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?

Saturday, June 25

Ynomrah Studios | Madrid, IA

LOCATION: Beautiful, beautiful, green Iowa. I couldn't find a weekend class in Ames, but did find one in Madrid (pronounced mædrɪd... think someone from Boston saying Madrid, with the accent on meh...). It was a half hour drive of nothing but gorgeous farmland until I came upon this town of 2500-ish. Free street parking. 
COST: Drop-in fee was $8 (they have a nice little yogi shop in there, so I imagine they take cards... I paid in cash, so I'm not sure).
STUDIO: The front entrance (or the side the address puts you at) is not the entrance, but there is easy signage taking you around the corner to the door you enter through. It's an old building—think exposed brick, high ceilings, old hardwood floors... I love old buildings. They updated it nicely with paint, hanging lights, and curtains. The actual yoga space is a nice size... could easily fit a class of 20, but we had four today. 
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Yoga 1 For all levels A REQUIREMENT FOR BEGINNERS. This vinyasa style class is a perfect place to discover your strength, flexibility, alignment and form. Learn basic breathing techniques & hatha postures that will help you de-stress and build core strength.
INSTRUCTOR: Lisa I couldn't find a bio for her... sorry.
CONTACT: Ynomrah Studios 

I. Am. Mortified. Back story? Ok... we had a rehearsal wedding/dinner to attend last night, and they were kind enough to make me a special vegetarian meal (I don't eat meat or dairy). When they brought me a plate of cheese stuffed raviolis covered in cheese & mushrooms... I thought, uh oh. But I'm not completely strict with my dairy and know that when we travel I may not be able to have food my way. So, I politely ate half my meal. It was really good. Then when dessert was cheese cake,  I figured I'd done the damage already, why not? This... this is why not. 

I should give you the heads up, people who are trying yoga for the first time, it is VERY common for you to show up 15 minutes before a class starts and no one to be there... the yoga studio locked, no one in sight. Sit tight, my friends, two or three students will show up and then the instructor. It's so easy to set up the yoga studio for class (turn on lights, lay out mat, done!) that it's normal for class to start two minutes after the doors are unlocked (unless you are going to hot yoga/bikram... they usually recommend you show up a half hour early to adjust to the temperature). 

When I entered the studio Lisa asked me if I had any yoga experience. Yep. And then we went into the room to get ready... waiting a few minutes in case anyone else showed up, the ladies chatted about a new place in Madrid (I forgot the name, sorry), where the food is supplied by The Radish out of Grimes. They all love the food there, so we may have to go this weekend. If not, when we return.

Then Lisa had us get started. She moved things along a little bit faster than I'm use to, more flow-like (which she confirmed, she does like flow). So it was good to work up the sweat a little quicker... until the sweat was the result of a cheese demon waking in my stomach. With every crunch and twist I slowly started realizing I wasn't going to be able to casually get through this class with out possibly getting sick... what do I do? Do I leave all together? I can't, I haven't paid yet... ok, I'm just going to go to the bathroom mid-class, that isn't unusual... so I started to walk towards the door when Lisa looked up, and I asked "Where is the bathroom?" She pointed back to the inside of the classroom to the small room that I thought was a dressing room... nope, bathroom. I now get to go to the bathroom with an entire yoga class listening on. Seriously?! And now that I've asked where the bathroom is... I can't continue out the front door seeing if there was a bank near by or anything. Ok... just go in there and splash some cold water on your face. Pull it together, Poppen, this is ridiculous. To avoid embarrassing details and ruining your possibly less disgusting view of me... I exercised the cheese demon. I had no choice. I hate myself. Maybe I can just stay in this room until everyone leaves. Maybe there's an escape route, a trap door, a candle stick that I move and the wall rotates me to safety. Nope. Nothing. 

Head down, I went back to the class, joined back in... fearful of everyone knowing my dirty, little secret. I tried to just get back into my practice, because Lisa was really leading a wonderful class. Working our core by holding boat pose longer than I have before, flowing in and out of forward folds. It really was a great starter class for anyone interested in getting to know yoga. Meanwhile, my brain is analyzing every horrible reaction... is that lady coughing because she has a dry throat? or is she gagging? everyone is staring at me, I know it! why is my yoga mat the only mat making farting noises when I go into downward dog. sigh. Where is the silver-lining in this story? If I tell you this story, you have no excuse to not check out a class... because you will never be as horrible as that one time (today) a new girl (me) came into our little class and changed our view of people from Illinois forever (sorry Illinois). 

