and Action (also a bit vague, to be honest)
  • adjusting students’ alignment, but not “correcting” or “fixing” it (I’ll address this one later)
  • no set routines, but reliance on solid sequencing of the over 250 asanas included in Anusara, plus finishing class with Savasana

There are other characteristics, such as instructor demonstrations and assists, that you would also find in many yoga classes. Overall, it doesn’t sound too terrible, and much of it is material you would find in most yoga classes. The main thing that I could tell that seems to separate Anusara from Hatha or other schools was the emphasis on philosophy, and things like different energies and “spirals” in the body. In the class I attended, we really didn’t talk philosophy, and I was glad for that because some of this stuff honestly sounds a bit bogus. Instead, I will address the categories I mentioned above.

Our class did begin with a short invocation. During the start of the class, the instructor talked us through a little bit of a centering and breathing exercise, and then we moved on to Surya Namaskara/Sun Salutation A. I was a bit bothered toward the beginning as the instructor sat in front of the class on a rug rather than moving about the room, but she walked around for the rest of class. She didn’t have her own mat, either, to demonstrate for the class, which I thought was odd—I’m so used to seeing instructors with their own mats, even if they barely get a chance to use them while teaching. This resulted in her both relying on a student for a demonstration of shoulder movement at one point and using the student’s mat to further explain it to the rest of the class.

In terms of offering adjustments for poses rather than correcting them, I’m not sure I see much of a distinction. Certainly an assist can help a student move into a deeper stretch, but how much adjusting can you do before you’ve “corrected” someone’s alignment? The only difference between the two seems to be the underlying intention. The instructor at Blue Lotus didn’t do this a lot, but she did continually tsk at the student in front of me, likely because her shoulders appeared tense. They weren’t, actually; the student simply had rather defined muscles, and the instructor seemed to want to force the student’s shoulders down farther than they could possibly go. In fact, I don’t know if this student was a regular student at Blue Lotus, but if she isn’t, I can’t imagine why she would want to go back. The instructor seemed to correct her alignment (or adjust, if you prefer) far more than everyone else’s. I cringed every time the instructor went near the poor girl!

Most of our class seemed to consist of lunges, either variations on a Low Lunge (Ashwa Sanchalanasana) or Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana). We did other poses as well, and ended in Savasana, but the lunges stuck out the most because I could feel it in my thighs when I left! To be honest, I did not get a strong sense of breath linked with movement for most of the class. This may be something for yoga practitioners that is sort of implied (remember to breathe!), but the instructor didn’t really emphasize it much throughout her lesson. I also didn’t get the sense that the sequencing was linked very well. Some of it honestly felt made up on the spot. I could be biased here; the instructor announced at the beginning that she needed to be somewhere else immediately after our class ended, and I think she was preoccupied as a result.

Overall, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything really special in this class; it moved much slower than I’m used to, which could be beneficial for some students, but I expected a bit more from an open level class. I’m not sure if this was because of the instructor’s preoccupation, my own preference for power vinyasa, or the Anusara style of yoga as a whole. So far for the year, I would say this class ranked as my least favorite. It wasn’t bad—the other students in the class appeared to be regulars and seemed to enjoy themselves. It just didn’t quite move at my speed, and I barely broke a sweat (remember, though, I do hot yoga—I’m a bit spoiled in terms of horrendously sweaty classes!). Rest assured, though, that taking such a class has little, if anything, to do with the current controversy surrounding the practice, and its fairly relaxed pace, at least in non-advanced classes, would make for a fine introduction to yoga for a beginner.

Monthly Yoga: March, Aerial Yoga

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About this series: For 2012, I vowed to try a new type of yoga each month and write about it here. This is the third of 12 reviews–keep checking back for more!

A few months ago, a friend alerted me via Facebook to a new yoga class using silk slings or hammocks—you know, the kind you might see in Cirque du Soleil. The moment I read about the class, I knew I would have to head over to Aerial Arts of Rochester and try it out. I’m not sure what took me so long, but I finally got there this March.

I called ahead to reserve a spot since space is limited to only 10 participants due to the number of silks in their facility. Each silk is made of an incredibly strong material and can hold up to 1,000 pounds; they are the same kinds used in professional aerial/cirque performances. Will, Aerial Arts’ co-owner and aerial yoga instructor, informed me over the phone that I was welcome to drop in that night, but I would be participating in the most difficult class of their series, which runs six weeks. I decided this was all right, though, since I was really only there to see what it was like.

