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Saturday, October 27, 2007

an american in paris

finally, after spending a week and a half on the european continent sans internet connection, i'm back!! (and i have to admit that without the usual "distractions" of email-checking, internet surfing, and blogging, i actually got more sightseeing done than i would have otherwise!)

my buddy BDB and i flew to france to rack up enough miles to maintain our elite status on our frequent flyer accounts. you see, during the course of a "normal" year, i usually reach the minimum number of air miles required just by traveling to the east coast to run marathons and/or visit my daughters away at college, or by flying to the philippines to visit my family. this year, however, i didn't fly as much; almost three-quarters of the year was over and i was still a whopping 15,000 miles short of my goal! so when i found out that B was thinking about going to france to fatten up his own mileage piggy bank, i decided to tag along. after all, going halfsies on the hotel and car rental expenses seemed like a good way to earn the miles while keeping costs down :)

once our plane touched down in paris, we were informed that the transport workers had gone on strike. just our luck! many bus, train, and subway services were cancelled for the day, so the best way to get to the city center was via taxi. however, once we spotted the long taxi wait lines outside the terminal, we decided to take our chances and go the cheaper route: by airport bus. and apparently, so did many others; soon after we loaded our luggage in the cargo compartment and found seats on the bus, the driver announced to those still standing on the curb that the bus was full and that they had to wait for the next one. and if that wasn't lucky enough for us, the subway line we needed to take from the bus drop-off point to our hotel was one of the few that were running that day. ok, so maybe the subway trains were coming by every 15 minutes instead of the usual 3, but at least we had a way of getting to the hotel without having to drag our bags a mile or so through the busy parisian streets.

most of our time in france was spent driving around the loire valley, with overnight stays in reims, auxerre, tours, and chartres. we had our fill of cathedrals, chateaux, and medieval villages, plus miles and miles (or rather, kilometers and kilometers) of scenic roadside vistas. we drove around in luxurious comfort, thanks to the fantastic deal B somehow negotiated on a BMW 525i rental. and with turn-by-turn direction provided by sylvie (B's nickname for our navigational system's female voice), we managed to reach all our intended destinations without getting horribly lost.

we also spent a few days in paris doing the obligatory touristy stuff -- like riding the elevator to the top of the eiffel tower at night, navigating our rental car around the arc de triomphe while avoiding getting hit by aggressive drivers, zigzagging past all the tour groups at versailles, experiencing catechism class flashbacks while visiting the notre dame cathedral and the sacre coeur basilica, strolling along the left and right banks of the seine, walking past the louvre, d'orsay, and pompidou museums (had we had more time, we would have been able to view the art collections contained within them), and of course, shopping for souvenirs and gifts for the people back home. we even managed to squeeze in an evening at the salle pleyel to listen to the orchestre de paris with yo-yo ma as the featured soloist. tres magnifique!

ah, and then there was the yoga.

while i didn't even try researching possible yoga stops outside of paris before we left for france, i made sure i brought along a handful of yoga studio listings to choose from when we got to the big city.

once we reached paris, with all the wonderful sights and sounds (and food and wine) all around us, it was hard to find the time to check out the local yoga scene. but we did manage to take two yoga classes at two wonderful and welcoming studios: rasa yoga and paris yoga.

Rasa Yoga
21 rue Saint Jacques, Paris 75005
+33 01 43 54 14 59
website: http://www.rasa-yogarivegauche.com/

In a peaceful inspiring setting, Rasa offers a diversity of yoga classes exploring the art of yoga.
To suit our individual needs we offer different teachers and styles, suitable for all ages and ways of life.
In our rasa spa we offer a wide range of soothing and nurturing holistic treatments to restore your overall well being.
Discover the spirit of Rasa!

there were a number of reasons why rasa was a must-visit on my list.

back in april, travel and leisure magazine had named rasa yoga one of the top 25 yoga studios around the world:

Located in the shadows of Notre Dame (in the Fifth Arrondissement), Rasa is a peaceful haven with immaculate white walls, dark wood floors, and slanted skylights that let in the sun. Vinyasa is the main tradition taught here, but there are also classes in Ashtanga, Mysore, and Yin. Check the online schedule for classes in English.