After class I apologized to Lisa for interrupting the class, probably over-explaining myself as one does when they're embarrassed or self-conscious. If Lisa finds my little card and discovers this review... I'm so sorry your review was shadowed by my cheese demon. I really do recommend everyone else enjoy one of her classes... I, however, may never step foot in Madrid again. 

Sunday, June 12

Just Breathe | Joliet, IL

LOCATION: Google maps will tell you there are two locations, but the Division St address is the way to go (aka their only location). It looks like one of those strips of businesses your dentist and realtor both reside in, not very yoga-esque on the outside. I arrived early and was further confused by the sign for The Center (which also offers up yoga classes), and because I had them on the list of places to visit I thought maybe I wrote down the wrong address. But the next door over has the Just Breathe sign (they must be connected somehow)... I was still the only one there though. I questioned the two locations at the time—had I gone to the wrong one? I called one of the instructor's numbers on their website (the wrong instructor, oops) and left a message (she did end up calling back while I was in class, and was very kind... thank you, Galey!). Luckily other cars started showing up, and then the teacher... whew! Parking was free.
COST: Drop-in fee was $15 (no credit cards)
STUDIO: You enter right into the practice space with just a simple desk up front for check-in. The space is light and airy, it reminded me of a beach bungalow actually, feeling spa or vacation-like. I'm becoming a fan of spaces having ceiling fans... just saying, I'm a sweater. And by sweater, I mean I sweat a lot... I'm not a warm and fuzzy piece of clothing. Anyway! The studio had yoga props to offer, but no mats, I believe everyone brought their own (I could be wrong on the mat topic though, maybe no one needed them and therefore they didn't take them out from a different closet).
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Level 1-2 These classes are a perfect blend for students with some yoga experience. Options will be given for both level 1 & 2. This class may include a blend of flow, strong standing asana & floor poses using mindful breath awareness to allow you to find your own place in the practice.
INSTRUCTOR: Jill began her yoga journey in 2000. After years of running, weight-lifting, aerobics and step-classes, attending her first yoga class changed her life. Immediately drawn to its transformational qualities of both mind and body, yoga soon became her passion. She began teaching in 2004. Jill continues to study at every opportunity with master teachers.
CONTACT: Just Breathe

After all the confusion of whether I was in the right place or not, things began to run much smoother. As I filled out the waiver form, Jill asked where I was from. That got everyone talking about Champaign... and the studio I go to (Living Yoga Center), which a couple people had been to and had nothing but wonderful things to say about them (I agree). It was a great way to warm-up to the experience, to say the least. There were six students total, and this was the first time I felt like I was surrounded by the stereotypical body type associated with yoga... being the curvier girl that I am, I probably noticed it more than anyone. I contemplated not mentioning this in my review, because it REALLY shouldn't matter, but there are many an article out there about the stereotypes of yoga and why people are intimidated to try a class. I understand why, I was a bit intimidated. Then one of my biggest reasons I love yoga happened, I entered that space on my yoga mat that allows me to be completely selfish and just focus on my practice. It's guilt-free fabulousness I wouldn't trade for anything in the world! Sure, I notice others around me, but it's truly just to witness the many beautiful forms of yoga from inside my zen bubble. I really do value where I'm at in my practice, because it's leaps and bounds from where I was two years ago. Plus, another reason I love yoga... it's ever-evolving since you can ALWAYS take it to the next stage, so I can't get bored. And if you know me even a little bit, you may notice I keep things moving because my brain gets excited by new stuff (read: may not finish a lot of projects because I've moved on to the next brainchild). I digress. I was in my bubble. All was good.

I found this class to be a wonderful challenge. Jill did a lot of the yoga with us, but regularly took the time to walk around and adjust us. She was able to take poses to more advanced stages because of the people in her class (I was not one of them), so I got to see some awesome work while attempting the stage I was at and not feeling too shabby about it either. It was refreshing to also see these same woman who went into some deep poses, grab props to aide them in other poses. We really all do have strengths and weaknesses through out yoga, so to judge ourselves based on someone else's practice is an unfortunate waste of time and energy (that I'm also guilty of).

After sivasana we came back to our sitting position, and Jill asked us to massage just below the third eye (which is the area between your eyebrows). I hadn't done this before. Once massaged, we tapped the third eye three times, then ran our finger down the front of our face (as opposed to the back of our face?) to our heart chakra. She said something along the lines of understanding the brain as nervous system central, but that we connect and act from our hearts. I liked the physical movement of literally drawing the line between the two.

