NotSoZen YogaJen

Yoga Vida lounge

Don’t you want to curl up on these couches?

I’m a serial monogamist when it comes to yoga. Since I started practicing, my pattern has generally been that I will find a studio I like and I will make a commitment. I will buy 10-class packs, and mostly, go only there, for months and months or years and years. And then I will tire of that place for whatever reason, and go somewhere else to mix it up. Then that studio will become my new yoga home. I’ll have my favorite weekly classes I go to without fail, the people at the front desk and teachers will get to know me. And so it goes. Until I move on to the next place.

But for the past several years, I’ve been yoga-homeless. I’ve flitted around. I’ve paid on a per class basis, never committing to a class pack. The front desk people ask me for my name when I check-in, the teachers don’t recognize me. I find a class I like here and a class I like there, but no one place that fulfills all my yoga needs.

Also, over the past few years, the expense of yoga has become an issue. I used to go anywhere, regardless of the price of the classes. The mental, physical, and spiritual benefit I received from yoga was worth it, I rationalized. This is also why a considerable amount of my credit card debt in the early 2000’s was from yoga classes. I don’t want to go into yoga debt anymore, and I cringe paying the now customary $18-$22 for a class other than as an occasional treat.

When I started this blog, being on a tight budget, I was on a mission to seek out the most affordable yoga studios. At that time, I prided myself on being able to spend $25 for five classes in one week through a combination of donation-based, community, discounted, and free classes. Lately though, I’ve lost momentum with this mission. I have my go-to donation-based place, and a low-priced studio I sometimes frequent, but I was no longer on the lookout for great yoga deals.

Then one day my friend who’s a yoga teacher was raving about Yoga Vida. I’d heard about it awhile ago, and vaguely recalled that the class prices were supposed to be pretty cheap. So when my friend mentioned it, I decided to look it up, and saw that they offered an intro week special for new students: $10 for one week of unlimited yoga.

Yoga Vida has two studios–a location near Union Square and one near Houston Street. I figured that there would be restrictions on the unlimited class pack and that I’d have to pick one studio or the other to use it at, so I called to find out so I could decide which one I wanted to commit to. Just for the week.

A friendly woman answered the phone, and told me that I could use the unlimited classes at both studios. Between the two schedules, they offer classes at any time you could possibly want to practice yoga. She also told me that included in the $10 week of yoga was one free mat and towel rental.

“This is the BEST YOGA DEAL EVER!” I exclaimed. “I’ll definitely be coming in soon. You’ll recognize me because I’ll be the super-enthusiastic person.”

“Great!” she responded warmly. “We can’t wait to see you!”

At that low price point (regular class prices are still really affordable–$12 for a single class, $90 for a 10-class pack, and $110 for monthly unlimited), I was not expecting the huge, clean, beautiful studio when I went to my first class at their Union Square location. And on top of the gorgeous, window-lined, light-filled practice rooms, there is a cozy lounge area with comfy couches and a nice changing area.

The class was great, and reminded me of what I loved about yoga early on, when I practiced at places like Jivamukti during what I consider my yoga heyday about 10 years ago. Those vigorous, sweaty, stretchy classes. That post-class, clear-headed, sore-bodied yoga bliss. The big, beautiful space that feels like a community center. Familiar and nostalgic, going to Yoga Vida renewed my enthusiasm for yoga. I went to three classes my first week, bringing the per-class price to a mere $3.33 (not even factoring in the free rental mat and towel!) and proving to be the BEST YOGA DEAL EVER.

Since doing their intro special two weeks ago, I’ve gone to a few more classes and continue to feel at home there. I’ve curled up on the couch in the lounge before class and read. Last night in class, I sat in the front row. The teacher was looking around the room, paused, and said to me, “I know you! From years ago.” I used to take her class a lot at one of my previous yoga homes.

After so many years of being a yogic free agent, I’m wary of making a commitment. But also, over the past few years and especially lately, I’ve been searching for my new yoga home. Given my budgetary restrictions, there are cheaper places I can go to practice yoga, but with donation-based and the more inexpensive classes, I don’t get the full beautiful, expansive, serene yoga studio experience. So Yoga Vida provides the best of all worlds–great classes and teachers, a beautiful space, and front desk friendliness, on the cheap. All the qualities I’m looking for in a yoga home. I’m almost even ready to take my commitment to the next level and buy a class pack. And maybe one day it will become that place, like my yoga homes of years past, where I don’t need to give my name when I check-in anymore because I’m just like, home.

