Legend: BLUE-open, RED-closed, GREEN-by donation
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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...