Yoga Challenge Complete

Wednesday I completed my 9th class in 6 days and officially completed my personal Yoga challenge. My last day was rather uneventful. On Tuesday afternoon I attended an Anusara II class with Maria Patella, expecting a different style of Yoga than other classes, but other than a sense of the practice being more about heart-centering (could have just been her style), I found the class virtually indistinguishable from a Vinyasa class. We were allowed to practice handstands against a wall (which I actually can do!), unlike my experience in several other classes were the option wasn’t provided…  I did enjoy Maria’s teaching style; she was very motivational, fluid and explanatory. Clearly she has been doing this for a long time and it showed.

Something funny happened when I checked in – one of the teachers told me I would need to pay because my week was up, which wasn’t true. Because I had already attended 8 classes this tripped something in the computer as an anomaly! She also explained she had been reading my blog so I was glad to have kept my comments generally friendly and constructive towards the studio: word travels fast!

Wednesday the schedule is surprisingly thin at Vital, and I was only able to attend one class, a Vinyasa practice with Scott Anderson, the only teacher that I sampled twice. Scott, if you remember, ran the Warrior Academy class that crushed me on Saturday. His Vinyasa class was a little lighter, but also had the feel of a workout class done through a yoga medium rather than a yoga class focused on fitness. Many people love these (the class was quite full, not packed like Saturday however). I’m sure I’ll attend some in the future, but in general this style of class does not attract me.

So here I am on a Saturday, lounging in a chair and feeling my body recover. After completing the Yoga challenge I had three back to back sessions in my climbing gym (Wed-Fri) which had the effect of absolutely wrecking me. I’m limping around my house today after a very late sleep-in. Despite this, for the most part I feel strong and healthy. I hope to use this accelerated week of fitness and yoga to catapult me into the spring.

As for Vital Yoga, I’m excited to have a great studio nearby, and I plan to buy a punch card soon and try to commit to a reasonable 2 classes/week rather than 2 classes/day! I still find myself more attracted to the meditative aspects of Yoga, which aren’t stressed at this studio unfortunately. I’ve often heard of physical Yoga (Hatha) explained as a preparation for meditation, as the comment below indicates:

HATHA YOGA is a method of handling the physical body so that the mind and the nerve system are calmed and quieted. It is primarily a means to prepare oneself for meditation. Hatha Yoga is founded on a principle of putting the physical body into a position so that the nerve currents in the physical body get tuned up to a perfect pitch. It is like tuning the strings on a violin; if you tune the violin just right, then each string will be in harmony with the other ones.

Interestingly, Scott polled the class to ask how many people meditate regularly – about 20% of the 40 people raised their hands. I found this a powerful statement about the disconnect between Yoga and meditation in the West. Hopefully, through my own practice and desire to enter this space more professionally, in addition to the many already working on these views, these attitudes can begin to change.

Yoga Challenge: Day 5 Update

Status Update: 4.5 days through the challenge, 7 classes complete.

I woke up Monday morning barely able to get out of bed: my hips were on fire, my back ached and I could barely lift a cup of tea to my lips to start the day. Monday was definitely going to be a one-class day. I decided to check out the 4:45 Yoga Nidra class led by Jeremy Wolf.  Yoga Nidra is a practice I’ve been very interested in since my time in India. Yoga Nidra is often translated as Sleep Yoga, an ancient practice which is a systematic method of complete relaxation, holistically addressing our physiological, neurological, and subconscious needs. I’ve also heard it described as cultivating the ability to transfer our consciousness into subtler realms of our being such as our dream and deep-sleep states. This is why Yoga Nidra is practiced lying down, where the practitioner attempts to remain in the state right before sleep. In fact, as Jeremy pointed out, each of us experiences Yoga Nidra for just a few moments each evening in that crossover between waking and sleep. This is the moment we want to cultivate and remain in, dropping away from the conscious thinking mind yet not actually falling asleep. During the practice you are asked to undergo pratyahara (withdrawing all of the senses inward) except for hearing which you use to listen to the teacher guide you through various relaxation and visualizations.

Leaving this class I felt as refreshed as if I had taken a 2-hour nap. I was excited to see such a practice being cultivated so close to home, and it reminded me of some of my aspirations towards the meditative arts. Yoga Nidra is a bridge between meditation and yoga, often much more accessible for people who have a difficult time meditating on their own.

This morning (Tuesday), I woke early to try out a Qi Gong class. A few of my friends have been practicing this lately and I’ve always been interested. My free week at Vital Yoga provided a perfect opportunity to check it out.

Wikipedia Definition:

Qigong is the international phonetic Chinese pronunciation which includes various physical and mindful practices in the training for health, martial arts and awakening to one’s true nature.

Qigong or Chi kung is an English Romanization of two Chinese characters: () and Gōng (). The dictionary definition for the word “qi” usually involved the meaning of “breathing”, “air”, “gas” and “vapor” but it can also be used in the context of describing the relationship between matter, energy and spirit. The dictionary definition for the word “Gong” (功) is that of achievement or results. The two words are combined to describe systems and methods of “energy cultivation” and the manipulation of intrinsic energy within living organisms.

I met Anita Boehm at the reception and quickly learned I would be getting private instruction as none of her other students had shown up. This was fantastic, as Anita went over the basics with me and demonstrated a variety of beginner exercises. Qi Gong is full of generally slow, palm opened movements as if you were moving a ball of energy (Qi) around. The fact that I‘ve written nearly two blog posts this morning makes me wonder if there is really something to this practice! It is quite incredible what one can do with intention, subtle movement and awareness of breath and body. While life is a little too full at the moment, I do think an occasional Qi Gong class or two will be in my future.

