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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?