I showed up fairly early and Will greeted me and gave me a rundown of what to expect. Like with the Bikram studio, I also had to sign a waiver here, although this one seemed a bit more understandable! Once the silks were set up and class members began filing in, Will led me to one of the silks on the end. I got a bit nervous because it felt a bit high up (it should tuck in at your low back), but once it was tugged down, I was able to get it to where it had to go. Will helped me to test it by telling me to flip over essentially into an upside down Supta Baddha Konasana.

Well, I thought, this is new.

Getting there took some effort—those Cirque performers make it look so easy! Once I got flipped over, however, I didn’t want to let go of the silk. After some coaxing and reassurance that no, I wouldn’t fall on my head, I let go.

I really want to be able to tell you all what a wonderful, freeing, and magical experience this was. Instead, the truth is that the silk dug into my low back and, at the time of writing this three days later, I still have bruises on that area. I do think it was pretty cool to hang out upside down like that; I don’t often get to since I have yet to master a headstand.

Luckily, the rest of the class relied on several other poses. Toward the beginning, we leaned our torsos forward and back in the sling while standing on our yoga mats. When it came time to stand in the sling, I became a bit nervous once more. Although my feet were only three feet off the ground, I felt like I was up much higher. I managed to move into tree on one side, but switching legs in the sling proved to be a bit difficult. Standing up also reinforced my white knuckle grip on the silks from earlier in upside down Supta Baddha Konasana, which we did once more toward the end. (Maybe upside down butterfly is a better name for it? Mine was more like drunk butterfly!)

Finally, we stretched out in the slings, turning them into hammocks. At that point I was content to just lie there and enjoy the weightless feeling inside the silk. This point was probably my favorite part of the class; if anything, I recommend going just to hang out in the slings (or maybe you should just buy a hammock).

For the most part, I could do some of the poses, and I’m sure if I had joined the class on week one, I would have had a better success rate. The other students in the class were either part of the six week series or had dropped in before, and if they’re anything to go by, practice does make perfect. They seemed to move into the poses quite effortlessly, so if you’re considering aerial yoga, rest assured that you will probably do much better than I did if you stick with it.

This was certainly not a typical yoga class. It wasn’t the acrobatic aerial movements you might expect, but it did rely a bit on upper body strength and flexibility. I will say, as well, that the instructor and the other students were all incredibly nice. They teased me a bit for picking this class to drop in on, but everyone was very encouraging. Many of the students also remarked how wonderful the classes at Aerial Arts were in addition to the aerial yoga, and one woman even mentioned that the classes have significantly minimized the pain she experienced that resulted from a chronic illness. How excellent is that endorsement? I am considering going back to try the entire series, but not until after my 40 Days challenge ends. Thus far, this experience looks like it would win the award for most unique yoga class in the Rochester area!

Monthly Yoga: February, Restorative Yoga

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About this series: For 2012, I vowed to try a new type of yoga each month and write about it here. This is the second of 12 reviews–keep checking back for more!

As a regular for breathe’s power vinyasa classes, I never really considered the merits of a restorative class. After all, I figured, why go to something that’s a bunch of breathing and laying down? I go for the exercise—I can relax at home. Yet I find, increasingly, that it’s difficult to relax at home, even if I’m by myself! There is always some type of distraction for me, like seeing something that needs cleaning or fixing or wanting to check something on the computer. (And a word of advice: cats are entertaining but not very helpful during yoga!)

I’ve heard this from many different sources, but power yoga tends to attract Type A personalities. Although I wouldn’t say that I fit firmly into this category at all times, I do tend to keep schedules obsessively (hello Filofax!), have a million different things going on in my head at any given moment, and agonize and worry about something almost all the time. I am not teaching right now, but for most of the past year, I taught college-level English courses and juggled two or three different schedules all at once. (The joys of being an adjunct… but I digress!) Yoga, even in power vinyasa classes, has been my way of unwinding and “sweating it out,” but now that I’ve tried a restorative class, I can easily see the benefits of attending these sessions on an occasional, or even regular, basis.