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Park Slope street sign

I just found out that Park Slope Yoga Center moved. Or consolidated. But I kind of feel like it closed. They used to have two related spaces across the street from each other on Union Street, Park Slope Yoga Center on the south side and Devi on the north, but this week they shut down the Park Slope Yoga space and consolidated everything into Devi.

Seven years ago this June, I took the Metro North train from Westchester to the 6 to the F on a bright, warm Sunday afternoon to look at an apartment in Park Slope. Afterwards, I strolled around the neighborhood. Although it was my dream to live there, I was doing some research, seeking out coffee shops, bookstores, and yoga studios in walking distance to see if I could really call this place home. There was a Starbucks on 7th Avenue, and Ozzie’s on 5th, with ratty old couches I could picture myself curling up on, sipping coffee and reading classics. There was a Barnes & Noble, and also a Community Bookstore on 7th. This was all good.

And then, I stumbled upon Park Slope Yoga. I peeked in the door and walked up the stairs. It smelled musty and homey. Like old books, like Brooklyn. I said hi to the person behind the front desk, told her that I wanted to move here and was looking for my neighborhood yoga studio. On the way out, I saw a hand-written poem taped to the wall. This is what it was:

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

I wanted to spend mine in Park Slope!

The next week I signed the lease on an apartment in that building I’d looked at, and at the beginning of July I moved in, ready to start my new Brooklyn life.

Park Slope Yoga was the first place I practiced yoga in my neighborhood, and for a while, it was the only place I practiced. There was a skylight with a tangle of plants hanging from it front and center, and I’d set up my mat underneath it, my fingertips grazing the leaves in Sun Salutations. Or I’d claim a space right next to the window. I liked to be in the front row, near the teacher, and close to a window to the outside world.

During twists and Warrior Two pose, I’d look out the window, as the seasons passed and the weather changed, and see snow drifting, the sun shining, buds blooming, or leaves falling. Every class I’d sneak a peak at the clock at least once, usually more, because I’m Type A like that. Even though I loved being in yoga, I always wanted to know where things stood, time-wise, and estimate how much longer until standing poses would be done, until we’d start inversions, until Savasana, until class would be over and I’d feel that delicious post-yoga bliss, and be able to continue on with my day, checking things off my To Do list.

I went to Park Slope Yoga when I was giddy or heartbroken over a guy, when I was bursting with excitement about a new relationship, had to get out of my head about one that was going south, or had to get out of my apartment so I stopped staring at my phone waiting for that guy to call. I took class there after a long day at work when I was totally dissatisfied with my job and discouraged that I’d never have/do/be more, and on days that I felt hopeful and alive working on a creative project.

I found out that Park Slope Yoga moved/consolidated/closed after it was too late to take one final class there and say goodbye, after the mats and the plants had been transported to the other studio across the street and the deed was already done. I hadn’t been there at all in a while until recently when I took a few classes earlier this year, smelled that familiar musty smell, twisted to look out that same window as the sun set on a Saturday late afternoon class. And I haven’t been there in about six weeks since then so I missed the announcements, the warnings, the fond farewells. I was out of the loop, I guess, one of the dangers of not consistently frequenting your favorite places.

I read about the change after the fact, in an email newsletter and this great blog post by one of my great teachers, Robin Pickering, whose class I first took at Devi over six years ago, and then later at Park Slope Yoga. In it, she writes about of the nature of change, the sameness at the core of everything, and the freedom that comes from releasing attachment to externals. These are all true, good reminders. What’s also true is I miss that studio and I’m sad I didn’t get to say goodbye. What’s also true is that even though the physical space is gone, I can still hold my memories of it in my mind, and cherish my time there–my days and months and years of classes–in my heart.

Something weird happened over the past several months. I got bored with yoga and never wanted to go. I love yoga. Going to class can make me feel on top of the world, and at the very least, better equipped to face it. So at first I didn’t understand what was going on. Was I just over yoga? Would I have to move on to like, pole dancing or spinning or Crossfit to add some more oomph to my workout routine?

I’m on a tight budget so I’d only been allowing myself to go to a donation-based yoga studio. There was a time when I loved these classes, vigorous and sweat-drenched and leaving me with a particular kind of post-yoga high. And I’m still grateful for the opportunity to practice yoga many times a week on the cheap. But it just wasn’t doing it for me anymore.

I started to sense that something was missing from my practice. There was no chanting, no meditation, no dharma talks. The classes were extremely athletic and all followed the same general sequence with little variation from day-to-day. I found myself checking-out during the familiar routine, when I go to yoga to check-in and wake up. And the classes were packed, leaving only a few inches of personal space on all sides of my mat.

