Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Second Chance for Yoga in Delaware

During my yoga road trip week I visited a large studio in Wilmington, Delaware, that I did not have the best experience in (see previous Blog: "Bigger is not Always Better"). I wanted to get back to the tiny state to the south to see if that was a rare instance, which I am sure it was, so that I could remove any negative thoughts about their yoga community from my mind. So I went online and found a smaller studio in Wilmington named Tulaa (the sanskrit word for balance).

I arrived 15 minutes before class to a locked door. Peeking in I could see a small check-in area, two pairs of shoes, and little else. The sign on the door said if yoga class has started or body work is in session, the door will be locked. I checked the time again. Well, class hadn't started yet, so apparently there's a very small window of opportunity to get into this place, I thought!

I wondered if I should wait in my car or not. I decided to take a stroll down the plaza to see what else was there. The typical: nail salon, pizza place (Best in Delaware!), etc. I walked back and peeked in the window again. Yup, shoes still there, door still locked. Then just as I was about to go sit in my car, a girl drove up and got out with a yoga mat. She greeted me while a smile.

"Are you the yoga teacher?" I asked.

"Yes, I sure hope you haven't been waiting long," she commented.

I smiled and told her no, then we went into the studio. Small space with two treatment rooms for massage: 1 in front of studio and 1 behind the yoga room. Everything was gray and white, with a couple small Buddha ornaments, a few chairs and cubbies. There were no brochures, flyers, things to purchase, or information on upcoming events. Even the large chalkboard behind the desk simply had a picture of a sun and a quote that read something like "How can you make footprints in the sand if you are sitting down? Who wants to make butt prints?" It was cute and I chuckled...then wondered exactly what it meant. I mean, what's wrong with butt prints?

It was a 1 hour all level Vinyasa class, and that's pretty much what we got. I think there were 4 of us in the room of various levels of experience. We started seated with a few easy stretches - there was no check in to see how we were or ask if there was anything we wanted to do. But I know how to take care of myself and I'm letting go of that sort of thing on my yoga road trips, so I went with it.

We did a standard Vinyasa sequence. The breath cues were good, the alignment was - eh, okay to "come into Warrior I" with no cues. She rattled of a litany of variations at the beginning of the pose, most of which I missed because I was focusing on "getting there." And even though she walked the room (pacing style), she never did any hands on assists or adjustments. I struggled not to judge her as a teacher, and was doing okay, then nearly lost it when I saw her do her first forward bend, push back into her heels and lock her knees! Agh!!! Further research on her bio explained why: former ballerina. Some of the most challenging yoga students I've ever had were former ballerinas. So much of the form they have drilled into their heads completely goes against what we tell students to do safely in yoga.

Okay, end of my critique. Now about my experience...

As I sit here writing about it a couple of hours later, I really feel no change in myself. I don't really feel as though I practiced yoga today. The same tightness and stress that I had from this morning still exists now. During class I took care of myself, modified as I should, redirected my breath/movement intention as I needed to, and followed her guide with the sequence. But I wasn't moved. I wasn't challenged or nurtured.

The A/C was cranked when we started to practice. I tried to let that go, but it was cold. I never broke a sweat, and just as we began to get a little warm, the flow was over and the A/C went back on. I just cannot understand practicing in a yoga studio with air conditioning on. I'm sorry, it hardly broke 8o degrees by the time we were practicing, why was the A/C on anyway? I understand for beginner classes or in certain circumstances you may need to put a little air on, but for me, I simply cannot practice like that. I need heat and I need to sweat - otherwise I do not feel the benefits practicing.

I noticed the teacher was Yogafit certified and is from Texas, originally. That explained a lot to me. I guess at this point in my tenure as a teacher, I simply need philosophy, spirituality and depth to my practice. It doesn't have to be physically challenging for me to get something out of it - a well planned Restorative or Gentle class will do the same. But it's just difficult for me to find enjoyment in a practice based solely at the physical level.

In looking on the website I don't think this particular teacher is indicative of the whole operation. It looks like a small studio that is getting up and going. And they have a Thursday evening Asthanga guided primary series there. I'm curious about that and it would be a better drive than going into Philly, so I may go back and check that out with another teacher.

At this point I'm struggling a little with determining if I'm turning into a yoga "snob" of sorts or just closing in on the type of practice that resonates with me. My hope is that I am not coming off as the first, because I do always learn something from every yoga class I've ever taken. Today she reminded me of a small arm variation for WII I had been wanting to do lately. I'd almost forgotten about it, but I'll add it in to class tonight. So I'm grateful for that. And, there is also a Trader Joe's right across the street from the studio, so of course that is a plus too...especially since in Delaware there's no sales tax. So I did a little shopping and then headed home.

In the end I think I'm still convinced that some of the best yoga classes are the ones in our area - Mercer County and up into NYC. The teachers in this area are by far more knowledgable, nurturing and challenging. I'm hoping this trend I'm seeing of the stripped down physical practice of yoga in other areas eventually grows into something more spiritual and with depth that we also have.

So, I'll give Delaware one more chance, and perhaps the 3rd time will be the charm. I'll keep you posted.
Namaste.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Joys of Being a Student

Every year I try to take a training for myself. First of all, I believe that we can always learn something new. Secondly, there is something joyful about being a student again - not planning the itinerary, leading the group, dealing with issues that arise, etc. It's just so nice to be led through a training my a seasoned teacher, allow yourself to go through the processes of the growth experience, and enjoy whatever new information comes your way.

I recently had the pleasure to both host and take Michael Sitzer's Thai Yoga Bodywork (TYB) training at our studio. We did a 2 week course, 4 days, 24 hours and it was so much fun. We had a great group of folks in the course and we got to practice and even more importantly RECEIVE Thai Yoga Bodywork. I have often thought about integrating massage trainings to our studio. It was a blessing to see all the energy exchange for this ancient healing practice occurring around the room. Some folks who had been stressed (self included) or that I hadn't seen smile in a while, were beaming from ear to ear after each session.

The hardest part of the day was cleaning up and clearing the room for the next yoga class. I was in such a joyful, relaxed place, to immediately switch to owner/business mode was quite interesting for me to see just how quickly my energy shifts. I feel the playfulness both when I am teaching and being a student, but when I have to collect money, or set something up - conduct "business," boy does it drain my energy quickly and there is a shift within me when my brain moves into full "on" mode. Must be the Gemini in me!

It is great to soak in new information, practice, apply it and make it your own. Michael's relaxed teaching style reminded me very much of the Thai approach to life. Whenever we asked if we could change the movement or position to make it easier on our particular body he would say, "Sure, whatever feels better for you. You have to play with it." When asked if we were doing "it" right, he would comment, "Looks good, how does it feel?" Or just give an affirming nod. Michael reminded us to be playful and have fun (in Thai the word for this is Sa-Nuk) and that in most Thai Yoga Bodywork sessions that the practitioners, who are working on people right next to each other, will often talk and laugh during the session, keeping life fun, light and relaxed. I recall when I was in Thailand this was something that really got under my skin at first. My Western mind required silence and attention during my massage! But after a while you come to understand that delicate balance of life where there is a need to laughter and joy and that while working, you don't have to switch modes and become more serious all the time. Hmm, such great wisdom in that!

Our culture, our world, could learn so much from that simple Thai lesson of  Sa-Nuk, keeping things fun and joyful. Everyone is so very serious anymore. With the financial situation, Middle-Eastern tensions, GMO's, and everything else we are bombarded with, we have become a world who worries about everything so much that we have forgotten, to a large extent, how to be happy, silly and have fun. Wouldn't it be nice to just let all that go for one day - not because we don't care, but because we need to balance our life with joy and fun?

