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Monday, February 27, 2006

heart-oriented yoga

Yoga Inside Out
8741 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 855-YOGA
website: www.yogainsideout.com

"Founded by John Friend in 1997, Anusara Yoga is a powerful hatha yoga system that unifies a Tantric philosophy of intrinsic Goodness with Universal Principles of Alignment...

Anusara's remarkable popularity is due in large part to its uplifting philosophy, epitomized by a "celebration of the heart," that looks for the good in all people and all things... This life-affirming vision sets the basis for a yoga system in which the harmony and joy of a tightly knit community is exulted. Not only is Anusara an elegant system of alignment principles and non-dual philosophy, but it is also a wonderful community of highly trained teachers and fun-loving students. This community feels like it has the tightness of a family, yet the looseness of a merry band of bohemian artists...

The poses in Anusara Yoga are considered to be "heart-oriented," meaning that they are expressed from the "inside out." Instead of trying to control the body and mind from the outside, the poses originate from a deep creative and devotional feeling inside...

Individual creativity and investigation are always encouraged within the bounds of basic alignment principles and philosophic precepts of Anusara Yoga..." - from About Anusara by John Friend

it was dark, damp, and dreary on busy santa monica boulevard as i made my way to the yoga inside out studio in west hollywood. as is always the case on the first day of a rainstorm in los angeles, the traffic was practically at a standstill during the evening rush hour, so i made it a point to give myself twice as much time to get to the corner of santa monica and hancock (just west of la cienega) so i wouldn't be late for class.

when i walked in the front door, i was greeted warmly by ross rayburn, the studio's owner, who was seated behind the front desk. i told him that i was there to attend his 6pm class, and he seemed genuinely happy to see me. i showed him my KCRW card and he charged me the discounted rate of $12.75. according to the sign on the counter, i was also eligible for the new student deal: my SECOND class would be FREE! i knew immediately that i would have to schedule a return visit.

there was a definite sense of community in the class. as people started slowly trickling in, they smiled and chatted with the others. ross made it a point to walk around the room and greet everyone individually by name. to accommodate many of the latecomers who were stuck in traffic, ross waited until the room was comfortably full before he started the class.

as with all anusara classes, the session started with chanting and a brief meditation. thanks to the lyrics that were printed on index cards and handed out, i was able to chant along with the group. or at least made a gallant effort to follow along.

ross taught the class in a lighthearted and easygoing way. he took the time to make sure we all got into each pose correctly, to the best of our ability. he joked around with the group and apologized for his corny sense of humor. he encouraged us to ask questions as we moved in and out of what seemed to be difficult poses. we were working hard, but more importantly, we were learning and having fun.

there were a few differences, however, between ross's class and the other yoga classes that i've taken.

while other teachers usually give the students the option of doing a vinyasa (chaturanga, cobra/up dog, down dog) between poses, ross just asked us to go straight to down dog. not knowing what was coming up in the class, i followed along and welcomed the saved effort, although i sometimes found myself going instead into plank out of habit.

there was also the issue of how to stand on the back foot while in warrior 2 pose. every other teacher has said that i should put my weight on the outside edge of my foot (the little toe side). ross, on the other hand, insisted that we push on the inside edge, with the outside edge coming off the ground. i wondered if it was an anusara thing (although i don't remember any of the teachers at city yoga, another anusara studio, telling me to do that either). hmmm...

besides crane and headstand (with the help of a partner), we went through an assortment of "only in anusara class" poses, all supposedly in preparation for more advanced poses. they all emphasized going deeper while keeping the proper alignment. i don't know if it was because we did fewer poses or because we were doing them in a different way, but i somehow felt tighter in my hips and lower back while we did some of the more familiar poses. i'll have to find out if i feel the same way the next time.

the class ended in savasana, to the steady sound of rain coming down on the roof. it was a very safe and comforting feeling, knowing that at least for that moment, i was warm and dry. and that my car was getting a free carwash while it was parked outside on the street.

thank goodness the happy feeling in the class lasted until i got home; not only didn't i mind that it was cold and wet as i walked to my car, but it didn't even seem to bother me that i had to make my way around all the locals who always seem to forget how to drive whenever it rains in los angeles.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

i WILL continue to improve...

level 1/2 yoga classes are usually attended by an assortment of students who are beginners with some yoga experience, first-timers who want to prove to themselves that they're "good enough", yogis who are rehabbing from an injury, and more experienced students who just want to tone things down and take it easy. the pace in these classes is slower, the poses themselves may not require much strength nor flexibility, and teacher will usually explain what needs to be done and will usually check to make sure the students are doing them correctly.

will duprey's level 1/2 class at santa monica yoga on sunday mornings is one step above that. not only does he check to make sure his students do the poses correctly, but he also takes time to show them how to do them better. they learn how to stand taller, bend deeper, reach farther. in a sense, each of his classes is a mini-workshop. this morning's class was the perfect example.

will starts each class with breathing exercises. unlike some teachers who merely go through the basics of ujjayi breathing, he spends a good amount of time going through different pranayama techniques, like belly breathing and alternate nostril breathing. today, he had us picture our breath as it traveled through our body. for example, as we inhaled, we followed the breath from our heart center to our third eye. and as we exhaled, we followed it in reverse.