After class I chatted with Jill quite a bit. Since I had dropped off some Yoga Journal Conference posters to her, she told me about her wonderful experiences attending the conferences in the past and was kind enough to go over the instructors featured at this event, with special focus on Aadil Palkhivala. I hope to attend one of his classes on Saturday or Sunday, but she mentioned his all-day intensive class on Monday. I planned to go home on Sunday night... but maybe I need to stay an extra day. I'll keep you posted.

All in all, a great class with fantastic instruction. If you're a beginner, I wouldn't recommend this specific class (which they say it's for people with more experience, so it shouldn't be shocking). I can say, though, if you start with them in one of their beginner classes, they will get you started on an incredible path! Thank you Jill & Just Breathe!

Saturday, June 11

Essence of Life | Shorewood, IL

LOCATION: Well, if you put Rt 30 into your Tom Tom it doesn't know what you're talking about, but if you put the local name of Lincoln Highway it plops you in another area that is W. Jefferson St, but there's no such thing as number 1142. Thank you iPhone for saving the day and pointing me in the right direction... and thank myself for actually leaving early to find a studio. (Parking was free.)
COST: Drop-in fee was $15 (credit cards accepted)
STUDIO: The space is really beautiful with front desk for check in, a narrow way to the yoga space filled with great merch, a side room for a more western version of working out.
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Every body is unique, and our classes are designed so that everybody will benefit, yet participants are free to follow along at their own pace. Each of us are at different levels of strength and flexibility, thus, we do not expect everybody to be able to perform every technique.
INSTRUCTOR: Ed—I couldn't find a bio for him.
CONTACT: Essence of Life

I've always wondered and worried what I would do when I had a bad class. I just don't want to put any evil mojo out there... fearful that I was just having a rough day or taking a class that wasn't for me. I normally just comforted myself with, "It's yoga, how can you have a bad experience?!" Oh contraire mon frere! My drive home from this class was stressful, I just didn't know how to approach this review... searching for something positive to say. I can't.

There were 6-7 students in the room, one woman was advanced in her poses, but 3-4 people were quite a bit less experienced (a couple there for their second time of yoga ever). One person had really tight hips. None of us were asked if we had any injuries or concerns. Warm up had us quickly going into twists and poses we weren't warmed up for, and then we only held them for seconds. Never was attention brought to our alignment, how to adjust the pelvis, where hips should be facing. We were asked to do balancing poses with the lights so low, it was like trying balancing poses with our eyes closed (which is a sure-fire way to fall over if you don't have great balance that day). I was seriously concerned for everyone in the room—including the teacher. The "instruction" was empty and lacked the thoroughness needed for the levels in the room. It was truly upsetting, and if I wasn't feeling so responsible for following through on this review, I would have left.

As I was leaving the class (at the scheduled time), more tense than when I arrived, I overheard the couple talking to the owner of the studio, saying how hard the class was... which is when I learned it was only their second class. Once we were outside I almost walked up to them to recommend other classes or give them my blog card, but that just felt too ballsy. So (under the advice of a good friend) I pose this question:
If you were new to a class I was taking with you—would you want me to share my knowledge with you? 
The friend I am staying with has a co-worker who goes here, but she only takes classes with the owner, Jodie, who I met and was quite lovely. I hope her class is different, but because she allows this other teacher to be teaching in her studio, I can't support her... I can't even bring myself to say I will go back and check out her class. I'm sorry.

Friday, June 10

Innerpeace Natural Healthcare | Joliet, IL

LOCATION: This was pretty easy to find... but I tell you what, it's been a rough weekend of searching in Joliet, for me and my Tom Tom. I wish yoga studios could put signs out on the street that say "LOOK HERE! LOOK HERE! YOGA! TURN!"—possibly in neon—blinking—and fireworks. Parking was free, and they did a great job explaining that you go to the back of the parking lot to find the location (once you know which building you're driving behind).
COST: Drop-in fee was $15 (credit cards accepted)
STUDIO: This location is set up for natural health care (chiropractors, acupuncturists, herbalists... very cool). And they only offer yoga on Thursday nights, so it's a little bit like walking into a doctor's office instead of a yoga studio. But they are very friendly at the front desk, and made me feel very comfortable to ask questions. The room (pictured above) is sweet, which maybe sounds insulting, but they're taking a healthcare setting and turning it into a yoga studio. I think they did a great job.
CLASS DESCRIPTION: We will practice Tantric Hatha/Vinyasa style of Yoga.