Part of the reason I took my summer Yoga Road Trip was to go around and see what other studios were doing. The other reason was to immerse myself back into my own yoga practice and experience the joys of it again. I found that. Then the next two weeks I invited Michael in to teach us TYB. I must admit, I had intended to get a few other things done this summer, but instead, I am quite enjoying being a student again! I wouldn't say that I envy my students because I truly get more out of teaching them then they probably get from learning from me - or maybe it is a mutual exchange. However I do understand where that sense of peace comes from when they enter the studio to take a class - because they know they are in a safe place and are about to be guided on an inner journey that will leave them smiling when the leave.

If you are a teacher, facilitator, mentor, parent, business owner or counselor, when was the last time that you let yourself be a student and enjoy the process of surrendering to it? Maybe it's time to drop in again...the joys of being a student can take you to places that you never expected.

Michael Sitzer's TYB Website

Monday, July 22, 2013

Guru Purnima - Celebrating Your Guru

The full moon day of the month of July in the yogic community is called "Guru Purnima," a day where we celebrate our Guru, the teacher most responsible for helping assist our spiritual growth. In some yogic schools, the Guru is a revered person to whom shrines and alters are made in their honor and who's spirit is invoked when the student begins any spiritual practice like yoga.

I have had many teachers over the years - some good, some really good, and some really...well, let's just say that I have learned a lot about how to be a good teacher from some of the ones that didn't resonate much with me. You see, every event in your life and with everyone you meet, there is an opportunity to learn something. For me, some of the worst events have been the best teachers.

But when I think about people who I can look up to as a yogi, a spiritual seeker, a teacher and one who guided my knowledge, I am a little at a loss with personal contact. I've maybe learned from admiring someone from afar: Ghandi, Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama, yet never really meeting them close-up.

I suppose the closest I got was a year ago when I met Amma, affectionately known as the "Hugging Mother." In a group setting, I did get a private moment with her, one where I truly felt her energy and was overwhelmed by her compassion and love. She shared some deeply personal thoughts with me on my life within moments of meeting me and it truly touched me deeply. Another time I saw the Dalai Lama when he visited the United States and gave a lecture at Rutgers. I was there with thousands of others, but it was pretty darn close to feeling his greatness.

I've studied with Baron Baptiste and Shiva Rea the most of any other teacher. I love Shiva, but she has gotten to be so "big" that you don't really get too close to her. Baron is more approachable and has truly taught me a thing or two about myself. Most recently I took class with Sri Dharma Mitra. What an amazingly approachable teacher - available to all his students in a charmingly casual way, yet commands such attention and a desire to want to learn from him.

This is a day to honor a teacher who has brought you along on your path.

Who is that for you?


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Falling in Love with My Yoga Practice Again

If you've been following my blog you know that I've spent the past couple of weeks strolling around the tri-state area checking out local studios. I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Being a studio owner has it's ups and downs, but one of the worst things is that there are days that I am so exhausted from dealing with the business aspects of it that after finally teaching my classes, I just do not have it in me to do my own yoga practice - a trap that I warn all new teachers not to let themselves fall into.

My yoga practice has changed a lot over the years. When I first started practicing yoga, I could barely do any of the postures without extreme shaking, cramping and using lots of modifications. I realized less than a half a year into practicing yoga that I was feeling better - stronger, and no longer in constant pain. I lost weight, gained flexibility and strength, self confidence and worth. I achieved a state of mental calm that I'd never understood could exist before. And I was hooked.

After many years of practice, I found Power Vinyasa - inspired by Baron Baptiste, and then I studied with him. My body got leaner and even stronger, and I found myself able to do asanas that I never thought my fractured spine could do, and found a connection to Spirit that I never thought I would. I was hooked.

Then I was introduced to Shiva Rea, Pranic Flow, and other creative Vinyasa styles and I was inspired again to create movement based sequences that flowed with the energy of the seasons, moon phases, and all things earth-based, which spoke to me on an even deeper level that tied together my body, mind and spirit. I was hooked.

I found other teachers that had their own bend to the practice, offered Spiritual guidance and general wisdom about life, relationships, and the ability to use the yoga practice to guide you through life. I was hooked yet again.
Then as my business grew, so did the time I needed to spend on the computer. The more time I spent on the computer, the less time I had on the mat. I gained weight. I started having dislocation issues - with my shoulder at first, then with my S.I. joint, and most recently with my wrist and elbow. Recent x-rays confirm more arthritis in my spine and an emergency appendectomy two years ago created an inability to use my core for at least a year and a half. The last three years left my yoga practice practically nonexistent, and with a body that is falling apart again.

This yoga road trip couldn't have come at a better time for me. It forced me back into my practice again. I spent time in Vinyasa and Gentle/Restorative classes. I allowed myself to push my edge and to pull back, nurture and rejuvenate as well. At the end of the road trip week, I am feeling amazing again - having found a renewed love for my yoga practice.

This morning I got up early and went and took a yoga class. Two weeks ago I would have went back to bed and slept another two hours, missed my practice entirely, and complained about how I was feeling. The nagging pain in my S.I/Psoas is gone. The ache in the start of the bunion on my left foot is gone. My wrist feels stronger. My legs feel tighter. My waist looks slimmer. My brain is more clear. My spirit is lighter. This past weekend I could have fought with my husband at least 5 times, yet only did once, and in truth, I wasn't even angry when we did.

I've made a commitment to myself - this yoga road trip has been so good, I intend to visit a studio at least once a week for my own practice - a new studio or a teacher or studio I've already visited and enjoyed. On busy weeks, I may stay local or do a little gentler practice and on lighter weeks, I may trudge into the city for more challenging classes. Maybe I'll get up early and practice and maybe I'll practice on my day off. The door is wide open and I don't think it matters just what type of practice that I do - the only thing that is important is that I'm in love with yoga and my yoga practice again.
Namaste.

Monday, July 15, 2013

There's No Place Like Home

I'd spent roughly 18 hours on my mat over 9 days and traveled to 14 different yoga studios. I did Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga, Yin Vinyasa, Power Vinyasa, Vinyasa Flow, Master Sadhana, Gentle Yoga, as well as classes that were inspired by Jivamukti Yoga, Baron Baptiste, and ultimately Dharma Mitra himself. In each and every class I learned something new: about myself or my practice, about being a teacher, a friend, a wife, a studio owner, and more. There were days when I didn't want to get up and practice, and there were days when I awoke before my alarm because I was so excited to get going. In some classes I wanted to run out screaming, my legs cramped up, and without my towel had sweat so much that I was forced to let said sweat run down my face into my eyes. In other classes I was so relaxed and nurtured that I never wanted to leave. I found new music to use in classes, purchased some cool yoga clothes, and met some really interesting people. All in all, it was an amazing experience that I am so glad I finally took the time to do. I'd never exchange the experiences of the past week and a half for anything. And yet...coming back to my own studio on Saturday was an even more incredible experience.


There's nothing like coming home, isn't there? You can be on an exotic vacation or visiting great friends that live out of town, but nothing beats coming home, kicking off your shoes, sleeping in your own bed, and knowing where everything is. Well, I feel the same way about the yoga studio.

I arrived early to the studio, excited to move some things around. I'd had so many visions or flashes of insight about my life and the studio over the past week that I was determined to get it all done as soon as I could! I walked into the studio and smiled. "Home at last!" I took a quick scan and determined that I'd forgot to water the plants - oops. And the carpet was messed up - okay. And the paper towels were almost out in the bathroom. But despite the little things I'd forgotten to have handled, it was my little studio. The place that I'd spent hours painting, decorating, moving energy around, cleansing, and teaching hundreds of students. Nothing can ever replace the memories or equate to the energy that my studio holds for me.

I feel truly blessed. Blessed to have been able to go around visiting other studios, meeting teachers and getting back into my own practice. Blessed to have so many supportive students, friends and family. Blessed to have the more awesome studio to come home to (Voted Best Yoga Studio in NJ, don't forget!).

