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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

joyfully challenged

City Yoga
1067 North Fairfax Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 654-2125

City Yoga was created as a refuge from the chaos of city life. No other time in history has presented us with more choices, more speed and more stress. We need a community, a kula in Sanskrit, to feel safe to explore our full potential and what it means to be fully human.

while going over my various posts on yoga studios, i realized that i didn't have one that focused on city yoga in west hollywood. i found it hard to believe, especially since my first class there five months ago was my initial foray into anusara yoga. not only that, but i had been there a few more times since then. i guess it somehow slipped through the cracks, so it's about time i rectified that.

i'm not sure how long city yoga's been around, but it seems like it most of the anusara teachers in town can trace their roots to this wonderful place, which is located on the second and third floors of a brick building at the busy corner of fairfax and santa monica.

the first time i took a class there, i remember having a very happy and energetic teacher, landry matthews, a recent transplant from arizona. my next class was taught by anthony benenati, owner of city yoga, who was equally happy and energetic. then recently, i volunteered to be a "guinea pig" for the teacher training class. and wouldn't you know it, all the teachers-in-training were happy and energetic, too! coincidence? i think not.

as a thank-you gift for my volunteer efforts at that training class, i was given two free class passes which had to be used within a month. not wanting to lose out on a good deal, i quickly scanned the class schedule and the teacher bios and came up with my first class: a monday night advanced class with noah maze, a senior certified teacher who's been working with john friend and anusara practically since the get-go. he leads workshops and retreats almost every other week, so that fact that he was actually in town to teach a class was a special treat.

initially, i was hesitant about taking an advanced class, but the basics class sounded too, well, basic. after all, according to their class descriptions, an advanced class was "comparable to level-2-3, for intermediate and advanced students", and i definitely considered myself an intermediate student. i wanted to be challenged. and challenged i was.

noah started the class by asking us to leave our comfort zones and be open to something different. i was game; after all, with all the teacher-hopping i've been doing, every class for me has been different. he then asked all of us to roll up our yoga mats and set them aside. we were not allowed to use any props nor blankets. and yes, that meant that we were going to practice on the bare hardwood floor. since there were only a dozen of us in the class, he had us form two rows facing inward towards each other. starting in a seated position, we chanted three oms, followed by this opening mantra:

Namah Shivaya Gurave
Satchidananda Murtaye
Nishprapanchaya Shantaya
Niralambaya Tejase

then the fun began.

we did sun salutations on the bare floor, using nothing but the floor planks as alignment aids. from there, we were told to do a wide-legged standing forward bend, then move up to our toes, then slide our feet together, then next thing i knew, he was using me as an example to show how to get to a handstand from there! me, the "i can't do a handstand to save my life" yoga student! i made a valiant effort to stay upright with his help, although every time he let go of my legs, they kept wanting to fall over :( and when he finally let me lower my legs back to the floor, everyone applauded (of course, everyone applauds anyone who's used as a demo, but that's beside the point). we then had to work with a partner and repeat the movement. luckily for me, my partner (whose name i can't remember) was able to do the handstand on her own, so all i did was watch in awe while she made it look effortless.

once that was over, he made us each take a blanket from the closet at the back of the room. he had us go into plank with the blanket underneath our toes, then we had to slide our toes forward until they came to our hands, then back to plank. after spending some time feeling like we were polishing the floor, he instructed us to use that movement to propel our legs up into handstand. again, my partner helped me get my legs up into the air. at this point, i was beginning to get the feel of how to align my chest and my arms and do the ab control thing, so i felt like i had accomplished something, even if i still couldn't do a handstand on my own.

then came blanket exercise number two. with our blankets spread out horizontally, we were told to push in the left and right edges towards the middle. then while standing on the scrunched-up blanket, we had to slide our legs out as far as they would go, then hold them in that position. why for? to demonstrate how we were supposed to isometrically use our thighs to hold an open-legged pose (or something to that effect. i was busy trying to keep my legs from sliding out from under me and didn't hear everything he said).

the most enlightening part of the class was that i found out that i could do quite well without a yoga mat. standing poses and seated poses weren't a problem. and the balance poses like half moon and tree actually seemed easier, mainly because i was able to grip the floor with my toes every time i felt a shift in my balance. i did have some slight problems with the poses that required me to put some weight on my knees, like pigeon and the halfway-to-full-split pose whose name i can't remember, but once i got my weight off my kneecaps, things felt tentative but fine. even the final savasana at the end of the class felt comfortable without the slight cushioning of a yoga mat. which was really amazing, given that my lower back has been feeling tight and achy lately.

now the dilemma: i have one more class freebie to use up in two weeks. do i want to try another teacher, or do i want to take another of noah's classes? since everyone i've worked with at city yoga has been so wonderful, it's going to be a hard decision!