then last september, rasa actively participated in the global mala event and was able to successfully raise enough money to plant 5000 trees. i figured that if an event at rasa could attract enough participants to raise that kind of money, it had to be a pretty popular studio.

so the first chance we got, we headed out towards notre dame, then walked the few blocks from there to rasa's front door. what we found inside the studio was a far cry from the old wooden door that shielded rasa from the street noise outside. the interior was very modern and bright, with white walls, sisal carpeting in the reception area, and separate changing areas for men and women. there were even showers for freshening up after class! it reminded me of the high-end yoga studios back home... except that the receptionist spoke with a heavy french accent and the class set us back 20 euros each. at the current exchange rate, that was a whopping $28! mon dieu!

at least our rather large investment afforded us the use of yoga mats and all the props we needed for our practice :) as both B and i started to spread our yogitoes towels out over our borrowed mats, we noticed that two others in the class were about to do the same. very unusual, i thought, especially since i've found that in most of my travels outside of LA, i'm usually the only one who uses one...

our vinyasa 1/2 class was taught by alessandro boi, who was subbing for elaine that morning. interestingly enough, since 4 of the 6 students in the class were visitors from the US (yup, all four of us were the yogitoes users), alessandro opted to teach the class in english. after hearing him refer to the navel as "belt" and the spine as "column", it was quite apparent that english was NOT his first language. but his instructions were understandable enough that i was able to follow along without much difficulty. as for the class itself, it wasn't the type of class i had expected; instead of a vinyasa flow level 1/2, it was more of a hatha 1/2. regardless, the stretching we did was a great way to get the kinks out from all the traveling we'd done, although i still couldn't get over having paid almost twice the LA going rate for a simple yoga class :(

on our way out, we met and chatted with daniela schmidt, owner of rasa yoga. originally hailing from germany, she initially spent many years as an architect in a number of cities around europe. in time, she finally found her calling as a yoga instructor in paris. i had hoped to have been able to take her class, especially since she had trained with shiva rea, john friend, and others, but unfortunately, it just didn't fit in with our schedule. oh well.

by the way, i found out that besides vinyasa, ashtanga, iyengar, and kundalini classes, rasa also offers anusara classes -- and as far as i know, not many yoga studios in LA can claim to have a schedule of classes as varied as that!

Paris Yoga
9 rue Magellan, Paris 75008
+33 01 40 70 14 44
website: www.parisyoga.com/indexEN.htm

Paris Yoga is the first center of Agni Yoga in the world. Five minutes from the Etoile and the Champs Elysees, you will find a large, bright and warm space dedicated to the practice and study of Yoga and Ayurvedic Massage.

Agni Yoga is an ancient practice originating in the high Himalayas. Its objective is physical health and particularly strength and flexibility of the spine, pelvis, legs and arms. Through numerous exercises and postures, some of which are performed with sticks or boards, the student works on the body's structure, develops flexibility and strengthens the muscles.

the way i looked at it, when searching for yoga class in paris, it made perfect sense to check out the studio named "paris yoga". besides, i had never practiced agni yoga before, so that's where we were headed next.

after a brief metro ride from our hotel to the george V subway station, we easily found paris yoga a few blocks away. not knowing what to expect from the agni yoga class we were there to take, i wondered what i had gotten both of us into as we each paid the 18 euro class fee -- which at $25 per class is less expensive than the $28 at rasa, but just as painful! -- then went to the dressing rooms to change (note: i had found an online article about yoga in paris which cautioned: "... changing rooms in most of the places are non-existent, so be prepared to 'see-and-be-seen'...". maybe we were just lucky that both of the yoga studios we visited had private changing areas?)

our teacher was myrto hadjigeorgiou, who had learned the agni style of yoga from yogi arun, who had practiced yoga for many years while he lived up in the himalayas. both myrto and yogi arun are co-owners of the studio, and if the list of teachers on their website is correct, they're also the only teachers on staff.