As a creative person, sometimes the same situations create stagnation for me. I come home to One Yoga & Wellness Center with a renewed energy and vision, passion and inspiration. It's easy to be run down and overwhelmed by the day to day activities of home and work. But you take a little time away and - bham! - suddenly there's new perspective. And then you realize that the little things you were complaining about, worrying about, obsessing about - were simply symptoms of stress.

Ah, if only there were a good yoga studio in the area to help me deal with that!
Namaste.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Flying High with Aerial Yoga! (July 12)

I'm getting one.                 I'm absolutely getting one. 

Ever since Aerial Yoga starting making a splash around the yoga community, I've wanted to try it. Due to the apparatus, it isn't easy for all studios to offer these classes, but Dig Yoga in Lambertville does. After mentioning that I was going to try it out to Ryah, she said she wanted to come along. How great to take a fun new class with a good old friend!

There were two other girls in the class with us who were also new to Aerial Yoga, so I felt really free to start cracking up just trying to get into the contraption. Ryah started laughing too...and then so did they.

The teacher, owner of VaihAyasa aerial yoga (on Facebook), would show us the postures and then we would try to figure out how to do what she said to do. Once you got the hang of it, it really was pretty easy. I was surprised to find myself working up a bit of a sweat. We didn't hold the postures too long, the most challenging part is maneuvering in and out of the postures...without breaking your neck.

The best pose for me was the inversion in the picture above. I felt weightless and the best part was the decompression on my spine. I literally grew an inch. My head started about an inch above the floor and by the time the pose was over, I was pressing into it and growing more. It's many hours later and I still feel open and free without that nagging arthritic pain I sometimes get on rainy days. Maybe it was the hanging or maybe it was all the laughing - but I felt a little high afterwards. 

After a long week (9 days) of my yoga road trip, my ups and downs with my body and my mind, this was really a great way to end the week. I had decided to only take the one class today and end it on a high note with the Aerial class. Ryah and I had lunch at Big Bear, then I went and did a little shopping in New Hope before heading home. Even though my "Yoga Road Trip Week" is officially over, I plan on checking out at least one class a week for a while longer. So, if you want to come practice with me somewhere or have a local studio or teacher that you recommend, please let me know! And for those of you who have been enjoying my yoga blog, I promise to continue it! Namaste.

PCYH: an old staple in the NJ community, but new to me (July 11)

Any yogi that lives in the greater Central NJ area knows about PCYH, the acronym for Princeton Center for Yoga & Health. Established in 1996, just about since I started practicing yoga, I'd always heard about the studio but had never actually gotten there. Of course, the location has changed a few times since it's inauguration. Located now on 5 acres in an old 1700's farmhouse, their new location is like a little retreat center close to home.
I went in to take a 12 o'clock class, but there were two options: a core toning class which I was told was Vinyasa at the desk and a "Lunchtime Go with the Flow" which I was told was a gentle class. At first I signed up for the Vinyasa class. I was the only person on the list, but there were about 6 on the Gentle class list. As I stood there waiting for the teacher or another student to arrive, I hesitated, wondering if I should switch to the Gentle class.

My right arm was feeling better but I knew that it wasn't fully healed. It had been a long week of yoga and I took a few moments going back and forth in my mind as to which class would be best for me to take. I was completely unclear when the Gentle teacher came over to say hello to me. It seems she is new to NJ, having recently moved from Texas, and lived in East Windsor. She had stopped by to take one of my classes but it was a day that I had a sub. We got to talking, she was bright, happy and very sweet. I watched several more folks dropping into the Gentle class and made up my mind to switch classes and take hers.

There were quite a few people for a lunchtime class and since I wasn't sure what to expect of the class, I set myself up towards the back so that I could modify if need be. But the teacher, Jenifer Hughey, told me that It truly was going to be a very gentle class as she came around and checked in with everyone to see if there were any injuries or limitations.

I was surprised to find it incredibly similar to the gentle yoga classes that I teach at One Yoga & Wellness Center. Not many people actually teach a true gentle yoga class, and I truly feel that it is an important type of class to offer.

I noticed with the first neck stretch the limitations in my right neck and shoulder, but I just breathed through it. Jenifer led us through the asanas and the breath with smiles and compassion. I felt very relaxed - something I've noticed I do not always feel at all studios or with all teachers. When we got onto our backs, I made a slight movement and I felt a pop in my upper back...why hadn't I put it together before, my rib had been out. This had happened before. It certainly wasn't the entire problem, but it was a big part of it. I was so relieved to feel the release that I didn't want to move in fear of it slipping back out. I sat and breathed for a few moments, then joined in for the remainder of class, which wasn't much longer.

I finished class feeling pretty good. I only say pretty good because there was still lingering pain in my elbow and tenderness in my wrist. But I enjoyed a true gentle yoga class with a really nice teacher. I was so relieved to have made the switch over to the gentle class. As I was leaving the studio to head home, I noticed a stone Buddha resting under a tree. I thought I might stay there and sit a while, but I was tired and wanted to head home and rest, and that was still a long trek ahead.

I'm glad that I finally got around to checking out PCYH. There are so many teachers and styles of classes that are offered and I've noticed over the years that both are constantly changing. So if you haven't been there in a while, I suggest to check it out. Maybe there will be a fun class or workshop available, a chanting group or new teacher that you may want to follow or learn more from. I know I'll take a class with Jenifer again! Maybe you'll even see her teach something at One Yoga sometime soon too.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Studi(OM)ango with an Old Friend (July 11)

I awoke this morning with the same radiating heat down my right arm. "Damn," I thought. I was annoyed with myself. I wanted to get through this week and enjoy some more classes and I didn't want to have to give up. But there's that body's wisdom thing that I need to honor at the same time. I found myself in a bit of a quandary. I petted my dog, Kali. She gave me the sad eyes like she didn't want me to leave again. My other dog, Bodhi, nuzzled up next to my leg. I sat in bed with my iphone checking out local studio schedules to determine if there was any way I could hit a couple and do something gentle for my body. I had narrowed it down to 4 studios and I knew there was no way I'd be catching more than 2. What to do...what to do...?

I hit the shower and reached for my bottle of the "Thai Yellow Stuff," which I know works well on joints. Since I had no success with tiger balm last night, I figured, let's go for the papa of all balms. Within 15 minutes I was feeling amazing. The radiating heat was gone and the clicking and throbbing was less too. I had to really take stock of the situation and not go for it like I could easily do. So I said goodbye to my dogs, grabbed my stuff and got in the car. I actually didn't know where I was going until I started plugging an address in the gps.

I arrived at Studio Mango in Pennington at 9am. A former student of mine, Miss Ryah Dekis, was teaching a 9:30 "Calm & Strong" class, and I knew that she would get me modifying anything I needed to (cause I taught her that). I'd heard nice things about Studio Mango and the owner, Julia. But I couldn't make a class with her this week and there was something pulling me to take a class with Ryah anyway.

It was so good to see an old friend. Ryah embodies the life of a yogini in many ways. I won't embarrass her here with private details about her life and travels, but when you meet Ryah you know right away that she is a true yogini. Ryah welcomes everyone with a big smile and for those that she knows, a bigger hug. She takes time to check in with each person individually before class, asks what they may like or need at that moment. You can feel her compassion for each student and know that you are well taken care of in her class.

Ryah Dekis, Yogini Extraordinaire :)
Studio Mango is located in a light, upstairs room painted in...mango color! The sparse decorations really pop in the room yet allow you to focus within when you need to. Ryah started us with a great breathing technique and I realized that this entire week of popping around to different studios, I think she was one of the only teachers to teach us a specific breathing technique other than ujjayi - and most teachers simply offered ujjayi without offering the instructions for it. I was so grateful to have time to sit and breathe into my body and create a space to practice. As we continued to practice I was more and more impressed with how much Ryah has grown as a yoga teacher. With wonderful instructions, a watchful eye, and many modifications, Ryah truly is a gifted, all level teacher, something that is difficult to come by these days. I felt grateful to practice with Ryah, modify for myself, work a little yet not over do it. It was a perfectly blended class.

