Thursday, May 20, 2010

Back on the mat part 3: Laughing Lotus.

After my great experiences at my regular yoga class at the gym and at Jivamukti Yoga School, I was re-geeked about yoga.  I was ready to use the one pass I was saving for a special occasion: my pass to Laughing Lotus.  Why horde the pass? 1) Because it's only good for one class, and 2) all of my favorite teachers trained at Laughing Lotus.  

If so many great teachers are coming out of that place, something awesome is going on there that I needed to experience.  And if I only have one pass, I want to be in the right frame of mind when I throw my mat down in their studio.  I admit it:  I built the place up in my head.  And finally, last week, a co-worker and I decided it was time to get our stretch on there.

We walked in to a very sunlit, very crowded little studio.  There were mats everywhere, and I ended up scrunched over by a wall, crowding the girl next to me.  Apparently all of Manhattan decided to go to the same lunchtime class as us, but, whatever, the place is popular for a reason.

I can't remember the name of the teacher we had, so I scoped out the teacher profiles page on their website.  Not helpful in the least.  Honestly, most of their teachers look exactly the same: they're all beautiful hippie-mamas with long, wavy hair and chatturanga arms. What are they putting in the water at Laughing Lotus?  Even the few male teachers are ridiculously good-looking.  Are you telling me you wouldn't take a bite out of Luke Simon?  Liar. George Clooney minus 20 years plus a whole lotta granola. That's all I'm sayin'.

Anyway, I can't figure out which teacher I had based on the profiles, but she had long, wavy hair, chatturanga arms, and she led class with a voice that sounded more like she was reading spoken-word poetry than giving instructions on where to put what body part.  The class was definitely a different vibe than I'm used to.  It started with everyone sitting around clasping their hands over their heart (as opposed to hands in prayer in front of the heart) listening to the teacher talk about some goddess and protecting yourself and blahblahblah.  I was honestly a little zoned out.  The street noise was annoying.  I felt claustrophobic.  I appreciated that the teacher said "You don't have to believe in the goddess to learn from this story..." but it just didn't jive well with me.

After that we did some stuff where we knelt on our knees crossed our arms in front of us while breathing in.  In a room filled entirely with women, I couldn't help but be totally reminded me of this:

In other words, badass.  But then we had to violently bend over and uncross our arms while exhaling.  And then repeat the whole thing over and over.  So basically we were thrashing around breathing in and out, and I was confused by the whole thing.  

After that, we went into the yoga flow, which was pretty awesome.  Our hippie-mama teacher threw in some hippie-mama moves like going from Warrior 1 

to Warrior 2

by tossing your arms and head back so your hair and arms swing wildly around.  Turning into a man mid-pose was totally optional.

The flow was good, but I was distracted by a couple of things.  1) The teacher gives instruction, but doesn't show you what to do, so it's easy to be totally lost if you're new to the studio.  2) The girl next to me was pulling some crazy advanced inversion poses every chance she got, and I couldn't help but watch her.  At some points, she was basically balancing her body weight on the palms of her hands and her chin — it was mesmerizing.

At the end of class, the teacher did some chanting.  Not Om Shanti Shanti Shanti chanting, but a more advanced chant that the class didn't really know.  She said it a few times, and then they resonated it back to her a few times.  Hooked on fonics worked for them!

After class, both my coworker and I commented that we didn't really dig the way the instructor didn't really show us what to do and gave no corrections or adjustments.  It was confusing.  And distracting every time I had to look up and search around the room for someone to mimic.  Plus the whole flailing about business was a little weird.  Laughing Lotus might have been a bit too hippie for my liking.  I kept feeling like someone was going to pull out the poi and do some fire dancing while the rest of us played hackey sack and stopped bathing regularly.

All in all, not my scene.  At all.  And I probably won't ever go back.  Unless it's for a class with Luke Simon, in which case, I'll bring the poi, you bring the hackey sack, and lets never bathe again.

Back on the mat part 2: Jivamukti Yoga School.

On Tuesday, I schlepped my mat to work hoping to sneak in a yoga power hour at lunch.  Jivamukti is a ginormous name in the yoga world, and is one of the most influential schools in NYC.  Celebrities go there, so it must be good.  Right?  Right??'s a few blocks away from my office and offers a freebie class to new students, so I was game.  I didn't have to use my 2010 Yoga Passbook card, which by the way, is one of the rare passes in the book that gives you a full week of unlimited yoga classes. Cha-ching!

