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Saturday, December 29, 2007

holiday substitutions

still trying to earn more air miles for my frequent flyer account, i flew up to san francisco last thursday for a two-day yoga vacation. after all, the time was right (i'm on vacation until the 1st), the price was right ($145 for the roundtrip airfare plus FREE lodging courtesy of my friend fred), and the yoga was right (there are so many excellent teachers to choose from!), so the decision to travel to the bay area was a no-brainer.

i scanned the holiday yoga schedules and eventually settled on two teachers at two yoga studios: stephanie snyder at yoga tree castro and jasmine tarkeshi at laughing lotus. since i'd never taken any classes from any teachers in the SF area, i chose these two because of their backgrounds -- stephanie is a teacher trainer at yoga tree and jasmine is co-director of laughing lotus. so how could i possibly go wrong?

day one: thursday

after tossing and turning all night, worried silly that i would oversleep and miss my early morning flight (them's the breaks when you're looking for cheap fares), i caught my 7am flight out of LAX and arrived at OAK an hour later, hungry and exhausted. not a problem; a quick trip to trader joe's took care of the hunger, and a quick snooze at fred's place near oakland took care of the exhaustion. a nice hot shower helped re-energize me for the day's planned adventure.

one bus ride, one BART ride, AND one muni ride later, i finally arrived at the corner of market and castro, right in the heart of the castro, aka the gayest spot on earth -- not that there's anything wrong with that :) it was a delightful place for shopping and eating; had i known that earlier, i would have taken a shorter nap and given myself more time to browse through the stores and walk around the neighborhood. i'll remember next time.

my first stop was a.g. ferrari foods, an italian market with shelves piled high with a mouthwatering variety of delights imported from italy: cheeses, chocolates, sauces, wines, and much more. and at the back of the store was a deli case brimming with goodies such as pastas, paninis, salads, and meats. it didn't matter that i had already eaten earlier in the day; there's always room for more fantastic food in my belly!

i spent the next hour or so popping in and out of the many businesses on castro street. and i managed to find some cool finds, including a 2008 daily yoga planner which includes "weekly themes for practice, spotlighting various styles and methods; room to record your reflections on your practice each week; and daily space to note the asanas you practice." sounds like something that could come in quite handy, doesn't it?

with less than an hour left before stephanie's 6pm vinyasa 2-3 class, i had to put an end to my shopping spree and start making my way to yoga tree castro located a few blocks away at the corner of collingwood and 18th:

Yoga Tree, Castro
97 Collingwood Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
415) 701-YOGA
website: www.yogatreesf.com/studiocastro.htm

At Yoga Tree we strive to bring you the best yoga instructors the San Francisco Area has to offer in studios that are clean, warm, and supportive. We are committed to green practices that make our studios safe for our students, as well as the environment.

Although we offer a variety of styles of yoga, all of our classes share one thing in common -- a comfortable safe space in which to explore the body, mind and soul.

i walked up to the second floor and found the reception desk at the top of the stairs. after making sure that i was on time for the class, i filled out the registration form and turned down the new student offer of 3 classes in 2 weeks for $20, opting instead to pay the drop-in rate of $16 for the one class i was there to take. unless i wanted to squeeze in two classes the next day, the deal just wouldn't work for me.

while standing in the lobby, waiting for the previous class to end, i overheard the receptionist tell another student: stephanie can't make it tonight... what?!? did i hear what i thought i heard? i walked over to the desk and asked who would be teaching the class. elizabeth rosser, i was told. i had no idea who she was, but since it was too late anyway to get to another studio, i had no choice but to accept the last-minute substitution.

either elizabeth's a very popular teacher or the time slot's in high demand; whatever it was, students streamed in through both doors leading into the classroom and immediately filled up the large classroom. while we were all busy finding our spots in the room, elizabeth walked in, accompanied by a guitar-toting musician. live music? maybe this was going to turn out well after all...

she started the class with quiet meditation, followed a few oms. she then led us through a chanted call-and-response mantra, which turned out to be like a kirtan with neither the instruments, the hand clapping, nor the wild enthusiasm. i couldn't figure out why everyone remained perfectly still while responding in a slow, controlled fashion; hadn't these people ever been to a kirtan before???

once elizabeth got us up and moving, she quickly transitioned the class into a vigorous series of poses. in no time i was sweating up a storm... and then i started to feel lightheaded. it was at that point that i noticed the gigantic ceiling-mounted heaters that were blasting away and turning the room into an oven! what's with the artificial heat?!? i can understand trying to warm up the room to stave off the cold, but why did it have to be almost bikramishly hot? i had to leave the room twice to cool off and rehydrate myself with water from the water dispenser outside the classroom. needless to say, the heat zapped all the energy out of me, causing me to sit out many of the later poses :(

midway during the practice, i realized that all i had been listening to so far was elizabeth trying to make herself heard over the blasting heaters and the recorded background music. but i thought there was going to be live music... maybe was there an instrument malfunction? i got my answer during savasana, when dazza greenwood got up from his spot in the room and joined elizabeth on the stage. he started playing a slow melody on his guitar which didn't sound like anything in particular, yet it was so soothing that i must've dozed off. because before i knew it, i was being roused by the ringing of a tibetan bowl.