Ryah teaches all around Mercer County, and if you want to check her out somewhere, check out her Facebook page for Ryahhh Yoga by clicking here: Ryahhh Yoga on Facebook

As for me and my arm, well it didn't feel too bad after class. Not as bad as yesterday and not much different than after I applied the balm. I didn't do a lot with my arms in class, however, and I could feel restriction and pain when I moved my neck, so I had a good idea whatever was causing this heat was coming from my shoulder area. So, feeling okay, and wanting to take another class and check out another studio before lunch. What to do...what to do...?

Laughing Lotus is No Joke (July 10)

After practicing with Dharma Mitra, I went to lunch. Still having a little time to kill before meeting my new yoga buddy, Lindsey at her home studio, Laughing Lotus, I accidentally happened upon a massage studio (right next to Laughing Lotus, although I had no idea where I was at the time). I dropped in for a one hour deep tissue massage. There is really nothing like a Chinese woman walking on your back. I thought maybe I should have had her do that BEFORE Dharma's Master class...then maybe I could have gotten into more of those bendy postures!

I arrived early at Laughing Lotus. I remember hearing about them many years ago when they were a few folks practicing on a rooftop in NYC. I had wanted to go then, but had never gotten the chance. As luck would have it, the studio was only four blocks from Dharma Yoga and Lindsey was taking Ali Cramer's 5:30 "Lotus Hour" class and had invited me to join her. My yoga week had been really great so far, but it was getting a little lonely. I was looking forward to practicing with someone that I actually knew.
Stunning artwork greets you as you enter Laughing Lotus and proceed down the hallway to the studio. Vibrant colors and a very artsy crowd awaited me as I walked in. Lindsey was right behind me and we chatted a bit while waiting for the yoga room to open. The room was full and Ali started class with a discussion about water, announcing that we would be doing a 2nd Chakra class. I thought to myself, "Thank God, I really need some hip openers after this long yoga week." It's amazing how you do always get what you need. And I loves me some 2nd chakra/water classes!

Ali spoke to us throughout the class about the energy of water - I often do this in my classes, but she had different things to say which was nice. We flowed and created strong wave-like movements in our body, sometimes holding more challenging asanas like Ardha Chandrasana, then once we were nice and sweaty diving into some deep hip openers.

I enjoyed the flow, the pace and the atmosphere at the studio and I really enjoyed having someone to practice with in the city. Laughing Lotus is definitely a great studio to go check out. It seems like they have interesting special classes and events, and hopefully I'll be able to make it to some in the future...hopefully with some more yoga buddies!

The class was a Lotus Hour, so it was only 60 minutes long, but that was ok. I had the massage therapist work deeply into my elbow and after class I was having a pretty intense feeling down my arm. I wasn't looking forward to the drive home in traffic, but I threw on some Tiger Balm on the muscles around my elbow and drove home inch by inch through the Holland tunnel and into NJ. By the time I got home, tremendous heat was radiating down my right arm so intensely I could no longer determine where it was originating.

Several weeks ago I noticed issues with my wrist. Then with all the yoga the past several weeks it seemed to move up into my elbow. Now I wasn't quite sure if it wasn't in my shoulder. I wondered if the sensations were energy trying to move out, or blocked energy with nowhere to go, or just overuse. I couldn't find a comfortable position to sleep in, but I was so exhausted from my day that I fell asleep.

I was so glad that I'd decided not to stay in the city and push myself with classes on Thursday. I decided to stay near home and check out some more local studios for Thursday. Did I take one class? Two? Or skip all together and just relax? Well, I decided that I would just figure it out in the morning, I had three different options...which way would it go? Only tomorrow will tell.
Namaste.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sri Dharma Mitra - Master Sadhana Class (July 10)


Today I awoke at 6:30 am to the telephone ringing. It was the Broadway Plaza hotel confirming my two reservations for that evening. "Huh?" I had made one reservation for myself, but not two. I was advised to cancel it online immediately. I had set my alarm to go off at 6:45, so I was up anyway, I may as well get cracking!

I took a deep breath, went downstairs and canceled one reservations. I stared at the screen looking at the second reservation wondering if I really wanted to stay overnight in NYC by myself and take a bunch of yoga classes all over the city. I was starting to miss my dogs and my house. I had logged a lot of miles on my car and was finding some really great local teachers to NJ. I changed my mind and canceled the reservation and set about determining a new course of action for Thursday...even though this was only Wednesday.

I didn't have much time, really. I was on a pretty tight schedule. I had to be in NYC for a class with Sri Dharma Mitra at 12 noon and still had to stop by my yoga studio to check on things and grab paperwork. I wasn't sure what traffic would be like getting into the city so I wanted to give myself enough time. I think I finally got out of the house a little after 8 am and hit the yoga studio by 9:25. I left there at about 10 and set in to NYC for a class with the Master himself.

Most people already know Dharma Mitra, even if they don't know how they know him. You've seen him every time you've come into my studio when you walk past the poster of all the yoga asanas because that was him on that poster. When he created it so many years ago, there weren't computers to help copy and paste. He hand cut each picture and created the poster himself. Now most yoga studios offer it as a decoration in the studio - although I use it for most of my teacher training programs too.

Dharma Mitra has been studying yoga since 1958. When you think of what a yogi is, he is the real deal. He was a full-time yogi and bramachari (celibate religious student who lives with his teacher and devotes himself to the practice of spiritual disciplines). Dharma Mitra has a yoga studio in NYC on 23rd St near 6th Ave. appropriately called the Dharma Yoga Center. It is a large spacious yoga room adorned with many statues and boasting a large screen where he displays the asanas that he wants you to perform.

I arrived early, but a few of Dharma's students were already hanging around. It was a very chill vibe. I was surprised when Dharma sauntered in with his dog, Baxter (a white yorkie-poo looking dog very similar to my Bodhi), and began chatting with his students. Dharma Mitra is very approachable, very open and inviting. I felt like I was hanging out with friends, not walking into a yoga studio in the heart of NYC.

After purchasing a couple of items and renting a towel (yes, I'd forgotten mine again), I set myself up in the second row next to a pole (see my mat there in the picture?). I wasn't sure what to expect so I grabbed a block and sat down. Some others had started coming in at this point and I was told I could "warm up" if I wanted to. The class I was taking was titled "Master Sadhana." I wasn't intimated because I already knew I wasn't going to be able to attain all of the asanas in their full form, but I remember the yoga poster and the progression of postures - from fairly simple to extremely difficult to "really, a person can DO that?"

We began with a short round of chants while Dharma played the harmonium and then immediately began a practice. We warmed up with some sun salutations, stepping back to lunges instead of jumping in traditional Surya Namaskar. So far, so good. Then Dharma began to showcase postures and would say, "now you." As we practiced, these asanas became more and more challenging. Many of them require you to be very open and flexible, and also strong and steady. I'm still working on both of those things.

The folks in the front row (mostly men) were close students to Dharma. They would perform these yogic gymnastics and Dharma would point to them and say in a surprised manner, "wow, look!" In any other studio I would have thought it was ego showcasing, but it is evident that this is not the case at Dharma Yoga. The look in his student's eyes was nothing but love for him. I could tell that the performance of any asana was not for themselves, but for their Guru, Sri Dharma Mitra. They performed to please him, and in return, he would show them even more advanced variations - like one handed peacock (mayurasana - look it up!).

