Archive for April, 2010

Core Power Yoga: Part 2, The Hustle in Denver

The Hustle in Denver: Continued from Tuesday….

“For our annual review,” he said, “we have to give a private yoga class to a senior instructor. Okay. Seems doable, right?”

Only when his day came, this senior instructor turned out to be a nationally recognized yoga teacher, a big name, a celebrity.

“So you know,” he said grinning, “He was pretending not to listen and I was correcting him and stuff. It was just weird. Right? But you never know what curve-ball life is going to throw you.”

Who was the teacher? What did Andy do? What was the feedback? I was dying to know. Someone in the class asked.

“Nope, not telling!” said Andy. “He gave me some good feedback that I’ve incorporated into my teaching today so here we go!” Like so many yoga class pre-ambles, Andy’s didn’t quite connect the dots.

Andy opened with a sequence of slow sun salutations to upbeat disco-y club music. It reminded me of Miami–super positive mixed with aerobics.

“C’mon people, let’s move it.” Thump-a-thump-a-thump-a-thump went the music. We cycled through the sun salutation sequence more quickly now, then held awkward pose and twisted. He adjusted me. “Lift your thoracic spine!”

I noticed most of the students seemed to have had some good basic training. The two guys behind me were struggling–sweating and sliding and looking around. But most of the women were adjusting themselves as they needed, not pushing themselves into contortions out of their range.

The women next to be chose to do all the hardest variations of many poses, but even so there wasn’t too much of a show-offy vibe in the room. The practice seemed safe.

Huh, I thought. This is the formula, and it’s kind of brilliant. A one-hour class (low commitment, low impact on your day), hot enough (gets you sweating so you quickly feel like you’re working out), teaches safe alignment (so people don’t get hurt), and just a little bit of dharma talk (how this applies to your daily life) with –oh no!–not the dreaded–

It was true: ab work. Right, I thought, it’s called “core” power yoga. I never liked working my abs, beginning as far back as grade school.

“Lift your elbow up to your knee! Hold! Switch! Hold! Switch! Now scissor kicks one minute! Go!”  Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch. Agony. Yet was this part of the appeal to my sweating class mates? You get to do yoga AND do the hard work of the gym, all in one place?

crow pose (bhakasana) c/o sarawhitney.net

Andy stopped us to demo crow pose, an arm balance.

Then he demo-d one legged crow. Then he demo-d no-legged crow.

“So when life throws you a curveball,” he grinned, “you just gotta go with it, do your best.”

That was fine, but he gave no hints about how no-legged crow might be possible for us without abs of steel.

“Look at me!” he said, giving a second demo. “Use your core!”

I stuck with two-legged crow.

Now thoroughly dripping with sweat we continued on with more standing poses, some backbends, a few twists, a shoulderstand. The music continued pumping. Everything was soaked. My hair dripped like a garden of wet snakes. The thin material of my pants was almost transparent. My face, red.

Final relaxation was brief. I had just begun to relax when Andy started talking again. Another “jai!” with a floor slap and the class was over.

“Okay guys thanks a lot, have a great weekend!” Andy grinned, “And we have an inversions intensive coming up at our Cherry Hill location this weekend, also a level 2 training you guys should all do it, as well as more classes with me coming up! Thanks guys!”

I took myself to a shower in the women’s changing room which was like a mini gym/spa mix. Three shower stalls with large plastic pumps of soap and shampoo, similar to a gym.

The black stones inset into the floor (like a mat in front of each shower) had a spa-like quality to them. And for once I didn’t mind the industrial-grade lotions: I had to be clean; I was meeting people for dinner. This was very convenient.

And like any busy business person, I was already multi-tasking on my way out of the studio. I paid for my class while talking on the phone. I was signing my credit card receipt while negotiating: Could I be there in 10 minutes? In 5? Where was the restaurant? Could you, I asked Andy, call me a cab? How do you get a cab in this town? I hadn’t seen any on the streets. Susan, text me when you know the address. Andy, yes I need one with a credit card machine. Oh, thanks for my card back. Yes, thank you so much for your help. Susan, see you in 10.

No one was left in the studio by this time with its little boutique and posters for trainings, boot camps, more classes, more workshops.

In my purist yoga-loving heart I knew what I was doing—multi-tasking and not being very present– was annoying and a big yoga no-no. But as a business person at that moment, it made sense, it was what I had to do.

And in that moment, Core Power Yoga made total sense. I didn’t have much time, I had a lot of things to juggle, I wasn’t thinking straight, I was barely coordinating the elements of my life right. Core Power delivered all that I needed in a very manageable chunk, and I fit right in.

