Harmony Yoga Retreat | Yelapa, Mexico

This was my first time out of the country and my first yoga retreat, so it was an amazing adventure, to say the least.

Yoga Journal Conference Midwest

Dharma Mittra, Seane Corn, Aadil Pakhilivala, Maty Ezraty, Jim Bennitt... Need I say more?

Monday, May 23

Shakti Yoga Shop | Des Moines, IA

LOCATION: With my Tom Tom, this was a breeze. It's located in Shops at Roosevelt near Drake University on Rollins Ave (which is different than the address given on google maps). In looking for parking I found a free parking lot behind the studio, but I also found the last spot. Seems to be busy Saturday mornings, between yoga and the wonderful smell of the bakery a couple stores down... you can understand why. There is also free street parking equally packed. Two entrances to the studio, I chose the one off the parking lot, which was a good choice because the front entrance lands you right in the front of the class... which would have been awkward since I was running late (again) and the room was packed.
COST: Drop-in fee was $15
STUDIO: Beautiful! Walls were light yellow mostly, with an accent wall of moss green and some exposed brick. Ceilings were black with ceiling fans and HUGE paper lanterns hanging over the practice space. There were windows running along the front of the room, high enough to keep things private, but low enough to let a breeze circulate. The practice space was "sunken" with two areas up a couple steps. One being the back entrance where you check in, grab a mat (which I believe you rent), kick off your shoes & hang up your coat. The second section was where you pay for classes and/or buy merch. There was a bathroom and another little office area for the instructors. Great use of space.
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Levels 1 & 2—Move beyond the fundamentals in this moderately paced class and be introduced to more challenging poses.
INSTRUCTOR: Paula is an Anusara-Inspired Instructor and co-owner of Shakti Yoga Shop. She has been studying and practicing yoga since the late 1990’s. Paula teaches classes that are explorative, playful, and thought provoking. She takes pleasure in empowering students to connect to their inner strength, beauty, and divine nature. She loves learning from everyone around her, in particular her students. Paula is on the path toward Anusara certification.
CONTACT: Shakti Yoga Shop

You know, people in Des Moines are REALLY nice. Between Yoga in the Park last year and this class, people always say hello and introduce themselves. I really have to remember this when someone new walks into any of the classes I go to, it's just a wonderful way to start a practice. Paula, the instructor, was equally great. I walked in hurried, as usual, and realized the class was packed... with a look of "uh oh" on my face Paula quickly made a spot for me in the middle, back row to calm my worries. I'm always amazed with how easily you can squish a bunch of yogis together in a studio space and still have plenty of room for your practice. Paula handed me a sheet of paper saying, "We'll chant this after our three om's—you can just listen along if you like." Listen along? Oh no, sign me up!
Om Namah Shivaya Gurave
I offer my heart to the power of Grace

Saccidananda Murtaye
That lives in us as goodness

Nispraprancaaya Shantaya
That is never absent and radiates peace

Niralambya Tejase
And lights the way to transformation
It's official... I'm more of a traditional yoga girl instead of doing yoga only for sport, so to speak. I feel like I'm learning yoga the way it was intended to be learned when all parts of the practice are brought into the studio. And I know you can't do everything in an hour and half, but I appreciate any extras the instructor brings to class. I really do. Once we chanted, we got right to the point of things... stood up and started our sun salutations. There was no music playing, which was a new one for me. I don't know if it was an off day (there were speakers set up in the room), but I ended up not caring and just focusing on what Paula was trying to get us to do. And, I tell you what, she was trying to get us to do some crazy stuff. I think having such a mix in the class made it less intimidating though... there were all ages there, all body types, quite a few men—which was great to see, since that's rare, so far, in my practice. There were people who could hit every pose Paula threw out there... and there were people (like me) who attempted but it wasn't happening today, and there were people who just didn't bother at all. Love it!

The one, or two poses, or three poses really, that Paula had us do was going from Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana) with your top leg bent/foot planted in front of you for support. Then you grab that support foot as if doing a forward Extended Hand to Big Toe pose (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana), only your leg is in front of you instead of to the side. Which then you swing that leg around to the front of the mat where you land in the splits (Hanumanasana). Say what? Yep... and people could do it. I... was not one of those people, but I was excited to see it in action! I could barely lift my support foot off the ground. I tried it though, which was fantastic. Why? Because my brain would have never thought of my body doing such a thing before, and now I'm training it to think it can and will.

Here's a video with a similar series (she doesn't need to use the support foot).
I realized, after re-reading my description, if you don't know yoga... hell, if you know
yoga even a little bit... what I said may have not been clear:

We ended in shivasana, where Paula didn't say a word. Still no music. Just me and my thoughts. Yikes! I know, right? But no one has ever done this before, so I was grateful for the opportunity to work on my own concentration instead of depending on someone else to distract me. I need more work, quite a bit actually, but it's a start. And I love finding my starting points.