The Master Sadhana class was 2 hours long, but I think it ran a little longer than that. There were a few portions where Dharma would tell us to practice on our own a posture, or variation of (although he gave no variations, it was up to you to figure that out), then he would stop us and show another pose and let us go again. He walked the room offering assists - but the kind where your in supine padmasana and he lifts you up into fish...figure it out.

We took an extended Savasana, a long, quiet, savasana. The whole room was chill. It was great. After savasana, we sat up and Dharma read to us yoga philosophy, then talked to us about a few things that I felt were directed right to me alone. He talked about wondering why everything leaves us: people, our jobs, everything. And told us that the only way to get the answer was to be still, sit for a whole day with no food, do nothing and think on it. He talked about foods and how what we eat are what we become. He said to be a vegetarian for one reason: compassion. And then he told us of two great vegan restaurants to go eat lunch in the neighborhood. He made a few jokes, and very casually got up and started to put things away, signaling the end of class. We all got up and started making our ways out. Well, not all. As I was leaving the rest room I noticed a large gathering of folks still hanging out in the yoga room laughing and talking.

This was not my first time practicing with Dharma Mitra, but it was my first time to the Dharma Yoga studio. I will definitely go back some time, but going into NYC is not an easy trek from my home in south jersey. Someone told me he is coming to Philadelphia in August. I highly recommend taking a class with the master - especially if you are a yoga teacher. And as for Baxter, well, just like my Bodhi, he slept in the front of the room while his master taught class, and then walked around and sniffed folks, landing on one student's lap while Dharma chatted with us. 

Yup, now I really wanted to see my doggies. I was glad I'd canceled that reservation.
Namaste.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

If the 3rd Times a Charm, then Why did I go for a 4th? (July 9)

Well, I did. After my great class at Yogawood I headed home. I had a little time to eat and unload my car before attending an evening Restorative class at Pink Lotus in Swedesboro. It took me 3 minutes to arrive there. I had forgotten how close it was to my house! I'd also forgotten how "curt" the people there could be.

It's not that they are rude. They just have that air about them, you know what I mean? Like they are so busy, and so bothered, and so tired. I almost walked out. But I stayed. The class was only one hour, after all, why not.

In the hall I heard a teacher describe to a man that Restorative Yoga is, "when you're on the bolster the whole time relaxing." Okay, I guess that's fair enough, although I'd have said it a little better than that.

There were only 3 of us in class. The teacher walked in and told us to get on our backs and start breathing. She didn't check in, she didn't introduce herself, she didn't give an intro - just on the backs and breathe. Okay, so I did. She led us through a nice breathing practice, then some stretches with the straps for our legs and hips. About half way into class I started to wonder when we were going to get on that bolster that we were supposed to be on for the whole class. But we finally got around to it. And I have to say, she did a couple of really cool asanas that I'd never done before in Restorative, that my students will definitely be seeing in the next one I teach. So, there's that.

We ended class as we began - kind of matter-of-factly. Props were put away, I was confused as to where they went and where they came from. The information was reported to me without a look in my eye. The teacher had left the room twice, in my recollection, which I found to be a little off-putting. But she did come right back in. Maybe she went out for some props. IDK.

It was an "OK" ending to a "REALLY GREAT" day. Nobody seemed to care when I was leaving, just like they didn't seem to care much when I had come in. I've gotten this vibe from Pink Lotus before. It's a shame, it's so close to home and I do learn some very interesting asanas when I attend classes there, but is it worth the attitude or lack of interest on their part?

Well, I don't know if I have the answer for that right now. But here's what I do know based on today:
1. I'm definitely working with Rhonda from Yoga for Living
2. I'm going back to Yogawood to practice with Beth again soon
3. And I'm most certainly shopping in Haddonfield

A long day, blogged out, and quite pooped. Time to pack for tomorrow: visiting Sri Dharma Mitra in NYC where he will most surely kick my asana.

Yin-Vin - the Perfect Combo (July 9)

Just 2.5 miles down the street from Yoga in Haddonfield is Yogawood (in Collingswood). It's even on the same road. And as luck would have it, they had a 1pm class. I had just enough time to grab a quick salad and protein shake in Haddonfield and motor to Collingswood for their Yin-Vin class with owner, Beth Filla.

I'd been wanting to see just what a Yin-Vin yoga class was. We had tried it several years ago at the studio, but couldn't get it going. People either thought it was not enough yin or not enough vin! I was curious to see how she would sequence it and how many people would come to a class at 1pm. Well, let me just say, she had like 9 people there and she said that most of her regulars were on vacation and the room was usually packed!

A beautiful studio with lovely wooden floors with big, knotty grains. One wall was painted exquisitely (see picture) and the other was brick with a bronze type glaze on top. I didn't even realize they had a store because it was upstairs. I entered into the yoga room and set up for class with the assistance of a student.

Beth was very nice. She came around and talked to me about what I was doing (my little yoga road trip) and made sure to check in with everyone (something I find so important, yet am finding that not every teacher does).

We began with some chanting. Beth brought out her harmonium and we began chanting:

Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya

a translation being: O my Lord, the all-pervading Personality of Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You. 

After chanting we began the Yin practice. Beth guided us through each practice discussing the aspects of the mind, reality, and consciousness. She quoted her own beloved teacher, David Life of Jivamukti Yoga, a man I've also practiced with a few times and found to be the REAL DEAL when it comes to yoga teachers. I could feel Beth's emotion and pure love as she led us through the entire Yin practice. I felt so relaxed that I almost didn't want to Vin! But, that time came.

We did a few sun salutations with some standing asanas, then came to the ground for twists and hip openers before savasana. It really was a perfect practice - yin to thoroughly open you up, and just enough vin to get a sweat going, but not overwork you. I felt truly amazing after class. Now, was it the morning chant and the Svaroopa class I'd just taken in addition? Perhaps, but I still felt great and I was truly blessed to have taken class with Beth.

One of the students recommended I come back on a Friday to take Beth's Jivanukti Spiritual Warrior class, and I absolutely will. Her alignments and assists - both verbal and hands on were amazing! Definitely some of the best that I've had in the local south jersey area.

Is a Yin-Vin class in One Yoga's future? I could see it happening...maybe now is the time to try it again.
Blessed to practice with Beth.
Namaste.

Svaroopa Yoga - Svoopa-Huh? (July 9)

After my lovely morning chant, I headed down the road Yoga in Haddonfield for a Svaroopa Yoga class. I had no idea what it was, which was the point of taking it. I'd also heard it was a lovely studio, and since there was a 10am class, it was convenient for me to drop in.

Here is what their website says about Svaroopa Yoga:


Svaroopa® yoga offers a significantly different paradigm in yoga poses. Our practice is both physical and more than physical.
We specialize in the inner opening. Svaroopa® yoga poses release the tensions in the deepest layers of your body – the layers of muscles wrapped around your spine.
This opens up conscious access to the ever–expanding inner realms of your own being. Rather than using hatha yoga as a sophisticated form of exercise, Svaroopa® yoga pursues the understanding of the deeper purposes of yoga: the understanding of your own essential nature
When your body is contracted, it shuts down and you lose the ability to feel it.Svaroopa® yoga uses precise alignments in carefully selected poses, along with meticulous placement of props, to open up the deepest tensions of your body.
As soon as you experience this physical opening, you realize that something has opened all the way through your whole being. The physical changes are profound and reliable, but they become less significant to you as the practice provides an inner transformation that gives you new eyes through which to see. Your life and the whole world begin to look perfect, even though it is the same world that used to drive you to despair. The most profound shift is the inner one.





When I arrived I noticed lots of nice little shops and made a mental note to go back to Haddonfield shopping whether I liked the class or not! The people at Yoga in Haddonfield were very nice and got me started with 5 yoga blankets, 2 blocks, 2 wedges and a strap. What??? Ok. I waited as the room began to fill up with folks....senior folks. I was literally the only one under 55 in the room. I thought it must be a real good therapeutic practice and wondered why I'd never heard of it before?

