Sunday, December 04, 2005

Hatha I @ Integral Yoga

I went to their Hatha I class yesterday at the West 13th location.

The class at Integral Yoga was unlike any yoga class I’ve taken before. Now, I have to admit, I was already familiar with Integral Yoga. As I mentioned in my previous post, they’ve got an ashram just outside Charlottesville. I’d been to their grocery store on Preston Ave. in Downtown Charlottesville several times—they had great produce, but my only real encounter with any of the practitioners was at a Female Power workshop I went to at the town’s public library. Led by a member of the Divine Life Renewal Center, this workshop was basically just an hour long rambling by an almost incoherent albeit daintily beautiful woman. At several points she “channeled” Mary and Kuan Yi, but really it just sounded like the same stuff she’d been saying minutes earlier with a slightly different accent. Three of four of the other audience members were residents of Yogaville, IY’s Virginia center. They all wore white robes and seemed a little out of it. They talked a little afterward about the center and when I went home that night I did a quick google search to learn more. The first site that comes up is a diatribe against the cult-like practices of the group.

So I was a little skeptical, I’ll admit. I imagined a large indoctrination center right in the heart of the Village.

First off, the entrance to the yoga studio is through the bustling bookstore on West 13th St. (At first I mistakenly went into the grocery store; I sampled a shot of a wheat grass & soy drink before heading back out. Really sweet.) You go into the IY bookstore and pay for your yoga class at the front desk and they give you a colored card—yellow for one class; pink for another—with the room name on it. There’s a doorway opposite the front desk that leads upstairs to the institute’s studios.

The women’s locker room is on the second floor. It’s actually really nice. Carpeted. Warm. There are several boxes of tissues and some kind-hearted signs warning women who are menstruating not to perform vigorous asanas until their cycle has ended.

There are many lockers--so you don’t need to worry about finding one. But they’re abnormally narrow. (You should have seen me trying to shove my bulky backpack into the opening. I actually knocked into the elderly woman next to me. She was very gracious about it.)

Then you wait in the silent hallway until the class begins. Pictures of the guru line the walls.

The studio itself is unusual. Most classes I’ve attended have been in bright studios with gleaming wood floors. But the IY Main Studio has wall-to-wall beige carpeting. On one wall—ostensibly the front—is a large brilliantly colored version of the IY Mantra, pictured at left. The logos around the edges of the lotus leafs are symbols of all religious faiths. On the opposite wall are two life-size portraits of the Integral Yoga guru, Sri Swami Satchidananda. There are about five or six windows on the far wall, but they’re partially shuttered so that the only light is muted and soft.

No one speaks. We all just get out our thin, soft purple yoga mats and line up in two facing rows. (At first I spread out in the center, between the two columns, but was gently told to move by the instructor.)

We chant a round of OMs and some Sanskrit sayings I wasn’t really familiar with. Everybody else in the room seemed to know all the words, though. (I mumbled along, supplementing OM and Shanti whenever I couldn’t figure out what they were saying.)

The class itself was really easy and gentle. There was more of an emphasis on meditation and pranayana (breathing exercises) than the vigorous asanas I’m accustomed to. (Honestly, it was more like stretching than an actual workout and I even went to the NYSC a few blocks down 7th to get an extra hour of cardio before going home.) Usually I take vinyasa or ashtanga classes, so it was a real surprise to me. During the final part of the practice, the instructor shutters the windows and dims the lights. The sounds of the hissing radiator echoed in the silent room. I felt good—relaxed and comfortable. There was some more chanting at the end but I just kind of hummed along as best I could.

But for anyone just starting out in yoga, this class is a good option. They’ll slowly introduce you to the basic postures in a relaxing and supportive environment. You can take part in the spiritual aspect or not.

The only real indication I had of any of the cult-like atmosphere I anticipated was the loose fitting white garments that the teachers and many of the more advanced students wore. The other students wore sweatpants and T-shirts.

I’ll go back to take a Hatha II class, their intermediate level option.


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