The New Kid: My Yoga Experience at City Studios
I feel like I have fit myself in a yoga box – only experiencing yoga through the lens of the teachers and studios where I teach. Do you do that? Always go to the same studio, same teacher, place your mat in same spot ? I needed to get a fresh perspective – step off my rectangular mat and expand my mind and body by experiencing yoga around my city, Portland. I took classes at multiple yoga studios around town. I’ve braved the drive across bridges, across neighborhoods, across east and west boundaries, and I’ve discovered what the yoga scene in this city has to offer.
I am not a night owl and getting to a 9:30p.m. class was a struggle, but the struggle was well worth it. I felt like I was with a different crowd and Darren Littlejohn was a different teacher. Gone were the polished students with designer clothes and instead were night owls with worn t-shirts, sweats, and faded tights. Littlejohn teaches more from his heart than any other teacher I’ve taken class with in Portland. With his full voice and constant enthusiasm his love of teaching, and his love of yoga, were obvious. And his students seem to love him right back. When I first arrived and mentioned that I had never been to the studio before, several students immediately told me I came to the best teacher. With his smile inducing “y’all” and constant adjustments (loved the adjustments!) he let his authentic self shine. Although I didn’t agree with some of his breath cues or teaching cues, his style worked. He had something to say, to teach, and most importantly, students responded. The class is taught in candlelight, which, surprising to me, made it hard to balance. But my struggle dissipated into a long corpse pose with a neck rub and a foot massage. I left relaxed and not at all minding that the class lasted over 90 minutes, that it was after 11p.m. and I had to teach at 6:15a.m. the following morning.
Free Class at Lululemon
I went to Lululemon for a free yoga class. It turns out they were teaching Qigong that night instead. I feigned interest, signed up, and then left. I’m not proud of my behavior.
Bob Marley: Yoga Music Series
I do not have an ear for music or how beats work so when someone like Chris Calarco, who loves music, comes along, I hop on board in awe. The Yoga Music Series is put on by Calarco and usually has a live DJ (with wine afterwards!) and a featured music artist. I went to the Bob Marley groove and it was terrific. When Calarco said that beat of the music was like the beat of a heart, he surely was right. It was easy moving into the flow, his alignment cues took me deeper into the poses, and his words of the heart harmonized with Marley’s lyrics. Most intoxicating was Calarco’s pure love of the music. Calarco teaches from an enraptured connection with the musical beats, the lyrics, and our breath
“I am from Boston. In Boston people come in and you start your practice–just do it. Here in Portland, the teacher sits up front and says something profound, Well, I have nothing deep to say” and with that a great class began. Maria Guerrero had plenty of deep wisdom and information to share. As a yoga teacher I know how hard it is to teach a beginner class. How hard it is to find the right balance of information, instruction, and depth; Guerrero walks that tightrope with ease and agility. She has a gift for teaching the basics of how-to do a pose and always offers why we do it. And she tells students what the Sanskrit words mean. Beforehand, I thought I was going to a class that would be based on breaking down the poses and that I would spend most of the ninety minutes watching the instructor, but that never happened. Guerrero leads students through a challenging class, breaking down poses, giving background, and cues, all the while muscles shake and we return back to the basics.
Jessica Garay started class by relating her dream the night before. There is something open and relaxing about her. I am not too comfortable with chanting but Garay dispelled anxiety by explaining what we will chant and why we are chanting the words she had for us that day. Having a bit of background and understanding of what I was doing helped me open to the experience; I chanted with hesitant gusto. This was how she led the entire class – with a clear path as to what and why we were doing the poses. Garay led students into a practice that required focus and strength and was always fun. She exudes comfort while teaching which creates a relaxed atmosphere in which to learn in. The community class is an all levels class, and Garay seamlessly met everyone at their level.
Okay, this was a bump on my yogic path. The early hours of the morning are considered the ambrosia hours – the auspicious, favorable, hours for success. I decided to try a kundalini class that ran from 4:30a.m.-7 a.m. This is early, even for a morning person like me. I read on the website to wear a scarf on my head to keep the energy in my body, so I did. Thrilled just to be going, I donned my black sweatshirt, navy blue sweatpants, and my scarf adorned my head like a stylish Parisian. I arrived at the center to find people in all white and wearing their scarves wrapped around their heads more like turbans than a fashion style. I didn’t feel exceptionally welcome, and, being new, I felt self-conscious. Add in the fact that I knew none of the chanting, the songs, or the movements, I felt like a big dark spot in the midst of white light; I snuck out after an hour into the practice into the two-and-a-half hour practice. Yeah, I snuck out. I was that person.
Willow Ryan is a woman whose strength and embodiment of power was a tad intimidating yet her smile instantly soothed my nerves. Ryan teaches a strong, alignment-based class interspersed with breath work to help students get deeper into their body. She is very knowledgeable about the body and her experience as both a yoga teacher and practitioner is evident in her ability to pinpoint how a student needs to readjust their body to move into a posture fully and with ease. I left this class fulfilled, yet wanting to cry. I heard a rumor that Forrest yoga can have this effect on a person. I don’t know what long-buried emotional baggage I released in Ryan’s class but I feel lighter because of it.
My first question: what is Budokon? The founder, Cameron Shayne, describes it as a “living art” that incorporates ancient and modern yogic and martial arts. This class was fantastic. Nathan Mills is a teacher whose patience and non-judgmental demeanor made me feel welcomed. Also, watching his amazing ability to control even the minute movements of his body made him an inspiration. As I watched him demonstrate a sequence, a movement, or shape, I thought “Damn! I want to do that!” simultaneously with “Sh%T! I could never do that!” Budokon movements are fluid and soft, a continuous exploration of bodily strength, alignment, and balance. I especially loved that I was doing yoga and at the same time using my body in new ways through martial arts. The spinal rolls felt good in my back, caused me to note my strength and forced me to check in with my weaknesses. The animal shapes he had us do for conditioning, made me laugh and feel like a child exploring nature; and the kicks and punches just made me feel strong–even when I had no idea what I was doing.