the breathing/meditation exercises are then followed by chanting. he starts with a few oms, then leads the class through a mantra. many of the students follow along quite easily, but since he doesn't pass out a lyric sheet, all i usually do is guess at the syllables that i'm supposed to chant. it's a bit frustrating that even after all the classes i've taken with him (ok, maybe less than a dozen), i haven't memorized a single phrase. i suppose that, in time and with a little patience, i'll be able to chant along just like the others.

for the asana portion of the class, he has everyone go through some basic poses to get warmed up. he walks around the class and corrects students as needed. i've found that my form sometimes gets sloppy, so i really appreciate any adjustment that i receive from him.

using the contortionists in the class as examples (usually brandi, debbie, and/or ray), he then has the students partner up and work together on a few poses. today, we helped each other get into the proper posture for chair pose, utkatasana, then from there, revolved chair pose, parivritta utkatasana. for the latter, our partner supported our hips while we gently increased the twist of our torso in the opposite direction. i never realized just how much more of a twist i could get by leaning my upper arm against my thigh and pushing my hands together more.

from there, we worked on getting a deeper forward fold in standing big toe pose, padangusthasana, by concentrating on lifting the thighs towards the ceiling and stretching the rib cage down and away from the navel. by following his instructions, i could immediately feel myself being able to get my face closer to my shins! then he made us reach around behind our legs and grasp our elbows. i wasn't perfect, but my partner insisted that i was doing well. of course, just when i started believing i was hot stuff, will told us to reach between our legs and hold our heads... yeah right. the best i could do was touch my chin :(

after all the fun and games, he gave the class a few minutes for "yogi's choice", that is, we could do whatever we wanted, whether it be something we wanted to work on, something we thought we could do well enough to show off to the others, or something that just felt good. after all those forward folds, some backbends seemed to balance everything out. as well as some reclining leg twists and a shoulderstand. ahhhh...

the class ended in the usual way with a short meditation and some oms.

i walked away from class knowing that i'd have to continue practicing what i just learned at subsequent yoga classes. i also knew that if i were truly serious about furthering my yoga practice, i needed to attend his classes on a regular basis.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

idle chatter

there are yoga instructors who play loud, contemporary music during their classes. matt reyes, steve ross, tom morley, and david romanelli fall into this category. some students find the music too distracting. some say that it detracts from the "sacredness" of yoga itself. so they go elsewhere. i find the music quite motivating (although i have to admit there are times when i can't hear the teacher's instructions over the music), so i continue to attend those classes.

and then there are yoga instructors who barely play any music at all during their classes. and to fill the relative silence, they continue to talk about life, staying centered, listening to your body, ad infinitum. perfect examples are bryan kest, saul david raye, and seane corn. some students can't take the non-stop blah-blah-blah, so they stay away from those teachers. as for me, i honestly don't remember what they're saying because i'm busy tuning them out and doing exactly what they tell me to do; that is, staying centered and listening to my body instead of them. so i continue to attend those classes too.

i've never really had a problem with the choice of music nor the supposed-spiritual ramblings of a teacher. until today.

i somehow ended up having to take a late morning yoga class after my run this morning. the only class that fit was daniel head's noon class at power yoga west. since all the teachers i'd taken classes with at that studio had led me through tough yet enriching sessions, i figured that daniel's class would be similar.

but it wasn't.

he started us out in child pose... for what seemed like an inordinately long time. i think i actually fell asleep while waiting for him to call out the next pose.

then he had us doing sun salutations. ok, so we were getting warmed up and needed to move slowly. but we would get into a pose, then he would talk. and talk. and talk. and all this time we were patiently holding that same pose. it got to the point where i wondered if he was so caught up in what he was saying that he had forgotten all about us. so somehow, instead of loosening up as i was supposed to, i started tensing up because i just wanted him to stop talking!

this went on during the entire sun salutation A and B series. the thought of rolling up my mat and walking out of the room crossed my mind many times. but i decided to stay, partly because i didn't want to make a commotion (especially since i was somewhere up front) and partly because i figured the class HAD to get better. after all, the room was full, so he must have had a captive audience for a reason.

and better it did eventually get. once he had decided that all the ab work we did early on had us sufficiently warmed up, things started getting more vigorous and fast-paced. we flowed from one pose to another. we held poses until our muscles screamed for mercy. we opened our hips, we arched our backs. at that point, it really didn't matter what he said because i had learned how to tune him out.

the class ended in savasana, with "one of these things first" by nick drake (found on the garden state soundtrack) playing in the background. it was different, but at least it was music i liked. and he finally stopped talking.

om shanti. peace...

