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Monday, February 11, 2008

celebrating the new year in new york

to most people, the phrase "new year in new york" conjures up images of a boisterous crowd of people wildly counting down the seconds to midnight as an enormous crystal ball slowly descends a flagpole in times square. 3... 2... 1... happy new year!

as for me and my daughters, that same phrase came to mean something totally different: we all met in new york this past weekend to celebrate the new year -- the chinese new year, that is. 2008, the year of the brown earth rat. gung hay fat choy!

but in all honesty, the chinese new year celebration really wasn't the original reason for our short get-together...

i still needed another long-haul trip to reach elite status on my frequent flyer account, so i searched for deeply discounted air fares to the east coast. let's see... i could fly to boston to visit my older daughter, or to philadelphia to see my younger daughter. hmmm... tough decision. once i threw the yoga options into the mix, i came up with a great idea: since i'd already checked out the yoga scene in both boston and philly, why not try someplace new? how about someplace like new york?

long story short, i ended up booking a ticket for the cheapest itinerary i could find, which happened to fall on the weekend before the presidents' day weekend. and since my daughters didn't have any pressing plans, i was able to get them discounted bus tickets so they could meet up with me. ta da! a mother and child reunion in the big apple... which just happened to fall on the chinese new year weekend.

our plans called for me to fly out of LAX on the thursday night red-eye to JFK. i'd arrive early friday morning, spend the day at my leisure (read: doing the yoga thing), then pick up my daughters at the bus station later that evening. we'd spend saturday and sunday together, then after they hopped back on the bus early sunday afternoon, i'd be on my own again (read: more yoga stuff) before i boarded my late night flight back home.

other than the tickets to spamalot that i had bought online before the trip, we really had no major plans, no major expectations. and because we pretty much just winged it the entire time, it turned out to be a fun and stress-free weekend. some shopping, some eating, lots of walking, lots of talking. we even met up with an old family friend who recently moved to manhattan as well as my DC-based sister who decided to join us when she heard about our little get-together.

and of course, our trip wouldn't have been complete without a stop in chinatown for some dim sum to celebrate the new year. yum!

as for the yoga, it was pretty yummy, too :)

friday morning. right after i arrived at JFK, i rode the subway to my midtown hotel, dropped off my luggage, then headed out to union square for my first yoga class:

OM yoga center
826 Broadway, 6th floor
New York, NY 10003
(212) 254-YOGA
website: http://www.omyoga.com/

OM yoga is a juicy blend of flowing yoga asanas informed by precise attention to alignment and supported by the relaxed wakefulness of Buddhist mindfulness meditation. The practice of OM yoga is a lively dance of awakening that leads to a deeper understanding of yourself and a more personal connection with your world.

sometime last year, i had a chance to be one of the students in a monthly yoga DVD class taught by cyndi lee. unfortunately, my hamstring injury flared up the day before the taping and i had to cancel out at the last minute. right then i decided that if i were to ever to find myself in new york, i'd make it a point to check out cyndi's class at her studio in manhattan. of course, i didn't know at the time that she no longer teaches regularly-scheduled classes; she's so busy traveling around that she only shows up at OM yoga to teach workshops. darn. but since her studio made it to travel and leisure magazine's top 25 yoga studio list, i had to go check it out, cyndi or no cyndi.

OM yoga was relatively easy to find. it was a little more than a block away from the 14th street - union square subway stop, right between 12th and 13th streets. an elevator took me to the 6th floor, where i found a wonderfully inviting lobby with wonderfully inviting faces behind the front desk and wonderfully inviting items in the boutique :)

after i filled out the new student registration form and paid $18 for the drop-in class, i was directed to the women's changing room located in back. it was a large area with enough space to store students' clothing and belongings. it even had a shower for rinsing off after a particularly sweaty class. nice!

with four separate classrooms -- named earth, forest, sky, and sun -- there can be just as many classes going on at the same time, which allows for the wide variety of classes OM offers throughout the day. despite my short weekend visit to the city, there was a good chance that i'd find a class that fit into my tight schedule.

based on some teacher recommendations i had found on the citysearch site, i decided to take the 10am intermediate class with brian liem, a senior teacher on staff at OM. of course, i later found out while waiting for class to start that his class was being subbed that morning by kelly brennan, a teacher so new that she still didn't have her bio posted on the staff page. shades of san francisco! were all my NYC classes going to be subbed out as well?

luckily, kelly's class turned out to be quite pleasant. it wasn't very strenuous, but with arm balances and inversions thrown into the mix, it was an appropriate class for intermediate students. and perfect for someone who had just landed a few hours earlier from a five hour flight across the continent.

before leaving OM to catch the 6 train back to the hotel, i picked up a logo shirt to add to my souvenir collection. playing yoga tourist sure is fun!

then came sunday afternoon. with everyone else on their respective buses bound for home, i was back on the subway, headed once again for union square and another yoga class:

Jivamukti Yoga Center
841 Broadway, 2nd floor
New York, NY 10003
(212) 353-0214
website: http://www.jivamuktiyoga.com/

The Jivamukti Yoga method is a style of Yoga created by David Life and Sharon Gannon in 1984. It is a vigorously physical and intellectually stimulating practice leading to spiritual awareness.