Honestly, if I ever move to the Des Moines area, which is a possibility with my boyfriend's family being there... I could see this being my new "home studio," so I look forward to the checking out more classes/instructors on future visits. I promise to check out other studios in the area too, for all of us, but I was really happy with my visit at Shakti Yoga Shop.

Thank you Paula & classmates!

Sunday, May 8

The Yoga Boutique | Chicago, IL

LOCATION: The Yoga Boutique is just off the lake on Irving Park Rd near Montrose Harbor. Navigating to it was fine with my Tom Tom, but parking in the city is never fun. I eventually found street parking, which was free, but I'm still not sure if it was a permit only location... and I just lucked out? Who knows.
COST: Drop-in fee was $15
STUDIO: This space was even smaller than the last location I visited. You enter a city building and the Yoga Boutique is on the first floor (easy signage to get you to the right spot). As you enter there's an area with cubbies (that locked), shoes & a coat rack, which opens to a space for a desk to check in. There was a telephone booth size curtained area for changing near the desk (which I used after class) or a bathroom on the other side of the studio space... I opted for that since I drove straight there from Champaign and needed to use the bathroom before practice anyway. Very clean, inviting, and simple. The practice space was small, but there were only five of us including the instructor, so it worked out fine. I believe they offer mats for free, which is unexpected these days (and very nice), but I had my own mat so I didn't test this option. The space is kept warm (cozy, not sauna) and dark, two candles were "burning" (they were battery operated) by the instructor's mat with her tibetan bells (used after savasana).
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Vinyasa Yoga—Vinyasa means breath - synchronized movement. This class is a flowing class using classical yoga poses intricately sequenced. It is focused on building internal heat in order to purify all layers of the body.
INSTRUCTOR: Danielle Robinson is a vinyasa yoga, Pilates, and cardio dance teacher who just recently moved to Chicago from Italy. She started practicing yoga while pursuing her degree in Psychology back in 2002. Soon after graduation and her jobs in the real world both in the States and abroad, she felt inspired by fellow yogis and her own quest for physical and mental challenges to pursue teaching as a career. She studied under yogis in Florida, Italy, and New York City and now she hopes to parlay her training and teaching style into a fun and rewarding career teaching in the great city of Chicago. She's excited to be in the city, to meet new people, and to have the opportunity to teach at Yoga Boutique.
CONTACT:The Yoga Boutique

I was feeling a bit rushed, which always seems ridiculous when going to yoga, but there you have it. Danielle was very welcoming when I entered. I ended up being early enough to fill out the waiver form and change, what a relief. The space was small, as I said above, but there were only four students total, so we actually had quite a bit of room... And mirrors. I have to start with the mirrors, because I find them so distracting. It's really hard for me to focus when there is a mirror in front of me reminding me of what I unfortunately view as flaws. Recently, I wondered if reintroducing mirrors into my practice would be a good idea, since I can't really tell what I'm doing. But nope... not focused enough, not confident enough, not ready enough. It's ok, I just closed my eyes when I found myself looking at the mirror instead of the instructor or focusing on the pose.

Whew, glad that part is over so I can actually tell you about this wonderful class. The music was drastically different than my last review, but still current. It was refreshing... for example, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes' Home was on the playlist. Someone requested we work on core... you love and hate that person when they do that, don't you? I mean, who really wants to work on their core, but when it's done you are so grateful you did. The little bit of sore I'm feeling this morning is very rewarding. Danielle focused on breathing more than usual, which I always appreciate. I'm just starting to understand the benefits of breathing in practice, and it's my best way to focus... counting my inhale and exhales while making a little bit of noise... Ujjayi breathing. Think of it as the noise you make when you're trying to fog up a mirror... that constriction on the back of the throat while slowly breathing is suppose to be energizing and relaxing. The magical combo.

Danielle followed through the traditional flow, adding poses in that work the core. I was sweating my butt off. No one else was though, so I'm not sure exactly what was going on... but I'm not suppose to care, am I? Close eyes. Ignore mirrors. I also have to add that, with the small class, Danielle was able to walk around and adjust us a lot. It's like a private lesson, I imagine, and I love to be spoiled with this. Anyway, the practice pose she was warming us up for was crow pose or Bakasana (looks like Yoga Journal calls it crane pose). This pose has come to be one of my bigger challenges to date, and it all comes down to trusting myself (or in my case, lack there of). I can get into the position, I have the strength to hold it for a little bit, but when asked to remove my toes from the mat to balance; my brain takes over and I'm convinced I'm going to fall. Today, Danielle introduced starting on blocks. I really like this, because it puts you closer into the hovering position, and I knew what it was suppose to feel like. I didn't lift my toes long enough to find the balance to hold it, but there was no fear. Wow! I can't tell you how great it felt to just overcome that fear... with blocks. I will definitely practice it this way til I build more strength to hold it longer and then remove the blocks. I'm excited!

After a challenging & sweaty session, it was time for savasana. Music switched to tibetan monks chanting, which somehow worked wonderfully with the indy pop music playing for the past hour. Danielle walked around to place eye pillows on our eyes (I love eye pillows, I even bought them for all the ladies in my life for Christmas one year, they're so soothing) and adjusted our shoulders. I don't remember her talking much through savasana, just giving us the time to cool down and relax. Three chimes of the tibetan bells and we slowly moved back to sitting.