Friday, February 24, 2006

napping in class

last saturday, i drove south to the OC to visit my sister, and as usual, i spent the night just so i wouldn't have to deal with struggling through the hour-long drive home half awake (or more like half asleep, especially if we have a big dinner before i head back).

the olympics were on tv that evening, so i grabbed a nice warm blanket and curled up on her couch... and promptly fell asleep. when i woke up in the middle of the night, both my neck and my back were stiff, thanks to the down-filled and totally unsupportive sofa cushions. i moved myself to the bed in her guest room, hoping that i could somehow undo the damage, but to no avail; i was still stiff and achy sunday morning.

by that afternoon, i wasn't any better. just thinking about the level 2/3 yoga class that i had planned to take that evening when i got back to LA made my back ache even more.

so i logged onto the internet to check out my options. restorative yoga... yes, that's what i needed. santa monica yoga had one that evening. so did sacred movement. but it was the class at yoga works westwood that caught my eye, not only because it was described as "candlelight vinyasa flow with restoratives", but because my google search on the instructor, kristen rentz, came up with this intro to her latest book, YogaNap: Restorative Poses for Deep Relaxation:

"Are you stressed? Overworked? Overtired? Feel like you need a nap? You're not alone. We're all running out of steam! What we desperately need is a YogaNap. Taking a YogaNap is the simple stress solution, the anxiety antidote, the cure for common craziness. While taking a YogaNap, you'll mostly practice what are called restorative yoga poses. I discovered restorative yoga a few years into my personal yoga practice. A vigorous yoga practice had certainly helped me cope with the stress of law school - so much so that I was practicing six days a week, I was healthy and strong, but I was exhausted. One day, I found myself struggling to decide between going to yoga or going home to take a nap. Without thinking, the phrase flew out of my mouth - I need a YogaNap."

kristen's class turned out to be pretty much as advertised. it started out slowly, eventually progressing to a level 1/2 vinyasa flow class, then easing back to a restorative pose or two before final savasana. when all was said and done, i realized that i really didn't get the half-and-half combination of flow and restoratives that i had expected. but since i was able to keep up with the class without causing additional strain on my spasmed muscles, i couldn't really complain. as they say: no harm, no foul...

according to amazon.com, YogaNap has a chapter titled "yoga backrub: poses to ease your aching back". with that in mind, i'll probably head down to my nearest borders bookstore to browse through her book and she what she recommends i do. in the meantime, i guess there's always advil and a hot compress the next time my back decides to act up. argh.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

my daily fix

it's been almost two weeks since i last posted my yoga class list, so before i lose track of where i've been, here it is:

2/7david romanelliexhale
santa monica
pass(see feb 7th post)
2/8julian walkersanta monica
2/9andrea marcumearth's
power yoga
$15(see feb 9th post)
2/10ashley turnerpower yoga westdonation 
2/11steve rossmaha yogapass 
2/12vinnie marinoyoga works
main street
$13.60 KCRW(see feb 13th post)
2/13denise kaufmansacred movementpassyin yoga
(see feb 13th post)
2/14matthew cohensacred movementpasspartner yoga
(see feb 14th post)
2/15seane cornsacred movementpass 
2/16matt reyesmaha yogapass 
2/17 #1rick colellainsight yogaFREEpranayama /
yoga /
(see feb 18th post)
2/17 #2kate hillmaninsight yogaFREEyoga+tapas
(see feb 18th post)
vedanta yoga
(see feb 18th post)
2/19kristen rentzyoga works
$13.60 KCRWrestorative
2/20lori rischerlululemon
sacred movementpass 
2/22steven earth metzearth's
power yoga
$13.00 KCRW 

with all the classes i've taken, it's gotten to the point where i'm starting to recognize people in some classes. and in certain cases, some of those familiar faces are those of other teachers (which is an indication that the class itself is a good one, kinda like what they say about finding many chinese diners in a chinese restaurant).

for example:
i saw andrea marcum in vinnie marino's class,
lori rischer in andrea's class,
meaghan townsend in ashley turner's class,
and tracy krosnoff in matthew cohen's class (tracy's on my list of upcoming classes).

i've also seen david romanelli in a few of matt reyes' sunday morning classes. in fact, there probably have been other teachers who've been lurking around, and if i had just paid more attention to the people around me in class, i probably would have spotted more...

Saturday, February 18, 2006

food for the soul

i'm sure it's been said that yoga is food for the soul. in my case, it's also provided food for my belly. take, for example, my last two yoga classes...

1. friday night's class:

Insight Yoga
95 North Marengo Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 796-1102
website: www.insightyoga.com

i had originally heard about insight yoga through the chilloutla.com website. according to chilloutla, insight had a new student special: $15 for the first three classes! the only catch, at least for me, was that the studio was all the way out in pasadena. without traffic, it's about a half hour's drive from santa monica. with the usual bumper-to-bumper daytime drive, it can take over an hour. this meant that i would have to find some other reason to get to pasadena in the middle of the day to make the trip worth my while. since i had already spent some time out there when i visited yoga house last month, i could find no justifiable reason to head out that way again. that is, until i checked their website and found this:

Insight Yoga's 2nd Birthday Open House!
Friday to Sunday, February 17-19th

Celebrate our 2nd birthday with FREE classes all weekend!

and this:

6pm Insight Yoga/Flow with Rick
7:30pm Friday Night Yoga -- You, your friends, and an awesome iPod mix in a sweaty "open practice" yoga class with Tapas in Old Town afterwards!

so maybe it meant that i would have to take two back-to-back classes to get my yoga fix AND my food fix, but since i live by the belief that "cheap is good, but free is better", i quickly rearranged my schedule to help them celebrate the occasion...