Now, I should mention that I'd read about Jivamukti before, and wasn't totally sold on their whole schtick.  For starters, they're chanters.  I realize this is totally politically incorrect, but nothing gets my goat worse than seeing a bunch of *cough*white*cough* Manhattanites sitting on their $90 Manduka mats in front of an elephant-man painting chanting prayers in languages they don't understand.  Seriously.  How many of them do you think actually know what Om Shanti Shanti Shanti actually means?

Sorry, ya'll.  I'm still pretty green to yoga. I haven't fully embraced the non-judgment tenant.  But them again, I could argue that Jivamukti hasn't either.  They have this veganer-than-thou thing that I have a beef with (har har!).

One of the basic tenants of modern yoga philosophy is something I can totally get behind: Ahimsa or non-harm.  One love, hippie.  Do unto others as you want done unto you, and all that.

So here's my problem with Jivamukti: because they interpret Ahimsa a certain way, they admit only vegans into their teacher training program.  No meat-eaters allowed.  No cheese-eaters or milk-drinkers, either.  You like chocolate?  Well, fuck off — Jivamukti won't have you.  Doesn't that kinda go against the whole non-judgment / all-inclusive / one big happy family / group hug yoga philosophy?  What happened to that?  One love, hippie...but only if you're one of us.

Long story short, Jivamukti rubbed me the wrong way a long time before I stepped foot in their studio.  Still, I had a pass and it was the closest studio to my office that had a lunchtime class open.  I boldly ventured into vegan territory with grilled chicken (albiet from a free-roaming local hen) still fresh on my breath.

The studio space is lovely.  Gorgeous hardwood floors throughout, dimmed lighting, big windows, the works.  The studio my class was in was a quiet, windowless room with pictures of Hindu gods hangings on the walls.  Mmm hmmm.  There were many 12 students in the entire class (and zero Manduka mats, incidentally).  The teacher, Mark, started class with a few stretches to get us warmed up.  I'd read earlier that he has 800+ hours of teacher certification, which means that he can pretty much levitate, so I was expecting a great class.

At this point, I was still extremely stiff from my yoga hiatus, and my down dog was a pathetic mess.  Mark came over and adjusted my poses, and those 800+ hours of certification really showed.  Best. Adjustments. Ever.  He put his feet on top of mine and pulled my hips back so my spine straightened out and my hamstrings caught on fire.  Every adjustment was perfect:  painful, painful, amazing.

The flow part of class was a fantastic challenge.  It was a fast-paced power yoga and I loved every second of it.  I've never done handstands before, so that was a tough one for me.  My supported headstand was pretty weak, but that's pretty much what I expected.  At some point, we found ourselves in a seated position with the lights off and a single candle burning in the center of the room.  Mark led us in a silent, breath-focused meditation, which seriously rocked my face off.  We don't meditate at all in my regular class, and I didn't know what I was missing.

Despite the chanting portion of the class that followed meditation, I left feeling totally blissed out.  It's worth sitting through the B.S. for the meditation alone, but coupled with the challenging flow and Mark's spot-on adjustments, I have a newfound respect for Jivamukti.  I'll be back for more of Mark's lunchtime classes, and I promise I'll keep the eye-rolling to a minimum.

Back on the mat: 1 of 3 catchup posts.

Confession: I haven't been going to yoga regularly for a couple of months now. Rest assured, I have a good excuse reason. I gave myself a gnarly case of shin splints from running too hard / fast / often.  And when I say gnarly, I mean gnarly.  Have-to-take-the-day-off-and-lie-in-bed-cuz-walking-isn't-an-option gnarly.

Lesson learned.  This is what happens when you ignore all the warning signs and try to run through the pain.  There was an incident in my regular Saturday class where I bit back tears while attempting the super-basic Warrior I pose.  I took as a sign that R&R was majorly overdue.

I'm still not back to running, but I did finally make it back on the mat last Saturday.  My regular teacher is on vacation for a month — boo! hiss! — however, it's probably for the best.  After a few weeks of completely neglecting to stretch, my muscles are on strike.  I know yoga is anti-ego, blah blah, but it hurt a little to go from doing advanced arm balances and contortions to not being able to touch my toes in uttanasana. And shaky arms during chatturanga?  Wasn't expecting that.

Luckily, the sub was all about holding poses for long, long periods of time, which ended up being a killer stretch.  I walked out of class feeling more like my old self — a little bendier than when I walked in.  I vowed to put my yoga passes to use and floated all the way home.