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, January 29

ARC | Champaign, IL

So! For Christmas I got a gym membership to ARC (Activities and Recreation Center at the University of Illinois) so my partner and I could encourage one another to get off the couch and back into shape. Since he is working on his PhD, he already has a membership there... Otherwise we would be going to a gym off campus, for sure. I'm not sure how after living in this college town for almost 18 years (holy cow, what?!?! When did that happen!?) I still get irritated with driving and parking on campus. But I do. ANYWAY! A couple of his colleagues are checking out the group fitness classes offered, so I thought I'd join them for one called BeamWork. Sounds all ballet and pretty and... well, like something I'd giggle falling off of a lot.

LOCATION: The ARC is 340,000 square feet—one of the country's largest on-campus recreation centers. Your standard gym schtuff plus indoor and outdoor pools, a climbing wall, massage, athletic training, cafeteria... it's like a mini-google or something. Parking is free after 5pm, but good luck finding a spot in that lot—and if you're anything like me, you'll curse at about 5 people who you want to Tuwanda the hell out of for being rude. I eventually found a street spot, but be sure to go early so you can park, walk, and still make it to your class on time. <shakes fist at campus>   
STUDIO: The space is like an industrial yoga room—exposed beams/ducts painted black with lights. There are cubbies for leaving your coat/shoes if you don't use the locker rooms, and a small room off of it for the beams, yoga mats, and gliders. This room also does nice at buffering the room on the other side... so you don't hear the music/instructor coming through the walls. Although our instructor was on a mic with loud music, so maybe a gentle yoga class would be different? You face a wall of mirrors, which I'm not a fan of, but I aligned myself up nicely behind the person in front of me so I didn't get distracted by it. Behind you is a wall of windows—I bet that would be pretty during the daytime.      
CLASS DESCRIPTION:  BeamWork is a challenging and complete mind-body workout on a 6-inch wide (padded) balance beam that is just 2-inches off the floor! Whether standing, sitting, kneeling, or lying on the beam, train the body in the way it is intended to move. BeamWork is a core-based workout that focuses on engaging and strengthening muscles, aligning the spine to improve posture, and balancing the entire body. $7 one-time pass (class cards are $50 for the semester for every class, sweet deal). They accept cash + credit cards. Treat this class like a hot yoga class—yoga clothes, no shoes or socks, wear your hair up off your neck to avoid sweat (if you normally would), bring water, and maybe even a towel. No need for your own yoga mat.
INSTRUCTOR: Carla is the regular instructor, but we had Katie as our sub tonight. There is absolutely no bios on the instructors—that's a little disconcerting. Are they certified instructors? Who knows.

So this review will actually be a conversation between me and my two partners in crime—Kelsey and Toyo. Before I launch into it, I would like to give a little more detail to the class. It's basically an aerobics/calisthenics on a padded balancing beam. It moves quickly, possibly too quick for warming up the body at the beginning, and has no sort of meditation/focus segment. Even the cool down was sudden and short-lived. The instructor is on a headset, and with out it you can't hear her over the music. It all felt very rehearsed. You're definitely in a group fitness class. Lots of people like this setting, but for your traditional yoga classes, this doesn't fit in. I would not recommend this as a beginning yoga class at all. I wouldn't even put it in the yoga category, but it's fun and worth trying. It will challenge your core, work your legs and arms, and give you plenty of balance work.