... even if it meant driving through rush hour traffic in the pouring rain...

about an hour and a half later, after i had driven slowly past multiple highway patrol cars, tow trucks, and crumpled front-ends, the gods blessed me with the perfect parking spot right in front of the studio door.

i walked into the ivy-covered building and admired the serene interior. the first thing that caught my eye was the massage table in the room directly across from the front door. i did remember seeing something about thai massage on their website, which probably explained the table. i suppose that if i ever wanted a thai massage, this looked like a respectable place to get one, if you know what i mean...

there was another yoga class going on at the time, so i browsed through the sale items in the boutique and helped myself to some complimentary hot tea.

after the classroom doors finally opened and the students streamed out of the room, i walked in and admired my surroundings -- high ceilings, polished wood floors, arched side windows, and a large stained glass window at the front of the room. i half expected to find an altar underneath the window; i felt like i had walked into the sanctuary of a church.

anyway, it turned out that there was a typo in the open house flyer; rick collela's 6pm class was not to be a yoga/flow class but a yoga/pranayama/meditation class. not a problem, i figured, since i had that second yoga class lined up afterwards. so when kate hillman started up the next class and encouraged us to do whatever we pleased, i tried my best to mimic a class i had taken recently just so i could work up a bit of a sweat.

when that class ended, there were about ten of us who changed into street clothes for the after-class socials at la maschera on fair oaks avenue. luckily, the rain had stopped, so we were able to take a leisurely stroll to the restaurant.

of those i chatted with that evening, there was an artist, a chemistry post-doc candidate, an auto broker, a massage therapist, a film translator, and a couple of yoga instructors. i had a wonderful time; the conversation was stimulating, the food was fantastic, and the music played by the in-house DJ was appropriately upbeat. once we approached the midnight hour, we decided to call it a night and hoped that we would see each other again sometime soon.

... after all, i can still take advantage of that 3 for $15 deal, can't i?

2. saturday morning's class:

Sivananda Vedanta Yoga Center
13325 Beach Avenue
Marina del Rey, CA 90292
(310) 822-YOGA
website: www.sivananda.org/la

back in january, i had first heard about sivananda yoga when i attended bela lipat's class (see jan 14th post). not knowing whether "sivananda" was a person, place, or thing, i did some research when i returned to LA and eventually found a flyer at the radha govinda temple in venice (more on how i ended up there in some future post).

according to their website, the first class is FREE (a good thing).

and according to their class schedule, the 10:30am all-levels class is followed by a vegan lunch, by donation, on saturdays (an even better thing).

so after my customary saturday morning run, i drove down to the marina to see what it would be like to take a classical yoga class with a swami.

unlike the yoga studios i've been regularly going to -- the studios with beautifully decorated interiors, pricey merchandise, and stylishly-dressed students -- this center was very spartan in comparison. the main room had plain furniture and shelving with a sink along one wall. there were a few basic items in the store: t-shirts, sweat bottoms, incense, books, and CDs. and the students came dressed in sweats. even our instructor, swami pranavananda, was dressed in saffron-colored sweats. even if i was modestly-dressed (as specified in the flyer) in a t-shirt and yoga pants, i felt underdressed.

once the class started, i understood why everyone was dressly so warmly. even if it was in the 60's outdoors, the swami kept the door opened to the outside during most of the class. and of course, i happened to place my mat right by the door. needless to say, i worked extra hard at the poses just so i could generate enough internal heat to keep myself warm.

while we really didn't do anything out of the ordinary -- some chanting, followed by breathing exercises, sun salutations, some basic poses, ending with savasana -- it felt like we were following a prescribed series of steps. and maybe we were (i guess i won't find out unless i take another class or two). since some of these steps involved crow's pose and a headstand (without the help of a wall), i think i'll need a little more practice before my next visit so i can follow along more closely.

as for the lunch, there was a tablecloth spread out picnic-style in the middle of the floor. before the meal, all of us stood in a circle holding hands while chanting the mealtime prayers. we then seated ourselves on the floor and helped ourselves to the two large pots filled with mung bean dal and steamed vegetables, plus the bowls of steamed rice, salad greens, avocados, and beets, which were accompanied by tahini dressing and ghee. the food was simple, yet delicious. not a bad deal for a suggested donation of $5. especially since it had to be much healthier than whatever it was that i could have gotten at the burger king next door for the same amount of money...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

a pairs event

on february 13th, the pairs figure skating finals were held at the 2006 winter olympics in torino, italy. all the competitors had trained hard for this event, and for the most part, they performed all their lifts and jumps and spins and footwork impressively.

the next day, february 14th, i participated in a pairs event of my own: partner yoga taught by matthew cohen at sacred movement. not only was it a special valentine's day-only event, but the price was also reflective of the date: 2 for $14. i was fortunate enough to have a friend, jon, who was willing to share the experience with me. it had been a while since he had practiced yoga regularly, but since he was in excellent physical shape, he had no problem keeping up with matthew's fairly rigorous warm-up routine.