INSTRUCTOR: Bridgit has been practicing both Yoga and Pilates since 2004 with pilates teacher training under David Englund of Ultimate Fitness in Evanston, IL, and yoga teacher training under Daren Fiesen of Moksha Yoga Center in Chicago, IL. She loves serving others and is passionate about work-life balance and cultivating healthy lifestyle choices in herself and her students [be sure to read her full bio on the link, she has a lovely childhood story with her mother in Zimbabwe].

So, my first choice for yoga on my Joliet excursion was to check out Bikram Yoga Plainfield. The first night I got into town too late and missed the class... so the next morning I woke up nice and early to catch me some hot yoga. Well, we had a TON of rain all night and it was still going, so my adventure lead me to ten... 10!!!... road blocks of streets flooded over. I couldn't get to that building for nothing. So, I decided the world was telling me I should not attempt hot yoga this week, and really, I wasn't going to complain because hot yoga kicks my butt. I was a little disappointed because I wanted to compare the authentic Bikram class to the previous hot yoga class I tried in Indy. But! I'm not here to review Bikram Yoga, am I? No... no the world wanted me to take a class on Thursday night at Innerpeace. And I'm SO glad I listened.

There were four students in the room, each of us with different skills... I think two of the students were regulars and us other two were new. Brigit was very nice, we all talked about our yoga experience, including Brigit. She actually travels quite a bit from one location to the next all week long teaching 21 classes... some pilates, but mostly yoga. That's a lot of classes, and A LOT of driving. The other newbie in the room said Brigit came highly recommended... I was happy to hear that, since I didn't do any research of this place before I walked in.

Brigit was a breath of fresh air. We opened the class with one om, warmed up a little, and did a few modified sun A's and one full sun A (surya namaskar A):

When we went to focus on our standing poses, Brigit took us to the wall for warrior two (Virabhadrasana II) and extended side angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana). This was great! We used a block that we had to hold with our bent knee against the wall, then try to roll our opposite hip back to also touch the wall, and then shoulder blades going down and touching the wall. Both these poses I've been doing for a couple years now, but I will never look down on a chance to really break down a pose and learn it all over again. And I really did learn it all over again. 

We worked on our shoulders next for a little bit, took it to the mat to cool down with further stretches, and then on to sivasana. Brigit came around and adjusted all of us, ending it with a sweep of her hands... as if she was drawing out and releasing all the tension in our bodies. When we found ourselves back to our sitting position we did a technique where we would hum on our exhale, sounding like a hive of bees inside our head (Bharamari). I did this once before when I was on my retreat with Harmony Yoga, and it's fun... because everyone has different breath patterns, it quickly sounds like the bees are swarming. It is suppose to have 
a calming effect on the entire nervous system, especially it stimulates the parasympathetic nervouse system, which induces muscular relaxation and is very effective in stress management. So this pranayama is very effective for relaxation of body and mind. 
We ended class with one more om, and a personal namaste for each of us with Brigit. I really can't say enough great things about Brigit. If you're in the Chicago-land area, I would look up one of the many classes she teaches and check it out, you won't regret it!

Monday, June 6

extra extra, read all about it!

So, you know those ads on the side of your facebook page? I randomly will click on one that is perfectly targeted for me (good job marketeers!), but I've never actually followed through on anything. Sure I'd love to go on a Thai Yoga Retreat, but it's not free so... move on. But this certain day I clicked on the MINDBODY app for yoga ad. And there it was, the perfect app for Only Intention. It locates where I am, and tells me what classes are happening at that time in the area. What? This can't be true! Yes, Anni, yes, it is.

Then I think, "Well, we should be friends! Because this blog was made to use that app!" So I send an email to MINDBODY asking just that, and you know what, they responded. And now I have three friends at MINDBODY who are great folks hoping we can benefit one another.

If you're a yoga business owner, I'm guessing you know what MINDBODY is already. I've see them all over Yoga Journal. Here's what they say:
Simplify your business with online scheduling, staff and customer management, integrated marketing tools and eCommerce solutions that cut administrative overhead and improve customer retention. With MINDBODY's web-based software, you can manage and grow your business anywhere, anytime. To learn more, click our ad to the right.
OK, I added the part that says "click our ad to the right"—but you get the idea. Seriously! For the instant connection to people like me, I think this service is amazing. I can find out when classes are where ever I'm at, pay for them on my phone, and show up ready to yoga. No longer do you need the punch card style of classes, and I'm guessing the web presence they offer is great for all the studios out there that don't have their own personal designer. It's worth a quick look, just to get an idea.

Anyway, thanks MINDBODY, for calling me your business partner and sharing faith in our good intentions!