Another yoga convert...
Wondering why in the world I'm going on about such an inane subject? Well, I feel like I've been putting in some hours on this subject, so I feel like I should, well, produce something on it. Even if it's just this weblog.
For the past month or so, I've been studio-hopping and checking out different yoga classes since my regular weekend instructor at Yoga Mandala
, had gone to Greece for July to teach. I think I checked out something like seven studios/instructors.
Now the first studio I checked out was one that I'd been curious about for quite some time - the Funky Door
Bikram Yoga Studio. As you are probably aware, Bikram yoga is one of the hottest (pun not... okay, it sort of is.. intended) trends in yoga currently. Bikram yoga involves going into a series of 26 designated positions (otherwise known as asanas) in a room heated to 108 degrees F. The heat is supposed to increase flexibility and the assigned asanas are supposed to detoxify the body. Most people, with good reason, react to the idea of practicing yoga in such a hot environment with a mixture of horror and curiosity. After all, when I checked in, I was presented with a waiver to sign "in case of heat stroke, heart failure or death." I was then told that it was not uncommon for first-timers to experience dizziness and nausea, and to perhaps pass out. I'd been taking Iyengar and Ashtanga/Vinyasa yoga regularly for about two years now, so I felt fairly confident that I'd be capable of taking this class without dying. Of course, I was armed with plenty of water and a towel. Now the room is pretty damn hot. I don't usually hang out in an area that's 108 degrees without moving someplace cooler (like indoors or into a pool) or complaining a whole hell of a lot. But I was already indoors, and I'd voluntarily elected to impose such a climate on myself. No complaining for me. The instructor came in with a microphone headset, stood up on a platform and began telling us what to do. Now, most yoga classes are of two different veins. Iyengar involves focusing on and holding one asana at a time. Proper alignment and correct posture is achieved through the assistance of the instructor (who often physically adjusts you), props or partners. Ashtanga is a sequence of asanas in sync that follow a "flow" followed by certain basic postures. An "asana sequence" is called a vinyasa. To make matters more confusing, many studios offer a modified form of Ashtanga called Vinyasa Flow, which is basically an intensified form of Ashtanga that is more of a cardiovascular workout - the vinyasas are progressive, and sped up. (The class I take at Yoga Mandala is Vinyasa Flow.) Ashtanga/Vinyasa is usually more strenuous then Iyengar, but it is important to have a solid base in Iyengar so you don't wind up hurting yourself. All yoga that is practiced in the west falls under the general term of "Hatha." Bikram was neither Iyengar nor Ashtanga, and it was unclear if it was Hatha. The instructor basically stood in front of the room and lectured us on what to do. We got into one position, stopped, repeated it again, stopped again, and went to the next, with no discernable "flow" or relation between the two. She didn't come over to help or adjust, and she NEVER STOPPED TALKING. The asanas weren't particularly difficult, but some required a bit of concentration, and it would have helped if she just SHUT THE HELL UP. The heat actually wasn't so bad - your body just kind of acclimatizes - but you do develop a very slick allover layer of sweat that makes getting into positions quite a slippery prospect. I actually think that heating the room to such a high temperature is a bit of a copout. With a good Vinyasa yoga instructor, you manage to build quite a bit of body heat, and you do sweat profusely - no heater necessary. In fact, if a large enough group practices together in close enough quarters, the room temperature can increase by as much as 10-15 degrees. Anyways, I didn't find the heat in Bikram yoga to be nearly as annoying as the instructor's incessant droning. Seriously. I wanted to smack her. Or maybe it was just the heat making me irritable. In sum, I think Bikram (or at least the way it's practiced at Funky Door) is all a bunch of hooey, although leaving the studio, and entering the fresh, cool Berkeley air had never been so refreshing or invigorating. But I could achieve the same sort of effect with a sauna, and I wouldn't have to listen to an obnoxious drill sergeant droning on and on.
A couple of days later, I tried the advanced Power Flow class (recently renamed Freestyle Vinyasa) at the Castro branch of Yoga Tree
, San Francisco's most renowned studio. Although my regular Saturday class at Yoga Mandala is fairly challenging, I was completely unprepared. First of all, the room was heated ("only" to 80 degrees, not 108. But still.) "Ack!" I thought to myself. Didn't I already do away with this hot room bullshit? Also, the class was huge. I had thought my other class was crowded, at 40 people, but this one had 80. And they were all in fantastic shape - practicing arm balances and handstands. I myself had barely mastered a headstand. The thought of turning around and leaving entered my mind, but I had driven out all this way just to go to this class, and I really didn't want to humiliate myself in front of 80 people. With a sigh, I unrolled my mat and settled in. Nothing ventured, nothing gained I guess. The class started off easily enough, with call and response "oms" and chanting. But then we started the vinyasa sequences. They weren't actually that different than my class at Yoga Mandala, just a bit more advanced. But the Yoga Mandala class is actually pretty hard - there's usually a point in the practice when you can hear people muttering "omigod" or "ohjeez". In fact, last Saturday, a woman exclaimed "Jesus Christ!" at the top of her lungs. But here, no one was complaining, and the room was also really hot. I was dripping with sweat. It was dripping in my eyes, pooling at my chin, pouring down my back. I was even leaving little pools of sweat on my mat. But this time, I felt more engaged in the practice, like I was actually doing something. The sweat felt more like (I don't know how else to put it) it was earned, even though the room was heated. I even managed to somehow coax myself into a Scorpion
arm balance (Against the wall. My legs weren't curled at all.) And although the class was huge, the instructor and his assistant walked among the students, adjusting and assisting (I even got a little neck rub!) wherever they felt it was appropriate. Afterwards, I felt refreshed, invigorated and relaxed (not to mention hot and sweaty).
The next class I tried was the advanced Hatha class (it was more like Iyengar) at Piedmont Yoga Studio
. I selected it based on the bio sheet for the instructor, who was apparently quite accomplished in the yoga community. While his methods were certainly helpful - I managed to get into a floating twist
(yes, I'm aware that it's a "hot nude yoga" site; while the hyperlink I've posted doesn't show anyone nude, I can't guarantee what'll happen if you click on anything else on that particular site - I didn't find him to be very personable. He was rather snappish, short and quite rude. I don't think I'll take another class from him. In contrast, the advanced Hatha instructor at the Alameda Yoga Station
was very patient, friendly and polite. I do plan on taking her Iyengar-style class again.
I also took the Ashtanga classes at Seventh Heaven
and the Berkeley Yoga Center
. Both were decent, although they weren't that much different than the classes I take at the gym. The Berkeley Yoga Center class had the virtue of being very small - only three people.
The Vinyasa class at 4th Street Yoga
was pretty similar to (read: as challenging as) my regular Saturday practice. The teacher was very good, but he didn't have the same "sass" that David did. It's at a more convenient location than Yoga Tree.
I'll still keep going to Yoga Mandala, but when I feel up for a challenge, or if David's out of town, I'll drop in on the Power Flow class again. If I can fit it into my Sunday schedule, I'll try to make it to the 4th Street Vinyasa class regularly. If I feel a need for some Iyengar (and if it's convenient) I'll drop in on the Alameda Yoga Station. Seventh Heaven and Berkeley's Yoga Center's instructors were okay... at some point, I may check out other classes at those studios. Although I had a bad experience at Piedmont Yoga, I do know that it really depends on the instructor, so I'll probably check it out again (I especially want to try Rodney Yee's
class). Just not that instructor. So there you have it. Seven yoga studios in seven weeks