matthew demonstrated the partner poses with some of the regulars in his class. jon and i watched while they intertwined their bodies and either reached for, stretched away, and/or supported each other. knowing that neither of us had the flexibility they had, we gamely assumed our positions and followed instructions.

we stood facing each other, bent forward at the waist, and pushed our palms towards each other, essentially simulating a wall push pose. jon was much stronger than i was, so i had to really steel myself to keep from falling backwards.

we then sat facing each other, right leg straight ahead, soles of feet touching. our left legs were bent, either with the foot up against the right thigh, or with the foot turned out towards the back. while bending sideways and holding each other's right wrist, we had to reach over and hold each other's left wrist. the best we could do was interlock fingers, but we still managed to get a good side stretch.

we transitioned to a straddle position with our feet touching. part one required us to hold hands and take turns bending backward and pulling our partner forward. for part two, while holding each other's right hand, we bent towards our own right leg, reaching for the foot with our left hand. i was a few inches short of reaching my toes, so he gently gave me a push and i ended up holding on to his toes instead since they were easier to reach. we repeated the pose on the other side.

the next pose required us to be butt-to-butt, one sitting in child's pose (him) and the other facing the opposite direction in a low squat (me). i then had to bend backwards and drape myself over his curved back. this backbend was then repeated with me as the base and him as the supportee.

another partner backbend had him in downward dog, and me standing by his head, facing away, with each of my heels on the ground between his thumb and index finger. i then had to sit on his back and lie back with my head hanging freely over his backside. we switched sides, and surprisingly, i was able to support his entire body weight effortlessly while holding myself up with my arms and legs.

the last pose required us to take turns going into headstand and being carried by the other upside down, but since neither of us was skilled at doing a headstand without the aid of a wall, we decided to pass.

while we probably didn't have the grace nor finesse of olympic athletes, it was an enjoyable experience for both of us. sometimes things are best shared; this was definitely one of them.

Monday, February 13, 2006

the yin and yang of yoga

According to Paul Grilley, author of Yin Yoga: Outline of a Quiet Practice (White Cloud Press, 2002), all yoga practice (and exercise in general) can be divided into two types: active and passive—what he calls yang and yin. Yang Yoga, which emphasizes rhythmic movement and muscular contraction, includes such schools as Ashtanga Yoga and so-called Power Yoga. Yin Yoga, conversely, is practiced passively with soft muscles, holding each asana or asana-based exercise in the sequence for several minutes. Its goal is to stretch the body's deep connective tissues—the ligaments and fascia—to increase joint flexibility and self-awareness. Many of us tend to focus just on the yang practice, but Grilley maintains that yang and yin yogas are complements and that we need to balance elements of both in our daily work.

the idea of keeping my yoga practice balanced has become an important consideration in my class scheduling. i liken it to training for a marathon. if i did nothing but speedwork and back-to-back long miles, i would run the risk of getting injured from overtraining; on the other hand, if i did nothing but short easy runs, my body would never learn to handle the time and the distance required to finish the race.

keeping that in mind, i decided to try an interesting combination: "yang yoga" with vinnie marino at yogaworks on sunday, followed by yin yoga with denise kaufman at sacred movement on monday.

vinnie marino's bio: "One of the most popular vinyasa flow teachers in Los Angeles...Vinnie teaches a strong, physically challenging practice set to great music with a playful attitude. His blend of music and alignment has attracted a devoted following of advanced practitioners throughout the country."

it's true that most of the yoga classes i take can be considered yang yoga. now that my own yoga practice has become stronger, i've found myself preferring "power yoga" to the more spiritual forms of yoga. i've taken classes at bryan kest's power yoga studios in santa monica, steve ross' maha yoga in brentwood, and more recently, steven earth's power yoga in west hollywood. it's been all about the sweat, the muscle fatigue, and the sheer determination to get through the class without having to "sit it out", so to speak, in child's pose. i owe all this competitiveness to the sidelined runner in me :(

so when i started hearing comments from fellow students about vinnie marino at yogaworks, that his class was as tough as, if not tougher than, the classes that i was already taking, i decided that it was about time i found out for myself.

on sunday morning, i showed up at the main street location about 40 minutes before his class was scheduled to start to give myself enough time to park my car AND get to the front of the class line.

metered street parking on main street is always at a premium; even more so is the FREE parking in the neighborhood. as i drove by, i spotted a man with a coffee cup leaving the nearby urth caffe; i decided to follow him in the hope that he was headed towards his car. not only was my hunch correct, but he also happened to be parked only a block away from yogaworks! knowing how santa monica meter maids are constantly on the prowl for parking violators, i had to sit in my car for a while to make sure that i didn't leave my car unattended for longer than the two-hour parking limit. with just under half an hour left before the class was to start, i walked to the studio, placed my mat and towel near the classroom door to reserve my spot in line, paid for the class, then spent the rest of the time browsing through the items in the boutique.

as soon as the earlier class let out, all the students waiting in the lobby made a mad dash for a favorable spot in the room. despite the fact that i was at the front of the line, i almost didn't get my intended spot at the back of the room. after all, if this class were truly as hard as people had claimed, i definitely didn't want to be front and center!