The teacher, Kemm, was very nice and nurturing. We started on our backs in Savasana. Kemm came over and got me all situation, helped me refold the blankets their way, wedged them into my legs, gave me a couple of adjustments and fixed my pants saying, "I'm a mom, I fix everything."

I lied back ready to relax and let go. Kemm began to lead us through a Yoga Nidra practice - bliss! Well, it should have been pure bliss, but I started to notice my right wrist nagging me. I wasn't quite sure why, but I decided not to move and just breathe through it. After our long savasana, I reach over and cracked my wrist. It hasn't hurt me since!

The practice was very much like a Restorative practice, however we did a lunge and a spinal twist without props (blocks under the hands if we needed it). Then it was back to savasana again. The class was about an hour and a half and I felt super relaxed afterwards...and my wrist is great! I think there may be a little something to this Svaroopa-doopa Yoga and I may need to look a little more into it!

I really liked the way that the studio was set up. I was surprised to see how many statues they had - from a very large Shiva to Lakshmi tapestries to a beautiful Kwan Yin. The space was quiet and nicely decorated. It gave me some nice ideas for the studio at home - in fact, I have to say that I'm getting lots of great ideas on decorations and set-ups for my own studio - whether it's something I see, or something that comes to me in class.
Namaste.


Starting the Day with a Song (July 9)

Last night I felt sick. That kind of sick feeling you get when you've worked out a lot and had enough. I'd been taking a lot of intense Vinyasa classes - 2 yesterday, plus 4 hours of driving in major traffic. The last time I felt this way was the year I worked with a personal trainer 3 days a week. He pushed me and my body was sculpting and looking great. But one day I just looked at him and told him I couldn't do it any more - I had had enough. He said he understood and that a lot of athletes when they train get to that point. Well, lucky for me, I was not an athlete and so I quit.

When I woke up today (much earlier than I had planned to), I was feeling much better. I wasn't too tired for 6:30 am. I told myself today was going to be a busy day, but with a much different bend to the style of classes that I was taking. Plus, I was staying more local to home. And so, I got up, got showered and dressed and headed out for my day.

My first stop is a little studio in Cherry Hill called Yoga for Living. The owner, Rhonda Clarke, is a wonderful woman. Every Tuesday morning from 8-9 am you can come and chant and meditate with her for free! I thought, why not? I need a little chanting right about now and I headed out. The traffic was light just before rush hour and I got there just before she did. There was only one other woman there this morning to chant, but we headed in anyway.


Yoga for Living is located on the lower level of a small building off Greentree Rd. It reminded me of One Yoga, coming in and heading below the ground! The studio was dark, but very nicely decorated. We sat down and Rhonda brought out her harmonium and started to lead us through a call and response of "Om Namah Shivaya," which she had written in English and Sanskrit all around the yoga room. I don't know how long we chanted, but it was quite a while. When we finished chanting, Rhonda gave left us with a thought to ponder for meditation, a quote from Swami Muktananada:

"The knowledge of his own true nature is the source of a yogi's contentment."

"Hmm," I wondered, "What IS my own true nature?" Immediately I was flooded with images of my yoga students in the studio, happy and feeling fine. I thought to myself, "I'm a yoga teacher." It may sound obvious, but there are moments when one wonders if that is one's true calling or not, as I sometimes do. I was then struck with an image of an old boss of mine, Mr. Trout. He was a mentor of mine from my corporate days and had passed away suddenly one day. I was heartbroken about his passing and I hadn't thought of him for a long time. Mr. Trout (I never called him Tom), ruled with an iron first, but was soft and gooey on the inside. He used to affectionately call me, "Snot Nosed Kid," which may not sound affectionate, but was his way of being endearing. And, in all truth, I was a snot nosed kid. I had started working for him in college, he promoted me after I graduated, and I had worked for him through my 20's...through my drinking, partying, relationship crazed 20's. Now that I think back, I think that "Snot Nosed Kid" was probably a lot nicer of a name than what he could have called me.

I smiled and began to tear up. I missed my old boss. I missed a lot of people that had passed on too early - close friends of mine and family. When I stop to think about it, it seems that the people that have meant the most to me over the years have left this world suddenly. Sometimes I think I can feel them around me - sometimes I think I'm making that up just for comfort. I was suddenly struck with the image of a student and friend of mine who often makes off-color remarks and acts like a child. And I thought, "She is my Snot-Nosed-Kid." And I was comforted.

My meditation took me to a swarm of ideas for my yoga studio and I wasn't quite sure if I was meditating or thinking - often a struggle of mine. So, I just tried to sit back and watch the movie that was playing in my mind.

After class Rhonda and I talked about putting some events together. She is a lovely, intuitive woman that I'd love to work with in some way, and I'm sure that I will. I purchased a mala necklace (not that I need anther one, but the black onyx & carnelian beads were calling me) and headed out for my next class, happy that I took the time to get up earlier than I had anticipated.
Namaste.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Forest Yoga in Philly (July 8)

I've never taken Forrest Yoga (Inspired by teacher Ana Forrest). I've seen videos of her walking around rooms in Wheel pose and creating lots of intense gymnastic-style sequencing. It always scared me. But I thought that I would drop in and check it out in Philly tonight.

Now, I must say that I am not very comfortable in Philly - driving, parking, or walking. I know a lot more about NYC than Philly. So, when I got to the area in West Philly where the studio is located (Studio 34), I parked on a side street and really wondered what type of neighborhood it was. I really wasn't quite sure! I looked at my Prius and hoped it would be waiting for me when I got done class.

Studio 34 is located in an upstairs loft off Baltimore Avenue. It reminded me of a big, open city apartment. The drop in price was only $10 so I liked that. But the girl behind the desk was busy with other folks so I really was confused as to where to go - there are lots of little healing rooms where people can rent to do body work so with all the doors, and two yoga classes happening, I really didn't know where to go or where to get props. I figured it out half watching others and half asking, and set up in the room.

The teacher was a sub, but she was the first teacher since I've started going around that asked people if they had any injuries before we started. When I raised my hand along with others, she took the time to come around to each of us and learn the issue, and give modifications ahead of time. I liked her already.

As we started, the instructions were very precise. It reminded me very much of an Iyengar class. We began seated stretching our wrists and fingers and then did other opening work like forward folds and twists, which I was thoroughly enjoying after so many Vinyasa classes. I wasn't sure what Forrest Yoga was, but I was digging it.

Then we stood up and began sun salutations. I kind of lost it at that point. My body was extremely tired and my mind kept popping off between wondering about my car and wishing I had a towel. Luckily the room was air conditioned with fans running. I was tired and sore from the last two days of classes, so I was hoping for less heat and more stillness. But once the salutations started, the class took off in an entirely different directions. Her alignment cues and instructions were still very good, but it became a Vinyasa practice. And maybe Forrest Yoga is a Vinyasa practice, I think I was just hoping it wasn't and had enjoyed the beginning sequence so much.

I had to come out of the standing postures a couple of times from the same leg cramps that I'd had that morning at Empowered Yoga. But at least she was very mindful to offer modifications and I didn't get the sense that coming out of the pose or honoring my body was something that was a problem.

Class ended with a nice Savasana, and then I went out and found my car waiting for me. The neighborhood was more alive now and I was sensing it was time to get moving out. I set the GPS and headed out of Philly for home in record time.

I would definitely try Forrest Yoga again. This class was a Beginner Forest Yoga (not beginner in my book, but okay), so I'd like to try it again at a time when I am less tired. I may not travel back into West Philly, but I think the studio was nice enough and the teacher very knowledgable that I would recommend it for anyone who already has a strong practice and lives in the area.

