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?

Wednesday, June 13

Yoga Circle | Chicago, IL

I'd like to start this entry with a disclaimer to all yoga teachers, which I should start wearing on my forehead: When you impart your wisdom on me it most likely won't sink in until about two days to two weeks later. I apologize for blank stares, not fully appreciating your teachings in the moment, and not saying anything that would imply I'm intelligent. I promise your efforts are not wasted, and when the light bulb goes off it's a wonderful moment... for me. lol. 

LOCATION: The past 24 hours was spent with my older sister living large in her exec hotel room at the Palomar Hotel (which, by the way, supplied their guests with a yoga mat, nice!)—I'm a lucky lady. That being said, I found the closest yoga studio, as usual. This was a 15 minute walk from the hotel, and very easy to find. Although the signage isn't obvious, if you know you're suppose to be in 401 W. Ontario, you'll figure it out. There wasn't free parking, but plenty of paid street parking in front of or near to the studio. 
STUDIO:  I'm impressed, when I walked up to a typical city building you'd find near the magnificent mile I assumed corporate-y aesthetics to appease all the different businesses inside. But this was more like the cool, brick loft you've always wanted to own. Entering the building it was a bit confusing. As I walked up a half story to find the elevator I wondered where the stairs were—but they weren't obvious to me. Once on level two I was glad I knew it was room 210, so I could navigate the space like a hotel. Although, when you get to the door, you know you're at the right place. The door was locked, so I assumed the instructor wasn't there yet and took a couple pictures. Luckily the instructor came out and found me standing there—she started setting me up with forms, payment, and explaining the space. The bathrooms are actually down the hall outside of the studio—so I would recommend using them before you go to the studio... which is always locked. After I set up inside I heard the doorbell and realized there was no need to be standing outside the door from the get go. Inside is a small check-in desk with a hallway down to two rooms for practice. Off the hallway is also a changing room. The inside was warm, eclectic in the little discoveries of decor, and set up for Iyengar-style with lots of props, including wall props. Did not see that coming—but I'm excited to explore. And, for the record, when I left the studio, I followed one of the students who went for the stairs—ahhh, if you enter the building and immediately turn left, you'll eventually get to the stairs. I turned right towards the half-story stairs in front of me (which takes you to the elevator). 
CLASS DESCRIPTION:  Level 1-2: (Level 1) On-going classes for beginners. Emphasis on developing the fundamental postures. (Level 2) Introductory experience a pre-requisite. Basic postures are refined and intermediate poses are introduced.
INSTRUCTOR: Brooks: Brooks reveres yoga, and sees it as an art and science of celestial proportions that also connects deeply into one's earthly nature. Her classes present an opportunity to explore physical and psychological space. And you are likely to hear a poem. Learning yoga started in childhood when her grandmother saw it as a way to cool the grandkids down before bedtime, and the fires of inquisitiveness that started as seemingly small flames grew into an inferno of epic proportions in her life story—Brooks now teaches yoga full-time! She feels blessed to have learned from many gifted and inspired teachers. A workshop with Yoga Circle director, Gabriel Healpern, had a strong influence, and Brooks came to the Yoga Circle in 2002 where she continues to assist in Gabriel's gentle class weekly, in addition to teaching her regular classes. She is in awe of the voluminous knowledge, and practical wisdom available in the approach to yoga that BKS Iyengar's technique presents. She continues to train with certified Iyengar yoga teachers at Yoga Circle in classes and workshops, and blogs regularly about her personal experience and studies of yoga at brookshall.blogspot.com
CONTACT: Yoga Circle

I'm going to start off with the images, because I just adored this space—plus I want you to see what I mean by Iyengar-style room: 

Oh, THAT doorbell, I'm just now seeing it in this picture for the first time, oops

This was the second practice space, we used the bigger room

This is what I mean by Iyengar-style—a pleasant surprise

Cool loft meets yoga studio with lots o' props

I had to include this little detail—put a bird on it! 

I have to admit, I was intimidated... my quickest advice for that moment when you walk into a studio and feel like you're in over your head: Copy what everyone else is doing. If they grab certain props, you do the same. If they set them up differently than you're use to, just do it the same as the others. Any time I haven't done this, I end up wishing I did. It's never set me up for failure, but I have to remind myself that I don't know all there is to know about yoga (duh!)—so it's worth breaking my habits and usually discovering more about my practice by falling in line. 

Brooks. Is. Awesome. She was welcoming from the get go, showed me the space, explained the bathroom location, and after warm-up realized I may have not done this style of yoga and asked if I was comfortable. I couldn't feel more comfortable, thank you so much, Brooks!! 