The Hustle in Denver: Core Power Yoga

With one minute to go til class, I was still at the check-in desk.

“Is there any way I can do any of this after class?” I asked the guy checking me in, “I don’t want to be late.”

Not to worry, the teacher, a smiley blond guy in a grey sleeveless T-shirt was still there, too, admiring a student’s mala beads.

It had taken me 30 minutes, walking in a tight skirt and cork heels to get from the conference center where I was working a giant, anxiety-filled book fair, to the Grant Street location of Core Power Yoga.

I’d first heard about Core Power from an instructor at Pure Yoga in New York, who was originally from Chicago. “They’re all over the Mid-West and southeast,” he’d assured me. “They’re bigger than Yoga Works by far.”

News to me. I live in New York. I only sometimes get to the west coast and almost never to the middle of the country.

I heard about them again while interviewing the entrepreneurial maverick and former owner of Sonic Yoga, Jonathan Fields. “They more than anyone have really mastered the business model for yoga franchises,” he said admiringly. The words “yoga” and “franchise” together made some people’s lips curl in mistrust. But I was curious. What made this place work?

When a work trip came up to Denver, I knew I had to check them out. At the last minute, the trip was cut from 3 days to 2, so I also knew it wasn’t going to be easy to get there.

Map in hand, I ducked out of the freezing, artificial air of the vast conference center and marched—well, more like hobbled—over to the studio.  The darn skirt had gotten compliments at the book fair but slowed me down (and gave the backs of my thighs a kind of rug burn) on Denver’s wide streets. There was no striding in that skirt. And time,too, was tight.

Finally arriving, I felt like the little engine that could. I think I can I think I can, I know I can I know I can. I did! I did!

I did a speed-change in New York style—30 seconds, in, out, done—and found a spot in the large, low room (that was frayed around the edges; the silvery ceiling needed a paint job). It was heated, but not to Bikram levels—thank goodness. I don’t like to tremble and shake, slipping and sliding in yoga class.

Denver, the mile-high city, at 5,000 feet above sea level is not only oxygen poor, it is extremely dry. The heat—and sweat—felt good. It was also a nice change after the crisp mountain air outside.

Three rows of students faced a long mirror. The instructor in the grey t-shirt was a cheerleading soul named Andy. “Okay guys, I’m going to chant in Sanskrit,” he said smiling, “then you slap your hands down on the floor and yell “Jai!” (victory). Okay?”

He chanted the chant, we slapped the floor. Then he told a story….

To be continued on Thursday….

Costa Rica Yoga Bliss…. part 2

Part 2: Some Impressions from our Costa Rica Yoga Retreat, Feb 26 – March 5.

Here in the jungle, we’re constantly adjusting to the temperature, the abundance of oxygen, to being in yet another yoga class. With a class at 6:30 am and another at 4 pm, muscles are lengthening, joints lubricating, breath coming more an more easily.

Pre total relaxation

When we arrived, people’s faces were tight and drawn, tired from travel but also tired from the responsibilities of work and daily life.

After a few days people’s faces begin to look relaxed and then something magical starts to happen. Their faces start to glow, they start to look younger, more open, and more enthusiastic about the smallest things–a delicious taste, a warm breeze, an interesting thought.

To me, this is evidence of prana, the life force that gives vitality, rising and flourishing, bringing clarity to the skin, friendliness to dispositions and peace to people’s minds.

Chill-axing

As the stress of city life washes off it’s easy to see the toll it takes—bad sleep, rough digestion, low energy and poor mental functioning.

In the jungle, we’re just a short walk from balmy tropical waters. We lounge in a luxurious lodge built from local materials and staffed by local characters, some of whom have been walking this jungle their whole lives.

Slowed down, with relaxation a part of our daily routine, we begin to feel the spark of life pulsing again, that unexstinguished flame flare up more brightly.

And at the same time, immersed in teeming wilderness, we see ourselves in the context of all life, the constant movement and change of all natural forms.

Our hikes in the jungle show us snakes, spiders, monkeys, pixotes (a racoon-like animal wiht a long tail), pecaries (stinky wild pigs), and huge gloriously blue morpho butterflies.

Life is all around whether or not we check our email, return phone calls, ride subways, acquire or lose status or money, no matter who we know or are related to.

This is a visceral yoga lesson. Prana has many expressions—animal, vegetable, mineral, cognating, non-cognating—and a fierce intelligence. Nature, the material world, is more than just how much we weigh, how we style our hair, how we look in our yoga pants, how flexible we are, what we do, what we own.