one more slow chant and a few oms later, the class came to an end. since i had dinner plans with fred after class, i had to peel off my soaked clothing and change back into dry clothes just so i wouldn't catch my death of cold when i walked back out into the frigid weather outside. i couldn't do anything about my hair, though, which looked like i had just stepped out of the shower :(

thanks to a recommendation i got from julie at the italian market earlier that afternoon, fred and i had a marvelous meal at garcon!, a french bistro on valencia street, just outside the castro district. despite my bedraggled look, we received excellent service from the waitstaff. when our orders arrived, fred quickly devoured his serving of salmon while i eagerly worked at my large bowl filled to the brim with mussels With Tomato fennel sauce, splash of Ricard. our entrees were followed by an unbelievably moist raspberry bread pudding, topped with two candles in honor of my birthday on the 22nd and fred's on the 29th. tres fantastique!

day two: friday

since i was technically on vacation, i allowed myself the luxury of hanging around in my pjs until late in the morning. reading the paper while watching the today show on tv seemed like a better alternative than walking around in the cold weather while dragging my luggage around city streets (i planned to head straight for the airport right after my afternoon class). once i finally got moving, it didn't take long for me to get to my destination since the BART has a stop at mission and 16th, right at the edge of the mission district where laughing lotus is located.

unlike the castro, where i felt fairly safe walking around by myself, the denizens of the mission, at least those standing right outside the BART station, seemed a bit questionable. and as i walked down mission street, the crowd didn't seem to get any better. so i turned off on 17th and headed west towards what i hoped to be safer territory. i immediately came upon a boutique that had some interesting christmas stuff on sale, so ventured in.

before i knew it, i was picking up little things here and there -- christmas cards, gift tags, a notepad, and more. they were all unique items that wouldn't normally be found in a hallmark store or a drugstore. and they were all 30% off, which made them even more desirable :) i eventually found myself chatting with aldea's owner, johanna, and asked her for suggestions on where to dine and shop in the area. once i paid for the items and started to make my way out the door, she noticed my suitcase and offered to hang on to it, as well as my purchases, while i cruised around the neighborhood. i took her up on her kind offer, left my stuff in her care, and headed towards valencia street, a block away.

once again, it was unlike the castro; the shops and the clientele were more edgy and eclectic. the merchandise seemed to cater to college students and recent grads. there were fantastic markdowns to be had, but most of the smaller sizes were already picked over. oh well. i eventually found myself standing outside the door of tartine bakery at 18th and guerrero, and when i saw all the happy faces inside who seemed to be enjoying their food, i knew i had found my meal stop.

loaded with a bag full of treats for the plane ride home, i made my way back to aldea to pick up my belongings, thanked johanna, and hauled everything a few blocks over to 16th and dolores for my next class. the studio's exterior color scheme was so vibrant that there was no mistaking that it was where i wanted to be:

Laughing Lotus Yoga Center, San Francisco
3271 16th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 355-1600
website: www.laughinglotus.com/sfhome.html

Laughing Lotus Yoga Center is an energetic and Soulful Yoga Community blossoming in the heart of San Francisco and has been rooted in New York City’s rich Yoga Community for over 7 years. In the Spirit of Yoga, we invite you to join us in cultivating a way of life where peace, joy and friendship are celebrated as the very essence of who we are.

All of our Yoga classes Celebrate the body as a temple for the Spirit to awaken the heart to its truest loving and free nature. The Yoga practice at our Center is a Spirited style of Vinyasa that creatively, passionately and mindfully links the physical poses with the rhythm of the breath. Our high spirited expert teachers infuse each class with inspirational Music, Divine Wisdom, devotional Poetry and Singing, creating an ecstatic experience of harmony within and with the world around us.

i was a bit early; it was still about half an hour before the start of class and the front door was locked. not wanting to roam around looking like a mugging waiting to happen, i stood in the vestibule of the studio and waited until someone showed up to open the door.

the receptionist must've noticed me standing outside because it didn't take long before she let me in. the inside was just as colorful as the outside. with shades of orange and pink splashed all over the walls, i felt like i had walked into a comic strip. it seemed like a very happy place :)

everything else in the studio was just as funky and bright, from the bathrooms to the dressing areas to the large classroom itself. even the small patio right outside the classroom had bright touches scattered about. i went back outside to the lobby to check out the stuff for sale.

and once again, i heard the reception tell someone: jasmine can't make it tonight... i couldn't believe my luck. katharine otis would be filling in for jasmine. i hated having to vent, but i was pretty annoyed at striking out twice in two days. but i was there, so i had to make the most of it.

katharine admitted that she usually teaches a level 1 class and that having to cover for a 2/3 was a bit daunting. and honestly, i really didn't care if the class ended up being a beginner class; with all my back issues, it was probably wiser if i took it easy anyway.

just like elizabeth's class the day before, katharine started the class with some oms and a call-and-response chant. was this a san francisco phenomenon, or just coincidence? i guess i won't find out until the next time i'm in town.

but unlike the yoga tree class the day before, there were NO blasting heaters! i was loving this place even more!

the class ended up being a really nice flow class. i was still bummed, though, about the last-minute sub, even if i knew full well that these things happen... especially during the holidays, i'm sure.

i know that a re-do is in order, and hopefully, things will go according to plan that next time. maybe i'll even try something more adventurous, like the midnight yoga with kate at laughing lotus on friday nights. or rusty wells's bhakti flow classes at yoga tree on sunday mornings. or even something totally different, like anusara yoga at yogakula or rocket yoga at it's yoga...

besides, i could always use more frequent flyer miles :)