I found Danielle's class to be a wonderful mix of challenging physical work with comforting traditional poses, and the class being smaller allowed for me to feel like I bonded with these women I didn't even really talk to. After class Danielle was very interested in what I thought about the class, what brought me to the area and the studio, and what I did in Champaign. From start to finish, this was a great way to spend my Saturday afternoon before a rugby game (the reason we were in Chicago to begin with). Thank you Yoga Boutique and especially Danielle!

Tuesday, May 3

The Yoga Center | Indianapolis, IN

LOCATION: There are two Yoga Centers in Indianapolis, and this one is in Broad Ripple (an awesome area of Indy). Easy to find, easy to park, and this was all during a bicycle race going on one block away. We parked up front, but the sign on the door asked that we enter through the back door... where we discovered a huge parking lot. Both parking locations were free, so that's nice.
COST: Drop-in fee was $17
STUDIO: Quite small, but well designed. You walk in to the front section which is for dropping off your things in cubbies and to check in. If I remember correctly, the color scheme was mostly black with a gray-blue accent. Very clean. Very warm (see next description).
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Hot Vinyasa—Rock your body! Vinyasa yoga unites breath with movement to build internal heat, increase strength, and improve flexibility. A vigorous and challenging yoga experience infused with core conditioning and rockin' tunes. Energizes the mind, body, and soul."
INSTRUCTOR: Tiffany—very kind and appreciative of us trying out the studio. There was no bio about her on the website or her facebook page, so I'm sorry I can't share her background with you.

For starters, I've never been to a hot yoga class (which according to the interweb is the same as Bikram yoga or just similar too, depending on what google search option you're reading), so I wasn't too sure what I signed myself up for. We (I had a cohort this time, as I was visiting my fantastic gal pal in Indy) walked into the studio, and it was like walking into a sauna. A little hard to breathe, I already had visions of myself passing out before we finished our first sun salutation. Uh oh.

The person checking us in was very nice... first-time visits they set you up with a yoga mat and a towel for free (awesome!). He introduced us to our instructor, Tiffany, right away. Tiffany asked our yoga experience levels and whether or not we'd done hot yoga. She mentioned, "If you get lost, there are a lot of beautiful examples around the room, so just be easy on yourselves and follow one of them." She set up our spots for us while we filled out the normal waiver forms.

Entering the studio, the room was packed. The mats weren't staggered, so I was a little concerned about how we did yoga without bumping into one another. The lights were completely off, the wall of windows were curtained shut, and most everyone was laying in savasana. When in Rome... once everyone was settled in Tiffany spoke with an inspiring tone about our inner flame and asked that we have no expectations from this practice (I'm serious... the first place I officially review for this blog and she starts off with the title). This unknown reference to my blog title put a smile on my face and confirmed I was doing the right thing.

Somehow we got to standing after a few warm up stretches, and she walked us through our first sun salutation. I kid you not, I was pouring sweat before we went through one cycle... soaked! And then she blared the music... What? This was so jolting, as I'm use to the calming chant music subtly playing in the background while the instructor walks us through the poses. Nope. Not here... music pounding, we just kept doing our salutations until the song was over. I must say, for the first song it was quite a rush. Yoga never felt so bad ass!

Then the second song we switched up our salutation to something a little more complicated, I lost my place here and there, but would just peek to my neighbor or go with the flow of what I felt like doing. By the third song my stomach was so sick, I attempted a child's pose—which upset me more—so I resorted to hero pose for a while. Every once in a while I would attempt a few parts of a salutation, but all this detoxing sent me back to savasana for the rest of the ride. I wasn't too disappointed in myself, as four other people had already left the class completely. And many others around me, who were way more advanced and obviously regulars, took their moments of child's pose too. Honestly, I was just proud I made it through to the very end.

At the end Tiffany walked us through poses on our backs, a few stretches (I never knew my shins could sweat that much), and then everyone went into savasana to "cool down". An hour and fifteen minutes later, prune-y from all the sweat, and soaked through completely we were done. H'zah!

What I didn't like about this class... there was no instruction, and that just sounds like a recipe for injury to me. If you're new to yoga, I would try one of their other introductory classes first, assuming they walk you through it more. I also don't want to ever look at my neighbor's mat. The beauty of yoga, for me, is it puts me in my own little bubble where I try not to compare myself to others because I should be focusing on what my body needs to be doing. If you take this class enough times I think you could get to that point, but as a drop-in, it was nearly impossible.

For this girl, I think hot yoga would be great to revisit when I want to detox. Tiffany told me the room is usually around 105° and at 70% humidity when everyone is in there working. You're going to sweat out some bad mojo by the end of that class, for sure. That being said, I wouldn't do this weekly, but I can understand the addiction people have for hot yoga just from knowing what I accomplished when I was done.