yes, the class was packed, and yes, the class was tough. but not so tough that i couldn't keep up. sure, there were times when i had a hard time keeping my balance in one-legged poses (and a harder time trying to avoid falling on the student who was less than four inches away from me), and other times when i skipped a vinyasa here and there, but other than the times when i couldn't get into crow or temporarily forgot the sun salutation B sequence, i was pretty proud that i was able to get through the 90 minutes without collapsing and/or making a fool of myself. yeah!

and now it was time to stretch those sore muscles to give them a break...

denise kaufman's bio: "Denise Kaufman has been exploring yoga, movement, energy flow and community/connectedness for over thirty-five years... Yin Yoga particularly targets the connective tissue of the hips, pelvis and lower spine. It is of great aid in learning to sit for meditation... Denise considers her class to be a community of spiritual friends who gather to open and stretch together in a safe, supportive and soulful environment..."

on monday evening, since the beach crowds had all left for the day, i easily found a parking spot close to sacred movement. i was early for class, so i headed for the music listening station and picked a CD to while away the time. while i listened, more students started filtering into the lobby. by the time we were allowed to enter the classroom, there were easily enough students gathered to fill the room. unlike vinnie's class, there was enough room between students to allow us to move freely in all directions.

since the class was all about stretching, we started out doing the hula to loosening our lower body (being a part-time hawaiian resident, i can see why denise favors the movement), followed by neck and shoulder rolls to loosen the upper body. we then progressed through a series of poses that slowly stretched hips, hamstrings, backs, quds, glutes... you name it, we stretched it. denise emphasized that we had to position ourselves so that we could hold each pose for an extended period of time. we were free to use bolsters, blankets, and blocks as needed. nice and easy, just what i was looking for.

while all attendees in vinnie's class had to be, at a minimum, intermediate level yogis, denise's class was such that anyone of any level could participate. in fact, it appeared that the guy in front of me was new to yoga because he was barely able to bend and flex. throughout the session, denise kept an eye on him and would often come help him ease into each pose, using props to help keep him in the proper position.

by the time we lay quietly in savasana, i realized that even if i hadn't broken into a sweat, i had worked every muscle in my body. who knew that moving slowly could be such a workout?

Thursday, February 09, 2006


1. The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident. 2. The fact or occurrence of such discoveries. 3. An instance of making such a discovery. - The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

despite the fact that nothing went according to plan, i ended up in a wonderful yoga class this morning.

and i have my massage therapist to thank for it.

for the past week or so, i'd been suffering from nagging lower back pain. i don't believe in taking pain meds and the like "just because", pretty much because i believe that the pain is a signal that something's wrong. and that it should be attended to. so when it got to the point last night where the discomfort in my back kept me tossing and turning all night, i decided that drastic measures were needed.

i called the massage place on montana avenue early yesterday morning to see if i could book a deep tissue massage with my favorite massage therapist. unfortunately, the guy is SO good that all his appointments were booked for the day. not only that, but he didn't have any openings until next week! desperate, i resorted to calling his personal cell phone to see if we could work something out. and in the meantime, i kept trying to find the right back-twisting motion that would somehow snap everything back into place. by late afternoon, the spasm in my back was even more aggravated by all the contortions i had been putting my body through.

just when i thought i had to go through another night of interrupted sleep, mr. magic fingers returned my call. not only did he get my message, but before he called me he spent some time trying to find an opening at any of the other locations so he could fit me in somehow somewhere as soon as possible. unfortunately, no such luck. at least he tried.

we chatted a bit more and talked about things we had in common (running) and things we didn't (his being extremely busy with work and my not having any work to do at all), with the latter explaining why it had been months since i had last seen him.

then out of nowhere, he offered to give me a massage for FREE! not only that, but HE was going to come to ME; all i had to do was tell him where he should bring his portable massage table. there was only one problem, though. i couldn't deal with the idea of my having a massage at home while my daughter was in the other room doing her homework. but not wanting to miss out on what seemed to be an extremely generous proposition, i told him i'd come up with a place and call him back.

after furiously scrolling down my cell phone contact list, i called my friend anita. would she perhaps be working late that night so that i could use her place while she was out? she said that while she was actually already on her way home, she was going to be locked up in her study trying to catch up on her paperwork, so i was free to use her living room. and since she expected to be working late into the night, i could take all the time i wanted. perfect!

... an hour later, my savior showed up at anita's doorstep -- massage table, lotions, sheepskin pad, and flannel sheets in hand.