I took a restorative class after my regular vinyasa class, and I figured I would be okay to continue on since at least I wouldn’t be doing any more sweating than I already had in the early portion of the evening. At the end of my first class, I noticed that I couldn’t really quiet my mind during Savasana—it just went all over the place. Even when I started up the restorative class, I suddenly felt that I had too much to think about just with the class itself. “I’ve never done this before.” “How do I get my mind to be quiet?” “What if I can’t relax?” “What are we doing?” “How many blankets, bolsters, and blocks do we need again?” “What are we doing with all of these props?” “Oh no, do we even have enough blankets and bolsters for everyone?” (Yes, the last thought really did cross my mind, and it didn’t need to. Why I felt I had to worry about that issue, I’m not sure, since I wasn’t the one in charge!)

For class, we used five blankets (!), three bolsters, two blocks, and a strap. Somehow, it was daunting just to grab all the props and then wonder why we were using them. I am used to having a block and maybe, in a really adventurous class, a strap! We started out on our backs with blankets rolled under our ankles, knees, and necks. Pretty comfortable thus far. The instructor went around the room and helped each student to adjust as needed. She was very insistent that we let her do the adjusting for us; the goal of the class, after all, was for us to relax and not have to fidget with our various yoga props. Then we switched to a supported Supta Baddha Konasana with a strap, all while reclining on a bolster supported by blocks. I’m not kidding when I say that I love this pose as we normally do it, as it’s a fantastic hip opener, but that night I just could not get into this modification. It felt just slightly uncomfortable, enough so that I couldn’t stop thinking about when we would change positions. I finally stuck the bolsters underneath my knees, and this alleviated the issue, but by that point I just felt like I was doing something wrong.

Okay, seriously, I thought to myself. How can you relax “wrong”? How could you even be bad at relaxing in the first place?

The next pose was a modified reclining twist with arms laid across blankets and one knee supported on a bolster. This, too, took me a while to get used to. While I’m fine with a twist flat on my mat at the end of a vinyasa class (arms spread open with one knee angled and draped across the opposite leg), for some reason the props just complicated things. Again, I began to feel like I just wasn’t making myself comfortable the right way, or like I should be able to clear my mind completely in these poses. I also couldn’t stop fidgeting. Maybe I can blame the coffee I drank earlier in the day.

Yes, I’m aware that this isn’t exactly rocket science, but I guess this really just speaks to how little time I actually spend trying to make myself comfortable. Think about it: how often do you take the time to relax your body completely? This doesn’t include the times when you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep and anticipating your plans for the next day, or when you’re sitting on the couch, vegging out to something on TV. How often do most of us just sit or lay without some kind of distracting activity an arm’s length away? My guess, if I’m at least remotely average in this, is not too often.

Our final pose was Savasana, again aided by bolsters and blankets. Our instructor led us through a quick guided meditation focused on our breathing. In all, we only did five poses, since they require a fair amount of set-up time, which means we must have held each for about ten to fifteen minutes. Finally, finally, I was able to relax in Savasana. It was almost over too soon. It seemed like in the last five minutes of class, I finally got it. I hadn’t exactly cleared my mind, and I still moved around just a bit, but I left class in a state I can only describe as post-yoga bliss. I get this all the time with regular vinyasa classes, but with the restorative class focused entirely on relaxation, it seemingly amplified tenfold!

Will I do this again? Probably, but I can’t imagine going to breathe only for one of these classes. If I do attend another restorative class, though, it would definitely be after a vinyasa class and not before. I may need something caffeinated for afterward next time, too! On my drive home, I still felt a little bit too relaxed. However, I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t benefit from a restorative class. I had felt a bit off this past week, and after this class, I feel like I hit some sort of cosmic reset button for myself. We all need a way to unwind, and a nice, gentle practice every once in a while may be just the thing for the workaholics and compulsive worriers of the world.

Monthly Yoga: January, Bikram Yoga

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About this series: For 2012, I vowed to try a new type of yoga each month and write about it here. This is the first of 12 reviews–keep checking back for more!