As I look at the clock and find it to be after 11 pm, I contemplate showering or just going to bed. I'm starting my day off with an 8 am free chanting class tomorrow in Cherry Hill. I decided to modify my day with a Yin Vinyasa class in the afternoon and Restorative in the evening. Practice with Dharma Mittra is Wednesday in NYC and I need a little more Yin tomorrow. So I guess the only question is: shower or bed?

Bigger is Not Always Better - Empowered Yoga Studio, Wilmington DE (July 8)

Today I visited Empowered yoga studio in Wilmington, Delaware. It didn't take me long to get there and find it, but as they were tearing up the parking lot, I drove around for some time trying to find a spot. Finally someone must have left from a previous class leaving a spot open, which I quickly grabbed, running into the studio.

An upstairs studio, the reception are was enormous. There was a large shop, couches and chairs, and lots of beautiful wood art hanging on the walls - similar to those I'd seen in Thailand. The girl at the desk greeted me and showed me to the studio, offering me to sign in after class as it was getting late. I was told to leave my purse, phone and all personal belongings in a cubby in the front by the door. I asked her if I could take my wallet in with me at least and she told me it was strongly discouraged. Against my better judgement, I left it there. She showed me into the "Moon" room for an all level Vinyasa yoga class. I loved the idea of practicing in the Moon room, but I was getting a weird vibe about the studio...I tried to shrug it off and enjoy the class.

The room was heated (again, not hot, just heated) as I would expect for Vinyasa class. I sighed, "Crap, I forget my towel - again." The girl who checked me in told me to grab a block and a strap, but when the teacher came in, she didn't check in with anyone, she simply told us to take a seat and begin. The room was packed and crowded, and just as we began to practice, a half naked sweaty man rolled his mat out in front of me...what is it with me and naked, sweaty yogis this week? I let it go, I was there to practice, after all.

We got going quickly. The sequence had A LOT of lunges. Chair pose, lunge, Chair twist, lunge twist, chair and chair, lunge and lunge. It never ended. My thighs were killing me. I couldn't even complain, at least it wasn't my wrist! The teacher walked the room, often gazing out the window while she gave half directions. I found myself often confused and had to watch the rest of the class. She came and adjusted me twice - great adjustments. Sometimes her directions and instructions were dead on and precise, yet other times they were whimsical and confusing. I think it depended on when she was paying attention to her students, and when she was gazing out the window.

Half way through the sweat started pouring out of me. "Crap, crap and crap," I thought, remembering my freshly washed towel sitting in the dryer at home. I thought of running out of the room and buying a Manduka one from the shop - I thought about running out of the room period. I looked around wondering if I were the only one having a hard time. It appeared that I was. I didn't really care, I started to take Child's pose or just come out of lunging sequences just to rub my leg because I was starting to get cramps in both of them. We lunged, and then we lunged some more. Another chair pose, another lunge. She never gave it a break. There was no talk of modifications nor any poignant pauses in the practice. I could barely take it any longer when we finally came to the mat.

The rest is a blur. I really don't know what happened. I was spent and soaked. I just wanted Savasana. I got it for about 2 minutes. Then we sat up and ended class.

I was so relieved to be done and out of there. I was annoyed with myself for forgetting my towel, cramping up and allowing myself to be so distracted. I was annoyed at the teacher too, but what can you do? Well, I decided to shop!

The "Sale" rack had shirts for $38 (the sale price) at the low point. The regular prices were about $58. I stopped looking. I found a small bra-cami that read "Shifts Happen" and decided on that. I brought it to the desk to fill out my paperwork and pay for class and the shirt. I started looking at another brochure for their second location and asked the girl where it was. She started to give me directions ("Do you know where the Concord Mall is?") but I didn't know any place she suggested. I told her I was from NJ and not from the area.

It was then that an obnoxious "regular student" decided to chime in: "I'm sorry," he said mocking my NJ residency. I shot him a look and began to say, "I like NJ," when the girl at the desk broke out in hysterical laughter and then "high-fived" the guy.

I looked at them astonished. Way to make a new person feel comfortable!

Prior to that interaction I had thought about going back to take one of their other yoga classes, but after that I just threw down the brochures and walked out with my shirt. No, I won't be going back to Empowered Yoga Studio...it may be big and beautiful, but it's true, Bigger is not always better!

As I was not "allowed" to have my phone on or in the premises, I discretely took these two pictures of the studio reception area:



Yang & Yin Practices in South Jersey (Sunday July 7)

Turnersville, NJ hosts two yoga studios: Yogi Power Yoga, a Baptiste inspired studio, and Experience Yoga. I had the extreme pleasure of practicing at both studios this weekend, both about 20 minutes from my home and very convenient for running errands, shopping and even getting my car maintenanced whilst out on my yoga trips.

I took Baron Baptiste's Power Yoga Teacher Training in 2003. I remember my very first class with Baron blew me away. I had gone to NYC to the Omega convention and had heard that he was a great teacher so I took one of his classes. I felt like a train had hit me. I had never done power or vinyasa style yoga before that class and had been feeling a little plateaued in my hatha practice at that time. After my first class with Baron I realized how much more there was to yoga and how much more my body needed to strengthen! I started reading more about him and decided to enroll in his training with my friend Liz, who currently owns Prancing Peacock Yoga in Yardley, PA. We had taken our first 500 hour training together, so we thought it would be fun to room together in Maya Tulum and take this training together too.

Baron Baptiste asks you to push your edge. He humbles you by helping you destroy your ego. He inspires you to go beyond the confines of your practice and your life. That week with him changed my life. Not everyone that took the training agreed. Many people thought (and still think) that he doesn't need to push you as hard as he does. And that the practice is all physical. The thing is, and this is any teacher or any class, you only go as far as you want to. It isn't the teacher that pushes you, it's you that pushes you. And as far as it being only physical, well, that's hogwash (there's a word I haven't used...ever). Baptiste classes are quite spiritual, with a depth to them that goes way beyond the physical.  But then, anyone can decide to ignore those teachings if they aren't ready to hear them.

I was not sure what to expect from Yogi Power Yoga. I thought it would be a power yoga, physical type class. I never imagined it would be as good as it was. Lindsey Rozmes was subbing for the regular teacher. I didn't mind this because I didn't know the regular teacher anyway. Walking into the room I smiled. It was warm. Not heated, just warm. "Ahh, yes." I decided to do the drop-in ($13 - sweet) and unrolled my mat and sat down. I didn't tell Lindsey about my wrist, I figured I'd do what I could regardless. The room continued to fill in and I found myself in the front next to a shirtless man who was sweating already before we even got going. I found the temperature to be perfect and wondered if I'd get to sweat at all.

Yogi Power Yoga is a small studio in a storefront of a small plaza. Entering the studio, you have to walk through the yoga room to check in at the back. The white curtains allow you to see outside the passer-bys and watch your car. The light wooden floors and yellowish walls, allow the studio to be bright and light.

Lindsay welcomed everyone and began with a simple thought to have for class because, as she explained, "when I'm in class and a teacher asks me to set an intention, I often find myself unable to." Her simple guidance was perfect. The flow was not the traditional Baptiste inspired style I was used to, but power for sure. About half way through I was dripping sweat - something that does not happen often. I realized I forgot my towel as beads of sweat dropped down my forehead and off my nose, plopping on my mat. I smiled and looked at the sweaty man to my left. He had a towel and it was soaked through - just as was his mat and his little shorts. I wished I had remembered mine. Instead I grabbed the end of my yoga pants and used them to wipe my forehead. Then I noticed the sweat down my back and then the fact that my entire outfit was soaked through clinging to me. "Well, I guess I don't have to wonder if I'll sweat now," I thought to myself.

I found the class to be thoroughly enjoyable. From a good, detoxifying practice with some interesting twists to your normal Vinyasa sequencing and the spiritual guidance and wisdom that Lindsey shared, it was amazing. So much so that I decided to purchase a 6-pack so that I could come back again and check out some other teachers there too.