... two hours later, all the kinks were finally worked out; i was blissfully relaxed and was headed home for a hot bath. in exchange for the excellent service i received, i offered to treat him to a yoga class of his choice. and he accepted.

the massage must have also relaxed the muscles in my brain, because the next morning, i left home for my yoga class without really knowing where the studio was located. it was in west hollywood, that much i knew. i was working from memory; it had been over a week since i had planned out my yoga schedule. i vaguely remembered it to be near la cienega and melrose, so i headed in that direction.

then things started going awry...

oops #1: there was no yoga studio at nor near la cienega and melrose! i rummaged through the yoga schedules in my car and found my yoga calendar. it turns out that i got two studios confused -- one was at la cienega and santa monica, and the other, the one i needed to get to, was at melrose and fairfax. with fifteen minutes to go before class was to start, i quickly turned around and changed course.

oops #2: when i finally got to earth's power yoga, i was surprised to find out that steven earth (after whom the studio was named, which is why i wanted to take his class) was NOT teaching that morning! i had shown up on a thursday; steven teaches the 10:30am classes everyday EXCEPT tuesdays and thursdays. somehow, with all the class-swapping i had done earlier that week, i ended up putting his class on the wrong day on my calendar.

oops #3: all flustered by the fact that i had shown up on the wrong day, i forgot to ask for my 15% KCRW discount.

what i did end up with was a class taught by andrea marcum. her class was small; there were only six students spread out in the rather large room. andrea later told me that she usually averages around 30 students in her classes, but for some reason, it was an extremely light day. lucky me!

her class wasn't too hard (no handstands nor arm balances) nor too easy (no time wasted in teaching the basic poses). it was challenging, but doable. we started out with a rapid-fire series of sun salutations. then she had us holding poses that worked our hamstrings for extended periods of time. my legs were screaming for mercy, but i kept at it. after all, i didn't want to wimp out in front of all her class regulars (and how many times have i told myself to stop being so yoga-competitive?). and to make things harder, with the class size being as small as it was, there was no room for slacking nor cheating. she gently lifted my leg, repositioned my hip, raised my arm, straightened my back, and made me relax my head and shoulders. what do you mean, hold that pose for three more breaths?!?

i must be a masochist, because i WILL return for more...

Earth's Power Yoga
7901 Melrose Avenue #208
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 655-9642

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

daily blackboard special

it had been a while since i had taken one of david romanelli's classes, so i decided to head out earlier this afternoon to the exhale spa in santa monica. as i crossed the street and approached the spa, i noticed this written on the blackboard by the entrance:

Take a core fusion or yoga class and get 50% any spa service or any retail item

once i saw that, i practically ran into the store to see what i could get at half off! exhale's boutique has a wonderful assortment of yoga clothes, accessories, jewelry, and spa items that i'd been hesitating to buy merely because i thought they were overpriced. however, with 50% lopped off, the prices would actually approach reasonable; hence my mad dash to find that ONE item that i would take home with me when i left.

my first thought was to check out the clothing, but since those items eventually go on sale (although maybe not in the color nor size that i want/need), it made more sense to look at items that are never discounted, like the skidless towel. with a retail price of $50, being able to get it for only $25 sounded like a great deal. unfortunately, they no longer had the color i wanted. darn.

with 15 minutes left before class was to start, i had to put the shopping on hold and headed for class.

there were only four students in david's class, including myself. i guess the word hasn't gotten around yet about him nor the studio itself; all the other classes i'd taken at exhale were just as sparsely populated. so since there were only a handful of students for david to attend to, everyone received lots of personalized attention. in my case, it was an adjustment while i was in revolved half moon, a lower back massage while in downward dog, and a shoulder massage while in child pose. not only that, but we all got a neck and scalp massage while in we were in savasana. ahhh... heaven...

as i had said in an earlier post, dated 12/28, david's classes are mellower versions of the maha-style hip-hop classes (in fact, i know he's a maha devotee because i've seen him at matt's sunday morning classes). almost all the poses are accompanied by what could be considered "adult contemporary" music; today's selections were by tracy chapman, dave matthews, jack johnson, and the like. david also weaves into the practice various quotations and passages from yogis, philosophers, writers, as well as other wise men and women. i suppose one could say that while the yoga asanas take care of the body, the readings for the day take care of the soul.

a friend of mine, anne laderman swartz, used to teach yoga here in los angeles. she moved to phoenix some time ago; while there, she taught at david's studio. she has since moved to olympia, washington, but when she heard that david had moved to the LA area, she felt she needed to alert all her LA-based students on this new asset to the local yoga scene. here's an excerpt from her email message:

"I'm writing to tell all of you about a wonderful yoga teacher who has recently relocated to Southern California. His name is Dave Romanelli and he is one of the founders of At One Yoga, the studio that I taught at in Arizona. His classes are a lot of fun and I found him to be the best yoga DJ ever. Check out his website for more information: www.yeahdaveyoga.com "

attendance at david's classes at exhale should continue to grow as students find out about his style of teaching. not to mention the wonderful daily blackboard specials that the spa has to offer!

speaking of blackboard specials, i eventually found something that was worthy of the 50% off discount: a pair of be present kona pants that i'd been eyeing for some time now. maybe i'll try for that skidless towel the next time they have a similar deal...

postscript --
while reading up on the be present clothing line, i found this on their website:
"... Amy (Lopatin Dobrin) first designed yoga pants for her brother, Ian Lopatin, owner of At One Yoga in Arizona. Ian loved the pants so much, he asked Amy to make enough to sell in his studios in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. At One Yoga remains one of be present's largest clients..."

