- Chantez et vous trouverez votre chanson -

Life isn't about finding yourself.  Life is about creating yourself.
     -George Bernard Shaw

It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves- in finding themselves.
      -Andre Gide

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Great Winter Yoga Experiment

I'm so excited that spring seems to be on its way! I have to admit - winter makes me miserable. I try so hard to "embrace each season" and all that crap, but unless I could spend the winter months curled up by a fire drinking hot chocolate and sled riding and snowboarding, I'd rather hibernate through the months of December through February.

The point is, I need activities to get me through those months. Specifically exercising activities, because the less I exercise, the less I want to exercise and the worse I feel about myself. So what's a girl to do? I hit up Groupon, Living Social and every other deal site I knew and decided to join yoga studios.

I've toyed with yoga on and off through college - I had a Crunch Yoga workout VHS and a Rodney Lee DVD that I would use when I couldn't get to the gym, and I always liked the stretching and flexibility aspects of yoga, but until last summer, I had never taken an actual class. Once I tried classes at a studio in Astoria near my apartment, I discovered how much I liked it. I got a workout and I left feeling at peace with my life and the world. Not too shabby. Only thing is, it's SO expensive!

With my deal-scouting savviness, I was able to find two unlimited monthly deals at different yoga studios in the city, each for just $40. Awesome! I decided to use them consecutively during mid-January through mid-March, to keep me out of depression and in shape through the winter pudge season. Through my two months of yoga sessions, I became familiar with Ashtanga, Hot Vinyasa, Iyengar, Vinyasa, and Bikram. I feel so much more knowledgeable about the subject! There's a lot of info to sort through online about different studios and yoga styles, but here are my impressions of everything:

This was the first studio I ever practiced at, and I really love it there. Located on 35th Ave. across from the movie theater and next to Panera Bread, once you step inside, the suburbia-central vibe of of the block disappears. The dark wood floors, warm pastel walls and chai-smelling candles give off a total zen vibe.
PROS - My favorite teachers there are Danielle for Tuesday evening Beginner's Vinyasa and Marco for any of his Hot Yoga classes (Bikram-style). Danielle really helps you visualize the way your body needs to be aligned, and the Vinyasa sequences are slow enough that you're able to "hit" every move. Marco is great at motivating you and telling stories to get you through the grueling 26 postures of Bikram in the 105 degree room without wanting to walk out. They also offer Pilates, massage and acupuncture - nice bonuses.
CONS - Classes here are $18 a pop, which is pretty steep. They offer Pre-Natal yoga classes and longer Restorative classes which is nice for those looking for that, but the only classes with frequent time slots are Vinyasa and Hot Yoga, and it'd be nice to have a little more variety.

I used my first unlimited yoga deal at this studio, and I'm so glad I found it! If I could afford it, I'd make this my permanent yoga studio. Located on the 2nd floor of an office building near Bryant Park, it also has a totally zen and welcoming ambience. There's a reading room, free WiFi, lots of couches and tea and water if you'd like to come early or stay late after class.
PROS - This is a legit studio where many yoga instructors come to get certified, and all the teachers regularly study in India to keep up their practice. They offer so many styles, too! I was especially curious about Iyengar and Ashtanga, and was able to take multiple classes of both. The weekly schedule is packed with classes, so whether I wanted to go before work, after work or on the weekends, I could fit in a class - most weeks I went at least 3-4 times.
  • Iyengar - I really enjoy this style. It focuses on really opening up the body with deep, long stretches, and after being forced to stay in poses longer than usual, I leave the class feeling tall (haha), aligned and strong. Leslie's Community Iyengar classes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings are my favorite - they wake me up and help me feel energized at the start of my day. Plus, it's donation-based which is perfect for poor yogis like myself!
  • Hot Vinyasa - When I signed up for my first Hot Yoga class at Yoga Sutra, I assumed it would be Bikram, but the hot classes here are all Flow style, meaning you're constantly flowing and moving from position to position through the whole class. I actually liked it a lot - since you're in constant motion and don't hold positions for very long, it's easier to forget how hot you are and how long the class is. Cliff's classes were great, but really packed at certain times.
  • Ashtanga - Knowing that this style is Madonna's hardcore workout of choice intimidated me, but I still really wanted to try it. Similar to Bikram, Ashtanga is the same set of poses every class, but instead of a hot room, the poses produce an inner heat as you work hard to complete them. Once you get really accustomed, you can take self-led Mysore classes, but Yoga Sutra also offers led classes with an instructor. The series is really long in its entirety, so I opted to take Led Half-Primary Series classes to get the hang of things. Both teachers I had, Lorrie and Erica were very kind and made it less scary. I actually wasn't that bad! I couldn't do the full headstand and a few of the complicated poses at the end, but not everyone in the class could either. Being a flexible girl, I loved some of the heavy duty twists involved, but a few poses felt just plain awkward. Definitely worth exploring more.
CONS - This studio is also extremely expensive. The cheapest membership is $150 per month and the single class rate is $21. Also, popular classes or anything held during "rush hour" after work fills up, so you need to sign up ahead of time online to make sure you can get into the class.

I was most apprehensive of going to this studio, and with good reason. I'm not a huge fan of Bikram yoga, and the reviews online were not the best. The owner has a supposed drill sergeant demeanor, all the instructors wear headsets and they hock SmartWater in the middle of the class, taking advantage of thirsty, tired yogis. There were a few red flags, but so what? It was a damn good deal, and I figured maybe I needed that hardcore Bikram workout to really get me in shape. Plus, located in the heart of Union Square, I could walk there after work and my train station was right by the entrance.
PROS - I get a really great workout here; the sweat and toxins just pour out during those 90 minutes. And, as I keep going back, it gets less and less miserable each time! I know which poses annoy me, and I suck it up and do them. I know which pose signals to me that the worst is over, and I can easily get through the rest of the class. The front desk gives you a mini towel and two large bath towels with your membership, which is a nice touch, and I just make sure to bring my water bottle with me each time so I don't get stuck paying for a wasteful SmartWater bottle each time.
CONS - The reviews were basically true. The instructors do all use headset microphones, and they do it because the classes are so packed that you wouldn't be able to hear them from across the room otherwise. The microphone and general atmosphere doesn't feel nearly as peaceful as the other studios, and it has that lovely Bikram sweet sweat smell (kind of like an indoor pool?), but it gets the job done. They do sell SmartWater in between the standing postures and floor series, which irks me every time, but hey, I'm not buying. The locker room area is also a nightmare when one class empties out and the next is getting ready, so I'd recommend going extra early to scope out a spot. The other major con? This place costs $30 for a single class, and $180 per month for an unlimited membership - plus a rental mat is $5 extra (most other studios charge around $2). Those prices are cray cray!

As my unlimited yoga experiment is coming to an end, I realize I'm going to need to find a way to continue - I've really enjoyed going these past few months! With my dance background, it feels like a form of exercise that I can really excel at, and the peace of mind that comes with it is extremely helpful in a hectic city like New York. I hope I've been able to shed some light on the yoga scene here for anyone yoga-curious or looking for a new activity to get them moving!

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