ANNI: Kelsey's second time—Toyo and mine's first time... That was a total sweat fest. 
KELSEY: <giggle> It was very sweaty. 
ANNI: And not as ballet-y as I was expecting.
K: It was a little more ballet-y last time. We didn't do those circle things, the sliders, last time. 
A: The sliders are evil. 
K: Those were evil. I really like the class though—it really shows how... unfit I am. Like, ugh, I can do three of something and then die. 
A: Yeah! Me too! Please, don't make me do push-ups.
TOYO: I can't balance on my left leg as well as my right.
K: Neither can I! 
A: It's common to be different on each side—my left side is better than my right. Except when we were doing those side leg lifts, I'm pretty sure I almost kicked you in the head 2-3 times. 
K: That's ok, I was flailing all around <giggles>
T: Me too!
K: But it really shows how much... you're... 
A: It makes you much more aware of your body. 
K: Very aware—I guess I've always known I lack upper body strength, which is kinda weird. 
A: I love push-ups for that... I like it for a starting point. So when I stick with it  and can finally do a full push-up... it will feel like quite the accomplishment. I can't do a full push-up. 
T: No... I can't either. 
K: I like this class, I'll go again. I got a pass. 
A: <to Toyo> Did you get a pass? 
T: Yeah, I did. 
A: Are you regretting it? <giggles> 
T: No I'm not regretting it—I like it. 
K: It's $50 for the semester, so you can make your money up fast. Last night we did... 
T: KickFit
K: Oh my gosh, that was so hard! 
A: Wait it's $50 for the semester for all classes?! 
K + T: Yeah, for all of them. 
K: You can go to any class you want, and there's a lot to choose from. Monday thru Thursday are a lot of classes. Friday, not as many. Saturday and Sunday, maybe one or two? So that sucks.
A: I guess that can be a gym focus day. 
K: Yeah... but they have early morning classes. Like 6:30am yoga! 
K: I know, it sounds really good... but some people really like that stuff! 
A: It's true—the times I've made the effort for early morning yoga. Best. Days. Ever. 
T: That's true, you like yoga, right? 
A: I do... it's why I'm reviewing this class, because I thought it would be more yoga-esque and less workout class. 
K: Last week was more yoga-like. 
A: It had definite yoga moves in it, but there was no... traditional instruction. And I felt like people could have easily hurt themselves at points...
K: Last week seemed like there was more instruction... well? I don't know, it was the first week and we were all like ahhhh.A: You were all just focusing to stay on the beam, right? Much less on alignment.
K: Yeah, alignment, that's really important. That's why I'm curious to do the yoga classes here. 
A: Maybe I'll get that pass and go with you. 
K: You can join us any time! 

<and then we go on about our work out schedules and timing of things for a bit> 

A: The parking is horrible. 
K: We were circling for awhile before I remembered the lot on Pennsylvania. Did you go there? 
A: I found a street spot on fourth... I think it was a spot. I'm testing the parking gods today. Earlier I parked at a failed meter. <giggles>

<back to schedules... Kelsey would work in the field over the summer for her grad work and then go to the gym after. She's crazy. And I go on about timing out the gym around students' schedules so you can avoided a packed gym. p.s. That's at 9am>

A: Thank you for inviting me a long. It was great incentive to try out a class! 
K: If you ever want to go, seriously, I'm trying a bunch of different classes. 
A: The yoga classes I'm definitely interested in. I guess the other classes too, I need something to push me a little more. Or I just go do the rowing machine, stretch, do the elliptical machine, and then go to the hot tub. <giggle> 
K: It's nice with the classes, because you can't just stand there <giggles>, and you can see yourself in the mirrors! I've been wanting to do the classes for years, but it's kind of intimidating to go by yourself.
A: I like going by myself, because I don't know those people so I don't care if I look stupid. <giggles> 
K: True, but it's nice to go with someone else too. 
A: You're right, I couldn't talk myself out of the class, because I knew you two were waiting for me in the lobby. It never even crossed my mind to skip! 

Then we decided to take pictures! After listening to the recording of our conversation, I realized that Kelsey and I are chatter boxes and should have given more space to Toyo to speak up. Sorry Toyo!!! 

Thank you so much, ladies, for a fun night at the gym. Maybe we'll do a review of the yoga class together too!  xo

Kelsey, Anni, and Toyo


Thursday, January 16

Anita Purves Nature Center | Urbana, IL

I'm baby-stepping back into my reviews with a local class. It's been a rough go at getting my yoga mojo back, but writing a review again feels good. So hopefully that will help motivate me! 