We started off in a seated position, did our three Oms, and then an invocation to Pantanjali (a call and response chant—luckily I was provided with a cheat sheet, since I didn't know the words). Before we went into standing positions we did some floor stretches, and I remembered the class I took in Hawaii. It was Iyengar-style too (gasp, I lied to you! sorta), but without as many props—if I remember correctly—definitely not the wall props. I digress. I remembered the use of the wall to feel your shoulder blades and alignment while sitting in Dandasana (Staff Pose) and, again, how tight my shoulders really are. Although, I think there's been progress in my right shoulder, h'zah! 

For standing poses we used a chair a lot and a new prop for me, the quarter round block. This was fantastic for arch support—and this is where my disclaimer comes in. When I walked into the studio, Brooks saw my form and I didn't check off any ailments, but asked again anyway (smart teacher, bad student). So I mentioned that my ankle has been swollen for a week or so (I blame the heels I picked out for my little sister's wedding), but that it never hurts, just a little stiff. The whole class revolved around feet! It wasn't til I was driving home that I realized it. So, I apologize Brooks, for saying "Oh yes, feet up the wall felt fabulous for my ankle" when in reality... the whole class did! What is sanskrit for that pose where you put your foot in your mouth? Vacant'asana? ANYWAY! The quarter round block... We stretched our toes out on it, we used it under our arches in standing poses—it was great for the simple awareness of how your foot should be activated. 

Another lovely standing pose moment was when Brooks stopped to bring our attention to the length needed in the forward leg when doing Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle). Before every pose, Brooks would lead by example, and she was really great at showing the subtle shifts in the body to get into the pose correctly—this example specifically. Going into the pose again I was able to open up even more and go further into the pose, it was excellent. 

Once we were laying down on the mat we did some leg stretches, but were instructed to put the strap over different parts of the foot—first, just beneath the toes. Oh! This reminds me—Brooks referred to it as Barbie foot, and then went on (it was really funny, actually) about how there is a new yoga instructor Barbie coming out—and she has a chihuahua... what? Ok. Moving on, Barbie foot, when you stretch the leg with the strap in this position it stretches the front of the leg more... second location was right near the heel, which stretched out the back of the leg more (note to self, I need this for my calves), and last was in the regular placement near the center of the foot—which equally activates both sides of the leg.Very cool. 

The only downfall of the class was I didn't get to use any of the props attached to the wall—but with all the focus on our feet, I definitely can't complain, because it's exactly what I needed. 

We did so much more, but I've lost track... I mean, let's be honest, I am all over the place in this post, lol (and sorry). I'll end with the same poem Brooks read to us at the end of our sivasana. 

Thank you Brooks! 
Yogis, I highly recommend this studio and Brooks' classes.

Wild Geese
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
~ Mary Oliver ~

Thursday, June 7

Living Yoga Center Update!

Living Yoga Center (hey! they have a newly designed site, nice!), the studio I practice at when I'm not on the road has switched owners. Deb, the founder of the center has handed off the baton (gong? yoga mat? bolster? no, she's a runner also, baton works) onto to Steve (one of the instructors at LYC) & Sharon—loving yogis that will take good care of this space and all of us.

They've made some exciting updates in the aesthetics, which I've photographed below. I'm excited to meet new teachers and try new classes (while still enjoying my regularly scheduled program). If you'd like to read a review of my first time going to LYC, you can locate that here.

Love to everyone at LYC—excited to witness this new part of the journey!

Monday, June 4

Dahn Yoga | Schaumburg, IL

This may be obvious to you, but this was my recent eye-opener during my last class. I love checking out new yoga studios, because it's like traveling. You have no idea what you're getting into, you get to see/do something new, experience something you've done before (like eating, or um, yoga) but in a whole new atmosphere with someone else's influences. It's awkward, but exciting. And when you're done, you're a new person. You've connected with strangers. You're re-energized. And at the same time, you love the comfort of your home that maybe you take for granted until you've been away from it.

LOCATION: What's that? Waze is free on my iPhone? GPS, welcome back, I missed you. And since my last experience, you've gotten your social on and with way cuter icons. Bravo! Getting to this strip-mall setting was easy, thanks to said GPS. Plus they had a huge sign that said YOGA over the door. 
STUDIO:  Simple check in area with a place for shoes, lots of reading materials and local pamphlets. I filled out the waiver form, and one of the ladies showed me to the practice space—asking that I bow to honor the room before walking in. The room itself was also basic, artwork on the walls but no yoga props. There was a basket of socks—was I suppose to put those on? I even left my yoga mat in the back of the room because I apparently didn't need it. The floor was padded, so it was comfy to walk on. 
CLASS DESCRIPTION:  Develop strength, flexibility, proper breathing, and energy sensitivity with our daily yoga classes.
Our classes vary throughout the week for a more dynamic practice experience. Each class will help you shift your focus from outside to within yourself. Through our signature breathing postures, you will gather energy in your core, leaving you feeling strong, calm, and fresh.
INSTRUCTOR: I have no idea. How embarrassing! I go to the class, I'm so thrown off by being completely out of my element. No one introduces me to anyone, we hug goodbye but never exchange names. I realized this driving back to the hotel, and thought, "No worries, I'll look it up on their website." Nothing on their site. Crap. 
CONTACT: Dahn Yoga