I think I’m over the hump of this Yoga challenge and taking it easy with Yoga Nidra and Qi Gong was a good idea to heal my body and prepare me for a few harder asana practices before my challenge week comes to a conclusion. My body feels strong and I feel like I’m on the verge of pushing past some life-long tension in my hips and shoulders. I just need to stick with it!

Yoga Challenge: Day 4 Update

Status Update: 3.5 days through the challenge, 5 classes complete.

In my Day 2 Update I discussed the Warrior Academy class that I took on Saturday; Apparently I’m not a warrior! I was so exhausted after that class I was basically resigned to a chair for the rest of the day. There was very little chance of me making it to the late Saturday evening class, which I didn’t… It was at this moment that my challenge was fused with a little more reality: shooting for 2 classes per day but setting the challenge requirement to 1.

Sunday will be the day I will look back on as the hardest day of the challenge. I left the cozy confines of my bed and stumbled over to the studio just before 8am for Desi Springer’s 8am Anusara Inspired Vinyasa class. The room was once again nearly full and Desi (co-founder) began the class discussing a variety of events happening at the studio and setting the intention of focusing on Love and Heart on this pre-Valentine’s day class. The practice was quite intensive as we worked through a variety of heart-openers. Desi stopped the class at one point to point out a gentleman who was recovering from an injury and therefore just lying in the room to ‘soak up the love’.  I think the word love was used about 74 times throughout the hour and a half.  I was pushed to my limit at the end of the class where we tried out a few partner-assisted poses. My partner out-weighed me by about 40 pounds and 2 days later I am still feeling the results of him assisting my cobra with knees in my back. We practiced assisted hand-stands which were cool and ultimately it was a fantastic practice.  My only complaint is that the wonderful heart-opening flow felt interrupted by the partner assisted gymnastics. My experience with Yoga classes is that this is a common theme – spend 45 minutes in a series, then spend 20 minutes trying out super-hard postures….  Not what I’d prefer but maybe I’m alone in this?

I spent the day doing things around the house with Autumn (We are nowhere near being settled fully), with a 4pm Vital Roots class hanging over my head like a dark cloud. At half past 3 I mustered my strength, ate a snack and skipped over to the studio singing Hindu devotional music (OK not really, it looked more like a man with a limp walking off a hang-over). As I walked into the Yoga studio and felt the 97 degree room, I suddenly wished I hadn’t downed a chai and bowl of Tabouli salad heavy on the garlic about 20 minutes earlier…. In the 10 minutes before class began, I actually managed to fall asleep on my mat, wakened by our instructor Hannah Ross Smith’s greeting. The next 90 minutes were a battle for me. I was nauseous, sore, angry and kept telling myself at some point it would shift. Hannah was a wonderful instructor, infusing the entire class with a sense of calm, peace and connection. The shift came, eventually, 85 minutes into the practice during Savasana, when I knew it was all over. Hannah closed with a beautiful devotional hymn (she has an amazing voice), and I wandered home grateful for this practice.

The rest of the evening I was pretty much just a solid mass of flesh floating between the sofa and the refrigerator. 

Namaste.

Yoga Challenge

I have discovered a popular Yoga studio three blocks from my house offering a free first week of unlimited Yoga. This is a nice deal for us unemployed types, primarily because we have a lot of time but not a lot of money. Vital Yoga is a local studio offering a variety of practices. Its core appears to be in the Vinyasa, Bikram and Anusara traditions, but the schedule caught my attention with a few more alternative (or traditional, depending on your perspective!), classes such as Nidra Yoga, Jivamukti and Qi Gong. 

yogiInterestingly, since my time in India, almost one year ago, I have not practiced formally in a studio. I have managed to lead my own session once a week or so (not nearly as much as I would like to). Autumn and I plan to spend a month this summer at a Tantric Yoga school in Thailand, so it is time for me to start ramping up my practice. Additionally, because I hold an intention towards a career in the greater Yogic tradition: one based in meditation, asana, Ayurveda, well-being, it is time for some on-the-ground market research.

I have been carefully attempting to carve out a week where I can take the most advantage of a free pass, but in reality, there will never be a perfect, commitment-free week. There are writing classes on Wednesdays, Zen Center duties on Thursdays and Fridays, Valentine’s Day on Monday…. so I am just going to go for it and see how many I can make. Starting Friday, I am hoping to attend 2 classes a day for 6 days straight. I have several motivations:

  • First, simply to sample the variety of teachers and offerings at this studio.
  • Second, to focus intensively for a week on this practice, simultaneously matching a yogic-like diet and lifestyle to the physical practice.
  • Finally, it will be great fodder for blogging.

I must admit I am a little afraid of the Yoga scene: I have never formally practiced at a Yoga studio, generally preferring casual venues like the recreation center, rock climbing gym or my own living room. My hope is the scene at Vital won’t be similar to one of the scenes in the movie Enlighten Up, a documentary following a guy into various ridiculous yoga practices such as a studio on a porn set run by a former WWF wrestler or a semi-naked hand-stand party in Manhattan…Seriously I hope that something so close to my house will align with my motivations with Yoga. I would be very grateful for such an option.

Stay Tuned. Om.