We promote the educational aspect of the practice and give students access to where these ideas have come from. Each class focuses on a theme, which is supported by Sanskrit chanting, readings, references to scriptural texts, music (from the Beatles to Moby), spoken word, asana sequencing and yogic breathing practices. The average Jivamukti student is more educated about the philosophy of yoga than most yoga teachers.

The name Jivamukti means Liberation while living. Jivamukti is taken from the Sanskrit term, Jivanmukti, which is used to describe the state of enlightenment or God realization. We named our yoga method Jivamukti because we wanted the student to be reminded of the ultimate aim of the practice.

for the longest time, i'd been wanting to find out more about this style of yoga with the funky name, especially since many of the teachers i've studied with here in LA trace their yoga roots back to the jivamukti school in NY.

here are some excerpts from some of their bios:

Upon discovering yoga at Jivamukti NYC in 1996, (she) felt an immediate kinship with this ancient yet thoroughly relevant art...

Her first experience with Jivamukti yoga was with Michele Baker (Vani Devi) in Costa Rica, and she was drawn in by the style’s focus on spirituality, yogic philosophy, and the use of sound. After this enlightening experience, she studied with the founders of Jivamukti, David Life (Deva Das) and Sharon Gannon (Tripura Sundari), whenever possible...

Upon walking into the Jivamukti Yoga Center she had a feeling of “coming home.” She found that a daily asana practice and the spiritual teachings were essential to adjusting to big city life. As she felt her life transforming through her practice she decided to study with David Life and Sharon Gannon and became a certified Jivamukti teacher...

Fate brought her to her first teachers at the Jivamukti Yoga Center in the East Village. The teachings and the practice were challenging exciting and incredibly purifying. After studying for seven years at the center she moved across country to Los Angeles and pursued a full-time career as a teacher...

after reaching the second floor and stepping out of the elevator, i felt like a tourist who was visiting disneyland for the first time. so this is it, i thought. i'm finally here!

of course, it didn't help that i was running late for class. thanks to the misleading directions i got from the citysearch site, which said that jivamukti was by the astor place subway station, i ended up having to drag my luggage five blocks up broadway when all i needed to do was walk one block if i had exited one stop earlier at union square. luckily, the receptionist let me sign in even if i was five minutes late for class... although by the time i had filled out the paperwork, paid my $20, changed my clothes, and stashed away all my belongings, i was almost fifteen minutes late :(

again, based on a recommendation i'd read on the citysearch site since neither sharon nor david were on the posted class schedule, i planned to take the 2pm open level class with uma saraswati. i found the krishna classroom (one of three at jivamukti; the others are named ganesha and goddess), slowly opened the door, and let myself in.

but instead of hearing a female voice leading the class through the pre-asana meditation, i clearly heard a man's voice. another substitute... why was i not surprised? i was 2 for 2 in the sub game. 4 for 4 if you include my visit to sfo. unbelievable.

the large classroom was packed. even the empty space right by the door was too small for me to spread out my yoga mat. i had to wait until meditation was over before the teacher was able to ask people to move to make room for myself and a few other latecomers (and i'm still wondering why the yogini by the door was so resistant to sliding over a few inches so i could squeeze in... i finally gave up trying to ask nicely and moved to a different row!)

as for the class itself, it was just what i needed to get over the stress of getting there late. not too easy, not too hard. the students around me were of different levels, with some clearly looking like they knew what they were doing and others looking like they needed assistance. and the teacher did a good job of roaming the room and helping out. his music selections were an eclectic mix of contemporary, reggae, and chant. i definitely give him a thumbs-up (although i still have to find out who he was -- update: i called. it was jeff scios who taught our class.)

in general, i also have to give the entire jivamukti studio itself a thumbs-up, too. like om yoga, it had a large women's changing room with lots of wall hooks for hanging clothing. plus an adjoining shower, too. there was an ample coat-and-shoe drop-off area by the entrance as well as lots of cubby space by the classrooms for storing belongings. the retail area had a good selection of items for sale, with a large majority of them being either sustainable or organic. including the jivamukti logo tank i purchased, which was made from organic cotton by yoga tribe and culture. i know, i already own way too many YTC tanks...

after class, i spent a good half hour seated in the jivamuktea cafe, scanning the enormous menu board while quenching my thirst with an ice cold izze grapefruit sparkler. all the vegan selections sounded delicious. had i been a bit hungrier, i probably would have ordered a warm bowl of brown rice and tofu. or a sandwich. or salad. or both. there were so many things to choose from -- teas, juices, smoothies, pastries, and more. but my flight was to depart in two hours and i had to leave the comfortable confines of jivamukti and make my way through the bustling traffic outside for the long subway ride back to the airport. i knew that i had to come back to jivamukti the next time i was in town... if not for the yoga, then definitely for the food :)