My first time running into Dahn Yoga was looking for places to check out in Hawaii (a class I never made it to). This chain of studios describes themselves to be Yoga meeting Taiji (which I took for a few years prior to yoga), but the website has everyone in traditional karate uniform (karategi). What? There's no details on what to wear, props needed, or even a break down of different classes. But they use the word yoga enough, that when I ran into this experience again in Schaumburg, I had to check it out. 

From the second I walked in I knew I had no idea what I was getting into. Everyone was wearing white t-shirts and black pants (not karate garb!). Me, I was wearing an orange tank top and gray yoga pants. My nails were all frenched up for my sister's wedding the next day... I stuck out like a sore thumb. All three ladies even looked at me like I obviously walked into the wrong studio. I enjoyed confusing them, to be honest. I signed my waiver form and she walked me to the studio door. As mentioned before—there were socks (possibly offered, I'm not sure) and my yoga mat was left untouched. I was so uncomfortable, thank goodness I was in a room of strangers. They had already started doing the tapping. 

This actually reminded me a lot of my taiji classes, you stand with legs hip-distance apart. And imagine you're rhythmically pounding your chest like an ape—but instead you do this just below your belly button [3:00 in the video placed below]. We had to hit our belly 400 times, each taking turns counting.

Next we had to walk in a circle around the room, paying attention to the placement of our foot (specifically the ball of our foot). We reversed this and then took it into a jog. I was happy to not be wearing socks at this point, because the other ladies were sliding all over the room. 

From there we did some meridian stretching—nothing was really discussed on form. In fact, at one point I wasn't sure if it was a good pose form my irritable sacrum. But they were basic bends left to right, forward and backward to open up the spine and joints. 

I think next we did the whole body tapping, which is you just slapping your entire body, which wakes up the circulation. We also included rubbing our hands together quickly, to generate heat. Then you place your hands on areas for healing—we did this in taiji too. 

What stood out the most was the energy meditation and brain wave vibration. We all were sitting down on the floor, which ever way comfortable for each person. Our teacher took us through an energy meditation. Closing the eyes you imagined a ball of energy, placing your hands around it. As she walked us through it we adjusted the size of the energy. Personally, I really connect with meditation like this. Maybe it's the years of having a father acupuncturist influencing me plus previous taiji classes, but I'm fully aware of the energy running through our body and how it can be used to to heal. I'm not sure if I can do that all with my brain (yet), but I've seen it work miracles through needles. 

Then things took a twist on me and we went into brain wave vibration—suddenly Kodo-like drum music was playing loudly and we were asked to shake our bodies to it. Shake our hands out. Shake your head back and forth (like you're saying no). Move to it in your own rhythm. I kept my eyes shut and just went for it. Losing my rhythm here and there was definitely connected to losing my focus inward. I felt silly, but just kept reminding myself to not care. Let go to fully experience this class. The instructor prompted us further to release all the anger from our past through our voice. Sorta like an om, maybe? For me it was, at least in sound. Then the guy behind me let it out—I mean, that had to be a lot of anger from the past. I loved it! It allowed the rest of the room to let go more. I wasn't going to scream like him, but my little om definitely got louder. We just repeated this for a while and then faded out with the drum music. It was wild. Did I mention how uncomfortable I was? Which I welcome, because that means I was challenging my brain to do something it didn't think it could do. I usually like to do this in the form of a twisted up yoga pose that I can't quite get into (yet), but this new experience definitely jolted my perception for a good chunk of the day—heck, it still is, who am I kidding? 

We ended with some breathing exercises that moved us into sivasana. And it was done. Crazy. 

If you're looking for traditional yoga—I wouldn't recommend this. Though it offered the same intentions behind yoga, I wouldn't want it to replace one of my weekly classes. If that makes sense. And though it also offered up some familiar warm-ups in taiji, it didn't teach any traditional taiji moves either. It didn't disappoint me, it helped me some with meditation, but mostly I think it's strength was in rocking me out of my comfort zone... literally! I think Dahn yoga just suffers from not being able to define itself to strangers, and I would lose the karate outfit images—that still confuses me. 

Maybe this video can offer up a better explanation for you—maybe.