Afterwards, I felt like any calm I’d attained during class went down the drain as I was elbowed reaching for my bag and smooshed against the wall as I tried to make my way out. The straw that broke the camel pose’s back happened one night when I was putting on my shoes in the crammed hallway after class. My bag was open on the floor next to me and I turned to see a girl wiping the dirt off her feet right over (and into) my bag. This did not feel relaxing!

I realized that I needed the entire yogic experience — not just the poses — if I wanted to fall in love with my practice again. The expensive studios I used to go to have the whole package — meditation, incense, chanting, spiritual teachings — but at about $20 a class, practicing three to four times a week (or even once a week) there is way out of my price range. So what’s a yogini on a budget who requires personal space to do?

After the girl dusted her feet off into my bag, I eased up on my strict donation-based classes only policy and decided to let myself splurge a little on yoga. Unwilling, though, to pay for expensive classes, I found a compromise — a moderately-priced studio that has a simple, uncrowded space and teachers I love. There are dharma talks and moments of meditation and I have plenty of space to spread out. I’m getting the benefits of the whole yogic experience, and I’m no longer bored. Now I can’t wait to go to class and I crave it like I used to. And I’m happy to have climbed out of my yoga rut, and fallen back in love with it again.

Yoga and meditation

I wrote an article on TheFix.com about the benefits of yoga in addiction recovery. Check it out here:

“Sun Salutations in Sobriety”

Angry woman
After a hectic day at work today, I ran out of the office and dashed downtown to make it to yoga. I was anticipating a hardcore Power Vinyasa class that would stretch out my body and soothe my mind, to a soundtrack of John Mayer, Adele, and possibly some D’Angelo thrown in, as the teachers at this particular studio are known to play pop music and the occasional R&B.

The first thing that was off when I arrived was that all the rooms I normally take classes in were already full, so I was directed to a room I hadn’t been in before. A smaller room. But the lights were low and even though there was no coat rack and I had to ball up my jacket and shove it in my bag, I felt like I could still have a soothing class here. I could be open to change. Even though this was not how I’d envisioned it, I could transcend my disappointment and embrace this new yoga experience. I could become one with the (small) room.

Then, as I was trying to squeeze my bags onto a make-shift shelf that was really just a crowded table in the back of the room, a girl said to me in a condescending, bratty voice, “It’s not your fault.”

“Oh–what?” I asked, thinking that maybe I’d accidentally bumped into her when I was trying to maneuver my bags.

“Nah-thing,” she quipped (bratty voice still applies), giving me a stern look before returning to arranging her bag.

And then the yoga rage started to percolate like a burning in my chest and seep into my veins. What? What’s not my fault? That I’m a sub-par, unaware human being who isn’t enlightened enough to know when I accidentally bump into someone? Is that what you meant, bitch?

Taking deep breaths and trying to get myself into the calm yogic state I’d envisioned being transported to in class, I walked back to my mat at the front of the room and sat down. To my left was a good-looking guy, and on the other side of him, the bratty girl plunked down.

“Ohhh, you work in finance?” I heard her say to him. “That’s soooo interesting! Hi! I’m Shawn, nice to meet you!” she said, jutting out her hand to shake his.

WTF?! I thought. One minute, you’re going to be an asshole to me, and the next minute you’re going to flirt? In yoga?

My yoga rage was bubbling over as class started and the teacher dimmed the lights. But I couldn’t focus on class; I was lost in my interior monologue telling this girl off for being a bitch when all I wanted was a nice, peaceful yoga class to restore me to balance. A few minutes into class, I found myself standing with my arms raised above my head when I noticed that everyone else had their arms by their sides. A vague recollection of the teacher saying, “Drop your arms” a few moments earlier came back to me. I swung my arms around ala when you trip and recreate the trip to pretend you did it on purpose.

OK! I thought. Let go of the rage and focus!

But when I focused, I noticed that there was no music. Did this small, shitty, coat rack-less room not have a sound system? Frantically, I glanced around, and my gaze fell on speakers in the windowsill. But where was the music?

“Today,” the teacher said, “we have the opportunity to practice in silence. Not by choice, but by circumstance. So I want you to breeeeaaaatttthhhhhe extra loudly, and let the breath be our music.”

I don’t want musical breath! I want John Mayer in Warrior One, Adele in Extended Side Angle, D’Angelo in Pigeon Pose!

“Just think,” the teacher continued, “now I’m innnnnnnnnnhaling, now I’m exxxxxxxxxxhaling.”

Which is when I noticed that her voice sounded like a kindergarten teacher played by a Disney character. And it started to grate on me.