Although I have been very happy with my practice at breathe in the past year, I have tried to motivate myself to try new branches of yoga to deepen my commitment to it. The power vinyasa classes at breathe have certainly helped me through some stressful times, got me more in shape, and continually allowed me the chance to just let go when I need to. The classes’ heat, intensity, and rigor have become a staple in my life this past year, and it’s not a habit I intend to break anytime soon.

I had heard of Bikram yoga before. It’s known for being fairly intense and sometimes competitive; from my understanding, Bikram competitions are something of a controversy and may feature in the summer Olympics this year. My only experience actually seeing what goes on in a Bikram class came from watching a documentary called Enlighten Up! (I highly recommend this documentary, if anything just to see the differences amongst yoga’s many disciplines.) The main thing I remember about the bit concerning Bikram yoga was a male instructor who seemed not so much to teach the class as command them. The other thing was that the instructor asked the documentary’s subject to not drink any water until later in the class. Unless I misunderstood this exchange, this seemed to me a weird command (and also highly dangerous!); however, I recognize most instructors would likely not ask this of their students. Add in the fact that classes are heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with something like 40% humidity tacked on, and the whole thing seems pretty intimidating.

A Bikram studio recently opened this past year in Rochester, and I decided to give it a shot. I’m already used to the heat from the vinyasa classes (which are about 85-90 degrees, though with little to no humidity), so I at least kind of knew what to expect. When I arrived at Bikram Rochester, I was greeted at the door by Aaron, the owner. He asked me if I was new, and when I said yes, he had me sign a waiver.

Wait, what?

I admit I skimmed it, but it essentially stated “It’s not our fault if you pass out in class and/or hurt yourself!” I’m sure this would send most people running far away. I suppose if you’re 100% new to yoga, this is probably not the best place to start. I signed the form, and then Aaron told me that I had one goal: not to leave the room. “Even if you want to lie in Savasana [corpse pose] for the whole class, that’s fine” he said, “just don’t leave the room.” The guy was kind of intense. Too late now, I figured. I had already paid for class, so I headed back toward the classroom.

The interior was all wood paneling with a large mirror stretched out along the front of the room. I am not used to mirrors. Part of what got me into doing yoga at breathe was the fact that on their website, I noticed that the pictures of the classroom revealed no mirrors. I remember going to the gym in high school and college and having to stare at myself sweating during my workouts. It was not a pretty sight. I took a spot in the back of the room, and thanks to having incredibly poor eyesight once my glasses are off, the mirror thing wasn’t an issue. I at least could make out the fuzzy outlines of my classmates to clue me in to what I was supposed to be doing. Good enough!

Class began with a breathing exercise, and then we moved into Bikram’s 26 asanas, or postures, each one done twice. To be honest, the heat of the room didn’t feel much different from that of breathe’s classroom, but even during the breathing exercise, I noticed that my skin was already stippled with sweat. We then moved on to our standing series—no sun salutations here! Thankfully, the class allows for plenty of breaks, including water, and the instructor would open the doors every once in a while to let some cool air into the room.

The instructor gave the class directions throughout almost the entire 90 minutes—I mean it. She barely stopped talking, which was on the one hand kind of impressive—like she was some sort of yogi auctioneer—and on the other hand a bit irritating. I’m used to long silences and usually some music, so to hear nothing but talking and other students breathing for an hour and a half was a bit weird.

At one point in the class, we got into Vriksasana, or tree pose, although Bikram yogis perform this pose a bit differently than what I’m used to. For me, this involved a very hasty reshuffling of limbs! This class’s version of Trikonasana (triangle pose) involved a bent knee, rather than straight (we usually refer to this as “side angle pose”), and Bikram also had a slight variation on Utkatasana (awkward pose, a very fitting name for it). The differences didn’t bother me, in the end, but I have to admit I did miss my normal “routine,” loose as it is in Baptiste classes.

I met my “goal” of not leaving the room, so I did feel some satisfaction by the time class ended. I saw a few people go in and out, probably to get some air, and I don’t blame them! It’s a tough workout, and it was honestly a bit tempting to step out for a moment at some points. It didn’t help that the cold bottle of water I brought to class was lukewarm by the time I finished. The intensity that Bikram offers is its main draw, and I can see why. As difficult as it can feel, it’s always incredibly rewarding to make it through over an hour of heat, sweat, and stretching! I think I may try another class in the future to augment my practice, but not to replace what I already do.