the first thing i noticed when i entered the classroom was that the floor was covered with thick wall-to-wall rubber matting. no one was using a yoga mat nor a towel; we were going to practice on the surface we were standing on. there were some props stacked along the back of the room, but since no one had bothered to take any, neither did i.

unlike our previous class, this class was taught in french. it would have been easier for me if myrto had used a sanskrit term or two, but she didn't. aware that there were students in the class who weren't native french speakers, myrto translated her instructions into english whenever she thought we didn't quite understand what she was saying. in time, i started recognizing her most-used french words: inspirez = inhale, expirez = exhale, sol = ground, mains = hands, bras = arms, jambes = knees, pliez = bend, debut = starting position.

we started with gentle poses -- forward bends, side bends -- and gradually progressed to deeper stretches -- downward dog, lunges. eventually, while the poses remained fairly basic, the stretches became more intense, so intense that i couldn't follow her instructions without causing pain to my injured hamstring (sidenote: the pain in my butt was finally diagnosed as a hamstring pull/tear, and not the sciatica it was originally thought to be).

just when i had found myself reaching the limits of my flexibility, she asked us to each take a wooden platform from the back of the room. these platforms were U-shaped contraptions measuring about 24 inches long, 18 inches wide, and 6 inches tall (imagine placing a box with those dimensions on the floor, then remove the front and back sides as well as the bottom. see it?). we used these platforms to achieve an even deeper stretch. standing on the platform, we bent our knees, grabbed the front edge, then straightened our legs. ugh. after standing back up, we bent our knees again, grabbed the back edge, then straightened our legs again. argh. next thing i knew, she was asking us to keep our hands flat on the floor as we straightened our legs (and yes, our feet were still up on our platforms). by now, my having to restrain myself to keep from reinjuring my hamstring was getting frustrating. i hate it when i can't play along with the others :(

we later transitioned to doing tree poses on the platform (much easier on a hard surface than on the rubbery floor) and seated poses where our legs were extended out in front of us (basically dandasana with our bottoms raised up from the floor), followed by seated forward bends, cobbler pose, and finally, an easy seated position.

the hour-long class was simple, yet challenging. while i can't see it being my primary practice style if i lived in paris, i definitely would take a few classes every now and then to benefit from the deep stretching i'd get out of it.

on our way out of the classroom, we met joelle, yogi arun's wife, an american from new york who had met arun some time ago while she was traveling in india. and now they're both in paris, running a studio that teaches the form of yoga he practiced with monks for many years. quite an interesting story!

as always, vacations are never long enough. there's always some other place you'd wished you had visited, some delicacy you'd wished you had tasted, maybe even some activity you'd wished you had done. in my case, there were a few more yoga studios that i'd wished i had taken classes at.

like the centre de yoga du marais, which was a short metro ride away from our hotel. i wanted to meet the owner of the studio, michelle jacobi, who hails from california, especially after having read one of the posts in her blog about being american in a foreign country. but unfortunately, she wasn't teaching on any of the mornings we were able to take class. too bad.

and the red earth centre, a studio run by louisa raszyk, an aussie who came to paris after spending some time in japan and spain. intriguing? i thought so. and yes, classes are taught in both french and english. good to know.

there was also the federation francaise de yoga (apparently now known as the gerard arnaud studio), which turned out to be a mere half-mile walk from our hotel. not only was our first class going to cost us only 10 euro each (a fantastic incentive to take a class there!), but gerard arnaud is a well-seasoned yoga instructor who holds workshops in france and around the world. in fact, he's scheduled to teach a two-day workshop in san diego this coming december. methinks i need to calendar that... hmm...

oh so many reasons to plan another visit to france -- more pastries, more cheese, more chocolate, more yoga :) i can't wait for that next time!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very pleased you got to go and had a good time. Also very pleased to read your account. Thanks for writing up.

5:45 AM  
Blogger joni said...

and thanks for the input! i'm glad you enjoyed it, especially since i wrote it while still foggy-brained from the jet lag :)

7:00 PM  

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