At the end of class, I didn’t luxuriate in Savasana like I normally do; I popped up quickly, eager to bring this yoga disaster to an end. I’d made it through class, I’d done all the poses (albeit sometimes with a slight time delay) but I hadn’t been present for maybe even 30 seconds of the 60 minutes. I hadn’t by a long shot had the invigorating and nourishing class I’d desired.

In the hallway as I was putting on my shoes, I heard someone say, “Oh, sorry.” I looked up and saw that it was the bratty girl, apologizing for bumping into me as she reached for her shoes, only she actually hadn’t. I smiled at her, and felt like things had come full-circle, that we were cool now. She’d apologized, and I accepted. For something other than the original offense, but still, it seemed significant. And I felt my yoga rage melt away and evaporate.

Walking out onto the street, I didn’t have that post-yogic high that I love, where everything seems to be right in the world. I wasn’t paying attention in class and I just phoned it in. But even so, just going through the motions, by the end of class I wasn’t enraged anymore–at the girl or the different room or the lack of music or the teacher’s voice. I wasn’t high, but I wasn’t low. A class filled with annoyances and disappointments threw me into an internal ranty rage, and then restored me to neutrality. Which, relatively speaking, felt pretty balanced.

Winter sky and tree branchesI went to yoga once last week. I usually go to three classes a week, that’s my goal. And I don’t beat myself up if I fall short of my yoga goal. But I like to make it to that many classes a week because that generally feels manageable with my schedule, and generally makes me feel really good. It gives me energy and calm that helps me navigate the ups and downs of life.

But last week was cold. And dark. And I was tired. So, so tired. On Sundays I go to a really active power Vinyasa class, but given said tiredness, I opted for an evening candle-lit restorative class. And that is progress–to pay attention to how I feel and give into it instead of pushing myself to muscle through. Then Thursday night I was planning to go to yoga but I just needed to go home. Because I had commitments almost every night last week, and sometimes I just need to go home after work and do nothing. Or in this case, laundry. Which wasn’t quite so replenishing but necessary nonetheless.

On Saturdays I go to a morning yoga class in my neighborhood, but I had a hair appointment in the early afternoon and I didn’t have enough time to make it to class beforehand. And I wasn’t planning to go afterwards because I didn’t want to mess up my newly done hair. Then it was snowing anyway, in October, and trying to get around Manhattan in the snow was extra-exhausting so I came home and took a nap, even if that meant messing up my hair.

I want to get back on the wagon and hit my goal this week because not doing enough yoga throws me off. But another thing that’s been throwing me off is the seasons changing in the direction of winter. The cold. The dark. It seemed like everyone I talked to last week was tired and having a hard time adjusting. The cool temperatures can feel brisk and invigorating, and it can be cozy and contemplative to hibernate when it’s chilly outside. But I wasn’t quite there yet last week. Last week I was just tired. When my alarm went off in the morning and it was still pitch black outside, my reaction early in the week was, Really? Already??? and progressed as the days went on to, NOOOOOO!!!!!

I refused to get out of bed when there was not even a sliver of light in the sky yet, and this caused me to leave my apartment 10-20 minutes later than I normally do. Which then brought me smack into the middle of jam-packed-train rush hour commuting time, instead of the easy, utopian commute I usually enjoy where I don’t have to wait long for a subway, the train isn’t full, and I can get a seat. By the time I flew off the packed train at my stop practically gasping for breath, I got to Starbucks later than usual and didn’t have time to write in my journal while I sipped my morning iced tea. And then I didn’t get to work as early as I like to so I can get settled at a leisurely pace and slowly ease into the day. And then I was too tired from all the stress and rushing and waking up in the dark to go to yoga after work.

Every day this past week as I’ve been standing on a crowded subway platform anxiously waiting–and waiting–for the next train, then packed tightly in it when it arrives, I curse myself for hitting the snooze button that extra time or two, and swear that tomorrow will be different! Tomorrow, I shall rise before the sun no matter how tired I am! I will get back on track, and I will not press snooze!

Yoga makes me feel good. Journaling in the morning at Starbucks makes me feel good. Being on my routine makes me feel good. But sometimes, things like the changing seasons interrupt my routine. Historically, I’ve felt totally upended with my schedule goes off-track. But I’m getting better at going with the flow. Paying attention to how I feel and not pushing myself if I’m tired. Skipping yoga if I’m run-down or hitting the snooze button an extra time or two if it’s still freakin’ the dark of night when my alarm goes off! And finding a balance between sticking to my routine, and taking care of myself when seasons change or days grow darker or I just need to slow down and rest.

But I swear, tomorrow I will rise before the sun so I don’t have to have such a crappy commute!

Read about my self-help overdose, detox, and road to recovery in my article “How I Overdosed On Self-Help” on The Frisky!