who would've guessed that there would be a tie-in between the yoga class i had taken and the pair of yoga pants i had purchased on the same day?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

class substitutions

there are times when yoga has to take a back seat to more important things. like jobs and kids. and much-needed rest.

in late january, i had posted my planned two-week yoga schedule. things started out according to plan, but by the second week, i ended up having to allow for last-minute schedule changes -- a job interview, my shifts at the KCRW pledge drive, and a couple of functions at my daughter's school. i also realized that all the strenuous classes i had been taking were finally beginning to take their toll; i was exhausted and needed to take it easy for a while.

i also wanted to take advantage of all the new class credits i had on my sacred movement series, thanks to my sister and a promotional coupon (see previous post). so for eleven classes, including a workshop, i ended up parting with no more than $32 and a couple of donations. my wallet's quite happy.

so here's where i ended up, along with the reasons for the changes:

1/25missy costello
(sub for
tom morley)
maha yogapass 
1/26bibi mcgillyoga houseFREEswapped hatha
for ashtanga
1/27ducky punchyogamattpass 
1/28meaghan townsendmaha yoga$20
1/29will dupreysanta monica
1/30saul david rayeshakti's elementsdonation 
1/31hala khourisacred
passswapped due to
school function
2/1kyra haglund
(sub for brad
passswapped to
get some rest
2/2brian campbellforrest yoga$12
swapped due to
job interview
school function
2/3jamie elmersacred
passswapped due to
KCRW shift
2/5terra green goldpower yoga westdonationswapped due to
KCRW shift
2/6matthew reyeslululemon athleticaFREE 

here are some brief comments on this batch of classes:

missy costello at maha - filled in for tom morley, who was out of town. her style is similar to tom's (as well as that of other maha teachers like steve ross and matthew reyes), with music a bit more mellow but just as loud.

bibi mcgill at yoga house- see jan 27th post

ducky at yogamatt - she took over matt's evening classes when he took over steve's evening classes at maha. there was only one other student in the class with me, and he was a relative beginner. so the class turned into a level 1 class, which was just fine for me because i was still sore from the ashtanga class the night before. note to self: i need to find out what ducky's last name is!

meaghan townsend at maha - the arm balance workshop was more advanced than i had hoped it would be. most of the students in the class could already do handstands and various arm balances, so i was left behind trying to successfully get into crow pose while the rest of the class was doing more creative stuff. argh.

will duprey at santa monica yoga - every class with will is like a front row ticket to cirque du soleil, and this one was no different. his class regulars are long-time yoga students, so they can easily get in and out of more difficult poses. all i can do is watch in awe and hope that one day i, too, will have a practice as good as theirs. for this class, we spent a lot of time working on our belly-to-chest breathing, so the class was pretty laid back. ahhh...

saul david raye at shakti's elements - talked non-stop throughout the class, either about the poses or about the meditation of the day. the level of his classes, though, were just right for me -- not to easy nor too hard. the room was packed, yet he was able to go around and adjust students as needed. it's amazing how many people have the time to take a yoga class instead of work on a weekday morning!

hala khouri at sacred movement - this was a level 1/2 class and it seemed that many in the class were closer to 1 than 2. she had us spend a good amount of time warming up our bodies, which included swaying and gyrating to music as we pleased. i've never been one for these freeform trance-like sessions, but since i was experiencing stiffness in my shoulders and lower back, it sounded like a good idea. and eventually felt like it, too.

kyra haglund at sacred movement - filled in for brad keimach, who was ill that morning. kyra used to assist max strom in a number of the classes that i had taken with him last year, and many times she had tapped on my shoulders to remind me to keep them back and down. when she walked into the room this time, i had mentioned that i was starting to feel pain in my shoulders and was hoping that she could see if i was doing anything wrong. of course i was focusing on them the whole time myself, so when the class ended, she mentioned that i was doing a much better job shoulder-wise than i used to. i guess all these yoga classes have helped improve my form. yay for me!

brian campbell at forrest yoga - one of the forrest yoga teachers whose class i wanted to take, so i was glad to finally get the chance. his style, while probably excellent for most, wasn't quite doing it for me. maybe it's because i'm getting set in my ways and he did things differently. oh well.

jamie elmer at sacred movement - another disciple of max strom's whom i used to see in his classes. she pretty much took over most of his time slots and somewhat mimics his style, but since her class was much smaller than max's used to be, i'm assuming that many of max's former students are doing exactly what i'm doing -- trying to find someone as inspiring and challenging as he was. she will have to work very hard if she wants to try to fill his shoes. i wish her the best.

terra green gold at power yoga west - a late-night sunday class with live music! very cool. there appeared to be more men in the room than women, but it's probably because it was the only studio in the neighborhood that offered a class after the superbowl game ended. terra looked VERY young; i figured she was a college student working nights to pay her way through school. i was surprised to later find out on the website that she's been teaching for nine years now. talk about yoga keeping one youthful!

one thing's for sure, i'm definitely NOT missing the class at lululemon tomorrow night. not only is it FREE, but it's one of matt's hip-hop yoga classes. very athletic, but very fun. and assuming i have any energy left after class, i'll drop by the KCRW pledge drive wrap-up party a block away. that should be something to look forward to!