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, August 18

Amara Yoga & Arts | Urbana, IL

Today I went to a class with one of my favorite, favorite people in the whole wide world! And to make it new for both of us—this was her first studio class—we checked out a different studio than my home studio in Urbana, IL. 
LOCATION: Easy for us, because we're from here, but also easy if you're not. Amara Yoga & Arts is located in Lincoln Square Mall (one of the first enclosed malls in the nation, ooooo), just opposite the main entrance of the mall is Common Ground Food Co-op—and on Saturday mornings, the same corner of the Farmer's Market (I know, the perfect morning... a little yoga, a little shopping at the farmer's market. Bliss!) Parking is free.  
STUDIO: Although it's inside the mall, the entrance is from the outside, so there is less fear of leaving stuff around and people being able to casually walk by and grab it (see last review's worries). The space  is pretty big, with a wall full of windows, so lots of natural, wonderful light flooding in. When you walk in, there are all the props you can use for class (no rental fee), to the left is the classroom, to the right is check-in. Check-in offers a nice community space to sip tea and catch up with others before class or browse the plethora of merch available. Between the practice space and check-in (on the back wall) is a hallway with 2-3 changing rooms. I never did find the bathroom, sorry. 
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Yoga Fundamentals: This class is designed to introduce new and continuing students to the fundamentals of yoga and prepare students for mixed level group classes. The class will provide instruction in the basic understanding of breathing (pranayama), sun salutations and poses (asanas), alignment, standing and seated postures, with a different emphasis each session. The teacher will assist students with alignment and suggest variations allowing each student to practice at a suitable level. 
INSTRUCTOR: Linda Lehovec has been practicing yoga since 2000. A dance and choreographer, Linda has been teaching yoga since 2005 at the University of Illinois where she is currently on faculty in the Department of Dance. In 2011, Linda completely her 200-hour Hatha Yoga teacher training and received her certification through the Kriya Temple of Yoga in Chicago. She is a registered yoga teacher in Yoga Alliance (RYT-200). Through her teaching Linda works to cultivate and deepen each students' self-awareness as well as their understanding of the body in general, and more specifically their understanding of the body in the yoga asanas. She brings her knowledge of the body, and the body in movement, into the yoga studio, using basic anatomy as a guide to developing a safe and purposeful yoga practice. Focus on her yoga class is on developing an understanding of useful alignment, cultivating an inward sense of awareness, and deepening the awareness of the subtle musculature in each pose. Linda teaches yoga anatomy workshops, and group and private yoga classes at Amara. 

*Written by Bridget, Anni's comments in italic*

This class was a present to myself. I've been meaning to get to a yoga class, really meaning to, but somehow I keep not getting to one. My yoga experience is limited to DVDs (including the crazy-eyed prenatal instructor one) and a few classes at my gym here and there over the years. I found yoga very centering while pregnant with my now three-year old daughter and relied heavily on yoga breathing (pranayama!) to achieve my natural birthing experience. Even with this positive connection though, it was something negative that finally pushed me to just go. It was the combination of health woes, overwhelming stress, and not being able to run (my fitness staple) that made me stop and say, "I need something more!" I walked into this class two days before having surgery for two suspicious, possibly cancerous (not cancerous, whew! whew is right!!) lumps removed. I almost skipped out, but my dear friend Anni reminded me that sometimes when we least think we have the energy to do something, that's when we actually need it most. She was right. (I should take my own advice, lol.) 

I was vaguely familiar with Amara and found the space very welcoming with charming, handmade flags greeting us outdoors (Amara is also considered an art studio and they regularly hold Kids Arts + Crafts Programs—which is where the flags came from) and a bright, sunny space within. The props were easy to find and based on the shoes already by the door, I gathered that I was to leave my shoes there also. The staff was helpful and I was glad to see a familiar face in the instructor who I know professionally (B and I work at a performing arts center—our instructor also teaches dance. It was great to see Linda from the perspective of a student!). The space in the studio felt a little tight to me, but a full class is usually a good sign, right? (That's usual for a Saturday morning class—and actually, although the room was full, that wasn't tight at all—their practice space is quite spacious. But, as I've said in other reviews, I usually avoid Saturday morning classes, because I like a quainter class size). I thought the instructor provided a lot of interesting information and was able to adjust in a very constructive manner, which made me feel at ease and more able to stay in the moment. It definitely seemed focused on a beginner level that made the practice a bit more practical than spiritual, but still challenging at moments. (I'm gonna guess this was actually the style of teaching—it's true that they don't usually hit you with the chanting in your beginner classes, but I didn't really feel this was a basic beginner class. What made it beginner-friendly was that Linda was incredible at instructing the students into the pose and offering up variations for different skill levels.) And Linda's trick for staying in chaturanga using the strap was amazing! (True dat! Linda had us loop the strap and place it just below the elbows. This provides you with a structure to lean on that distributes the weight in chaturanga dandasana—giving you the opportunity to stay longer to manipulate the body into the pose correctly. It was incredible! It was the first time I could actually imagine my body being able to hold chaturanga with no feet or what really is the floating in between the poses. Imagining your body doing any pose, to me, is really half the battle). 

For me, I think the most important thing about this class was just getting over the hump of going, realizing that I don't need to be perfect to embark on a yoga journey, and recognizing that anything shared with a friend tends to be easier. 

Seriously, a morning of yoga with my lovely friend is so inspiring. If you're new to yoga—grab a buddy and stumble through it together. I went to my first yoga class to support my friend Katie, only to find out it was my calling. You never know what you'll discover! 

Thank you, Bridget, for not only going to a class with me, but sharing your experience with all of us. What you learned is why I like going to different studios. That little bit of awkwardness is a humble reminder that we aren't meant to be perfect. It allows me to be more forgiving to myself—and therefore others. For me, yoga has nothing to do with the physical practice—but it's the physical practice that opens me up to my own personal freedom. Very Karate Kid, wax on, wax off. :) 

They do a lot of kids art workshops, love these mandala flags!
Gotta Love the Welcome Mat
View of the Entrance from the Check-In Desk
View of the Tea Station from the Check-In Desk 
Group Practice Space
Hallway in the Back w/ Dressing Rooms & a Safe Place to Hang Personal Items