After class I checked Yogi Power Yoga's website from my smart-phone (which my friends call my "mentally challenged phone"), but I could see the schedule but not the teachers. I went on facebook and looked up Lindsey and messaged her to see when she taught again. Then a friend responding to my facebook post told me that she lived in NYC and only taught on the weekends. Damn! When I got home the internet confirmed so, but since it was a holiday weekend, Lindsey was subbing Sunday morning as well. My "plan" was to go into Philadelphia Sunday morning for a Guided Asthanga series class at Shanti Yoga Shala...but I pondered this and determined I'd rather practice once again with Lindsey close to home.

Sunday mornings class was different only in that there were only 3 of us there! I was really shocked. Lindsey brought the same intention and inventiveness to her class that she did in a crowded room just two days before. Again, I sweat through and through and enjoyed every moment of it. I thanked Lindsey after class and told her to keep me posted when she would be coming back in town to teach again. Unfortunately I cannot make her regular Saturday morning classes, but I'd love to practice with her again if it were a Friday or Sunday.

I had also planned to check out Experience Yoga for a Yin class that same evening (Sunday). I was starting to feel a little sore in my upper body and legs, so I figured this would be a great way to end the weekend and segue into my full yoga week. I had run by Experience earlier in the day after my class at Yogi Power Yoga. I was surprised to see it in the Kohl's shopping center! I can't even imagine what the lease must be for that place!

I stolled in and met the teacher, Anne Maxwell, a "Senior" teacher. She was very gracious and inviting and I loved the vibe of her and the studio. It turned out that only myself and one other woman took the Yin class, the other woman, a regular at the studio, chatted with me for a while about how she loved it there and how nice everyone was. She'd determined it was only this slow because of the holiday weekend.

Anne started us on our backs against the wall. She invited us to "relax and let everything go." But I found my legs wanting to slide apart and my knees buckling. Throughout the practice (which was 1/2 against the wall and half seated) her only remarks were "relax and let everything go." This confused me a bit. I'd taken so many classes I didn't realize how much my muscles were wound up. Relaxing and letting go was a lot harder than it seemed!

I know that a Yin practice stretches the connective tissue, so I really had to work at not tightening and engaging agonistic muscles when I stretched. I didn't have the support of props like in Restorative, so it was all up to me to "relax and let go." I think I fought almost all of the postures in some way or another, yet at the end I wound up feeling wonderful, stretched and very relaxed. I thanked Anne (and Gregg, the owner, who had comped me the class) and headed home for a nice relaxing evening.

I've lived in south jersey for just about 10 years now and am just finding some of these local gems. Granted, they haven't been open all that time, but it's wonderful to know that yoga is making its way to South Jersey! And what a way to create balance - a perfect blend of Yang & Yin classes with some pretty great teachers. Feeling Blessed.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Independence Day at Fitness Yoga Studios

July 4th is a national holiday: Independence Day. Every year I close the yoga studio to honor our freedom. I've always thought that keeping the studio open on a major holiday was a silly idea. But when a local studio, Fitness Yoga in Mullica Hill, was going to be open for a morning Yoga Renew class on the 4th at 9:30 am, I thought to myself, "what a great idea. I'm so glad that I have a class I can attend in the morning."

After checking in with the owner to determine if this was in fact correct, Laura confirmed that yes, she was open for class, and that she would be teaching. Great. So I set out to attend a class, thinking it would be a few of us in attendance. Well, I think that there were about 22 people in the room. I was astonished to see so many faces there on a holiday. I wondered if it was the fact that it was a Thursday or just that people had off and were taking advantage of being able to do yoga. I guess I will never know, but it has gotten me rethinking being open at our studio for holidays.

I've been to Fitness Yoga studios a few times as it is so close to my house. I've spoken with the owner, Laura Bonnani, several times, and I've gotten to know some of the teachers and students there. It's a very nice little studio in a house off of the main road (Rt. 322) next to a busy intersection. For years I would drive by wondering if they were open as I never saw more than 2 cars in the drive. It wasn't until recently that I realized there was a whole lot in the back of the house for parking. The yoga room looks like a dining and living room of a house that were integrated into one large "L" shaped room. From one end of the L you cannot see what is happening on the other end, but then, why should you? The teacher sets up in the corner to see everyone in the room, but usually it has been my experience that the teachers do walk the room more than instruct from the front anyway.

At first I thought that the windows and the traffic of the area would be a distraction, but I've never found this to be the case. I think that Laura has put together a nice studio for folks to have a practice. I subbed there once and asked that the air conditioning be turned off. One of the students had a problem with this. I have noticed that the air is usually on in spring and summer months, and I do prefer to practice without it, but as we were in the midst of a several day 90 degree temp heat wave, I figured it actually may be a nice change to my normal routine of a heated (or at least non air conditioned room).

Laura started the practice with a nice welcome and greeting. Her husband told her to lock the door as to not let anyone else in, but she aptly replied, "No, our doors are always open." We all laughed. Of course I've been to so many workshops and events where yoga mats are literally stacked an inch from other mats, that I found myself to have ample space to my sides and front and back. From what I could see, there was still plenty of room to squeeze more people in. But, then again, in the suburbs, people do like their space!

The class was called "Yoga Renew." It was a very eclectic group of students. I'd say from 20's to 60's - although more on the mid to upper side of those numbers. I had mentioned my wrist issue to Laura before class so she knew that I would be modifying. I hoped that she would also remind me to, which she did, several times, albeit to the group as a whole instead of singling me out, which was preferable.

We did a pretty standard Vinyasa sequence and my wrist seemed to hold up nicely. I could feel much more strength in it than I had a week before at Yoga Inspired, but I still had pain in my elbow and wrist. I had a better sense at this point that it was muscular instead of joint related, so the few tiger balm applications had seemed to relieve a lot happening there, yet it was still there enough to keep me mindful of it.

I was initially surprised that a "Yoga Renew" would be a Vinyasa class. Not that I minded at all, because I truly love Vinyasa. But I wondered if some of the folks that had come were really at the appropriate level. I had to fight not to look around at the many poor alignments in the room. "You aren't the teacher, you are a student today," I reminded myself throughout. Everyone seemed to leave with a smile and looked happy, so I think that the name of the studio is fairly appropriate as it does tend to have a fitness bend to it. While Laura did do a reading and chanted an "OM" at the beginning and end of class, it was mostly focused on the body. I think this is what I needed this day anyway. As I am about to embark on a month-long yoga road trip, I need to be more aware and strong in my body. As my own practice has slipped since my emergency appendectomy a little over two years ago, it was only about 6 months ago that I was able to start using my core again and truly begin to practice. I welcome the opportunity to strengthen my body and hopefully regain the yoga body I had a few years ago from a steady practice.

The one thing I still struggle with is the temperature. Ideally, I need my yoga room to be at least 80-86 degrees. We got a nice flow going, but just as I was about to break a sweat, we began to slow down. In a hotter room (not "Hot Yoga" just hotter or no A/C) I can really sweat and detoxify, but in an air conditioned room, I'm simply not open enough. I can even feel that my stretch is less than I'd like. I did feel much more confined in my body this morning, which was a little upsetting. But I have to remember that there is an importance to starting off slowly and mindfully on this quest.

I am grateful that Laura has created Fitness Yoga, a stone's throw away from my house, so that I can pop in whenever it's possible. The people there are so nice and the practice is never overbearing. I can modify as I need to, and I know that I can leave my house 10 minutes before class. This must be what my students feel like in East Windsor! I feel blessed to have the freedom to practice yoga this close to home and whenever I can. So next year when One Yoga Center is open, I hope it will be a local teacher there teaching.
Namaste.