Consciousness is sometimes valued higher than nature, but here it’s impossible to ignore nature’s power. Aside from the annoyance of bug bites (mosquitoes, black flies, no-see-ums etc) this nature is marvelous:  fecund, generous, majestic, strong, eye-opening.

It makes us revel in our own nature. And as Mr. Iyengar says, we notice, attend to, and love the body, as we would care for a child. It is a vehicle to all knowledge.

At the end of morning yoga practice, we have a sweet final relaxation serenaded by the tide going out, cooing mourning doves, seeds dropping on the clear roof over the deck, the low rumbling of nearby howler monkeys.

Back at the lodge, we breakfast on eggs, pancakes, fruit sauce, fresh juices (mango, sour-sop, tamarind, orange, pineapple etc), tortillas, tomato slices with fresh cheese, and of course lots of fruit.

Then it’s time to decide on the rest of the morning’s activities—a quick sweaty hike up to a platform that overlooks our cove? A cooling swim? Both? A tour of the botanical garden a short kayak away? A knowledgeable guide will take us and tell us more and more and more interesting things about this incredible place we have landed in.

We can also just take an hour or two on the seaside lounge chair under the almond tree chatting with whoever happens to be there–hanging out can also feel like a real indulgence.

We’re here for a week. No electricity, no phone, no money, no shops, no roads, nothing but yoga, the lodge, the jungle, the sea and the elements, the staff and each other. The rhythm of our days is simple and sweet, a luxury we all need.

This is what I wish I could give all my students–not to mention friends and family. Life pared down to extremely simple is what we’re dying for.  Beauty mixed with simplicity–and relaxation mixed with asana, meditation, and breathing–helps connect us to ourselves, see us in context of the greater life. It helps us remember who we truly are, and what it is that really matters.

Costa Rica Yoga Bliss….mmmmm….part 1

Back in late February, during the last terrible snow storm, I ran off to Costa Rica with Stephanie (my cohort in yoga teaching) and 7 yoga students to luxuriate and practice yoga in the tropics. It seems like a while ago now though I still have the tan-lines to prove it.

It’s easy to forget what was so worthwhile about being away. Especially in New York, where the vibe is “life is less-than incredible elsewhere.” But a retreat deep in the Costa Rican lushness is pretty incredible.

This year, I wrote some impressions to help me remember the sweetness of going on retreat. Below is part one and later this week, part two. Here goes…

Most mornings, around 6am when we stumble from our cabins into the lodge, we can see the scarlet macaws dancing and squawking in the almond tree 100 meters down at the beach.

We listen to a flock of toucans call. Just waking up, I have a sense of the jungle as a great big force with dizzying power, constantly growing, changing, demanding, expressing itself and requiring our full presence. Pay attention! It seems to say.

On moonlit nights the banana palms leaves and dewy paths are bright and silvery–and seem to quiver with life. It feels magical.

In the lodge, we lean over the balcony, or sit on the polished floor as we sip steaming tea and coffee, nibble a piece of ripe banana,  pineapple or papaya, trying to wake up.

From the nearby kitchen, comes the low sound of a radio and rhythmic chopping of the cook prepping the day’s food. A shy woman with her glistening hair pulled neatly back, in tidy cut offs and a grey T-shirt finishes mopping the almond-wood floors.

Yoga is at 630 down at the yoga deck near the beach. At 625 we gather our rolled up sticky mats and walk down through the reedy marsh over a wooden planked walkway (turtles, tadpoles, and toads underneath) over the lagoon with small red-winged black birds swooping by. The sky is flawless.

Everything is damp–from the planks on the yoga deck, damp from heavy afternoon rains, to the straps and blocks, kept in big plastic tubs, to the thriving jungle. Here in the south west of Costa Rica on the Pacific near Panama the humidity feels like it’s about 7000%.

Our clothes are never dry nor our hair. Long hair is always wet. Fine hair curls. Paper musts. Passports peel open like blooming laminated flowers. At night, the sheets begin damp and only get steamier with body heat, tossing under the draped canopy of mosquito netting.

But this is good news in class. For yoga this means that we don’t need to do many sun salutations to warm up. We can begin  with a quarter the number of lunges and warrior ones and twos before our bodies build the necessary heat to move on to variations.

Within a few minutes, the night’s stiffness–from active sleep, from yesterday’s hike to the waterfall or kayak trip to the snorkeling spot down the gulf–soon begins to shift and change, and even in these cool morning hours people sweat.

Costa Rica Bliss, Part 2 coming on Wednesday… stay tuned…