LOCATION: The Anita Purves Nature Center is in a woodsy part of Urbana, IL. Even after living here since '96, I still somehow manage to never get there the same way twice (and I took a bee keeping class there back when I wasn't vegan, for Pete's sake!). I think what throws me off is you see the Urbana Park District Pool and not the nature center set further back, but pull into the parking lot... it's back there (and not even that far back there, so maybe I'm just being an idiot, lol)! Parking is free.   
STUDIO: It's winter-time here in good ole C-U (Champaign-Urbana, IL), and I'm pointing that out because that means it's dark at 5:30pm. But when that sun starts sharing more time with us, what a view they'll have, as the front of the room is all windows looking over the forest preserve. The space itself is very basic, as this isn't a yoga studio. But what do you really need? There are mats, straps, and blocks to use (I would grab my personal eye pillow and blanket to roll up, next time, but that's me) and an incredible instructor to guide you through your evening.     
CLASS DESCRIPTION:  Rising Spirit Yoga is suited to all levels and is designed to deepen one's personal practice. Emphasis i on the importance of alignment, the breath, and the mind/body connection. Hatha aims to bring into balance opposing forces of energy, and Vinyasa flows that energy throughout the body, incorporating breath and synchronized movement. Each class is tailored to meet the needs of the student with modifications and variations offered to accommodate each practitioner. The first class is free, but it sounds like the flex passes are quite reasonable. That being said, they do have a registration deadline on the site, but I think they can work with you if you're getting in late. 
INSTRUCTOR: Jodi Adams has been practicing yoga since 1991, and believes in the restorative benefits of yoga. No matter one’s age or flexibility, she offers a practice to awaken strength, balance and a mind/body connection.

I was rushing all over my house this morning trying to get to Jodi's 10am gentle class today at Living Yoga Center. As I ease my way back into yoga, Jodi has been there with nonjudgmental, open arms to nurture me, but when I went to feed the cats before I ran out the door, I glanced at the clock... it was 9:50am. I had to admit I just couldn't make it across town in time. And, as many of you know, when you're trying to get back into the groove of things and finally find the energy to get you there... it's incredibly disappointing to still not make it. Defeated, I sat down to look at my email, and there was a message from Jodi saying, "I hope to see you tomorrow, either at LYC or APNC." Oh yeah! Jodi is teaching a yoga class at the nature center... I have another chance! 

As I mentioned before, what a fun location! If you go a little early you can check out some of what the center offers—I mostly force myself to look at the ginormous snake as a way to confront my fear of snakes. It never seems to do much good. Oh well, off I went to set up my mat and watched everyone trickle into the room. I'd say most of the class was new to yoga or have been off their mat for a while. So this is an excellent class for beginner's to not feel intimidated at all. Jodi started us with my favorite centering pose—we had the blocks at the lowest level, I believe. So it wasn't as deep of an opener (like image below) to start us off.
from Half Moon   
She walked us through some breathing and centering—getting the day's cobwebs out of the way so we could focus on our practice. We did some seated stretching to wake up the neck, back, trunk, and legs. Once standing, we did a few shoulder openers using our strap. You hold the strap out in front of you—straight across, hands further than shoulder width apart. You slowly raise your hands up and over your head, keeping the strap straight the whole time (and widening your hand placement if your shoulders need more space to rotate). The first time we did this is a slow motion, but the second time we lowered our arms behind us in 1" increments to hold the stretch a little bit longer. Felt good.

Next was a few sun salutations... I had to remind myself not only had it been a long time since I've practiced, but I was also really sick last week, so take it easy already! Oh how we compete with our ego <shakes fist at ego>. Then we did a couple of balance poses—the first, Jodi said she saw Seane Corn do, and since it's not an actual yoga pose I'm having a hard time finding an image. I'll piece this together though. Basically it's a forward fold—then you grab your big toe and lift your leg to be perpendicular to your body. Or... it's this pose below only you're bent over (with the free hand touching the ground or a block). 

from Yoga Pose Weekly  
I did not get my leg out that far, but in the process of trying to get there, we activated all these muscles in our core, butt, and hips. Pretty great. We also went into parsvottanasna (pyramid pose) to open up the hamstrings, although that usually gets my calves for me, since they're tighter than my hammies. 

But the big take away (for me) was this amazing movement that activated all the core, my back included. Usually when I do core work, I activate my stomach and not my back. Which is why my back hurts, because I'm not using it and therefore it's weak. This trick, for the first time, was one of those mind-body connections—when your brain goes, "Oooooooh, I get it." I love those moments! So you start in sphinx pose and peel your stomach through thighs slowly up off the mat—like you're going into a child's pose—but hold it before you go into child pose.

from Embrace Yoga

What got me to activate my back (and protect it) was Jodi's cue to round my back. Holy muscle shake, batman! She had us do this three times, so I'm curious to see how I'll feel tomorrow on that one... and I'm hoping my excitement over this carries in to actually doing this on a regular basis—finally that movement from up dog to down dog (or floating from downward dog into a forward fold) will make a little more sense! 

I have to admit—after being sick—it was great to be using my body again. Thank you, so much, Jodi—for a much needed Thursday accomplishment!