I have visited Soni Yoga twice for my midterm assignment. I often pass by the studio on my way to school from work. The second time Soni Yoga caught my eye, I went home and looked it up on the Internet. The first thing on the website (www.soniyoga.com) that stuck out to me was the fact that Soni offers Ayruvedic Health Counseling. I have never been to a yoga studio that offers nutrition advice based on Eastern philosophy. The Indian influence drew me towards the studio and their practice. The fact that the studio has a parking lot sealed the deal; I headed to Soni.
Soni Yoga is fairly new to Cambridge. It opened in 2007 at 290 Concord Avenue in Cambridge. The area in which Soni is located is a mostly middle upper-class neighborhood. A Montessori school can be found a few hundred feet from the studio. The smoothly tarred roads in the neighborhood are lined with freshly painted condos.
From the perspective of a business owner, the location is quite advantageous. The population of North Cambridge is well educated. More than half of those who live in the area have attained at least a college education (City of Cambridge). About sixty-two percent of North Cambridge residents are white in ethnicity (City of Cambridge). These two demographics ensure the likelihood of yoga’s popularity.
My own experience dovetails my theory behind Soni Yoga’s clientele population. The students were almost all Caucasian each of the two times I visited Soni Yoga. There was one Asian woman at the first class I attended. I did not see any African American, Hispanic, or any other ethnicities at the classes. The students appeared to be a little older than me, older than college-age- probably in their late twenties to early thirties. One woman at the second class I went to was probably in her early sixties. Only one man, and the same one, was present at the two classes.
Sarojini (Soni) Anderson, founder of Soni Yoga, was born in the Fiji Islands. Her ancestors are Indian, from the state of Bihar. Bihar is located in Northeastern India, neighboring Nepal. Yoga is a part of the culture in Bihar. In 1963, Paramhamsa Satyananda opened the Bihar School of Yoga (Bihar Yoga).
I asked Soni a few questions about where in India she is from. The conversation led to Soni telling me that her grandfather taught her yoga since she was a baby (personal communication, 2/26/2009). On Soni’s website, she states that her grandfather was a performer and taught her yoga in a playful and joyful way. I directly see this influence in her classes. She tells her students to smile during their practice, and not to take the poses too seriously.
At the beginning of the second class I attended, Soni told her students to, “get ready for some good fun!” (personal communication, 2/26/2009). I am so grateful for this attitude. Many yoga classes I have been to are filled with big egos and very serious teachers. It appears ironic to me that white-suburbia yoga classes are strict competitions, while traditional Indian-taught yoga in the city is fun and easygoing.
Soni Anderson is certified in Shivananda Hatha Yoga and in yoga therapy. She is also a certified Ayruvedic counselor (Soni Yoga). Ayruveda is a traditional Indian path to achieve optimal health through balanced eating, depending on the individual’s unique constitution (personal knowledge). Soni is also certified from American Council on Sports Medicine (Soni Yoga). This is an example of the push to integrate both the Eastern and the Western approaches to the body.
Soni Yoga offers ten different yoga classes. They include hatha, anusara-inspired, restorative, healing, pre and post natal, yoga & pilates, hatha for women, kripalu, kundalini, and yin & yang (Soni Yoga). I attended the same class twice, which is hatha yoga for all levels taught by Soni herself. It is taught in the morning, at 9:30am each Friday. I enjoy experiencing my yoga practice in the morning.
Various services besides yoga are offered at Soni. As already mentioned, Ayruvedic food counseling is one of these services. Massage and bodywork, life counseling, teacher training, and a yearly trip to India are also available (Soni Yoga). Prepared Ayruvedic foods and skin products, mala prayer beads, yoga mats, neti pots, and tongue scrapers are sold at Soni as well (Soni Yoga). I really enjoy the feature of prepared Ayruvedic foods. I have yet to buy any, but I did read on Yelp.com that they are delicious and very easy to put together. You just add your own vegetables to the stir-fry style of the food. The neti pots and tongue scrapers correlate with the purification processes, Shatkriya, as described in Svami Svatmarama’s Hatha Yoga Pradipika. These traditional aspects of Soni are one of the reasons I plan on returning to the studio.
The hatha yoga practice at Soni does a good job at addressing the six aspects of traditional hatha. Hatha is the style of yoga predominantly practiced in the West, and Soni Anderson incorporates the important traditional or spiritual aspects into the practice (that are often left out in atheletic-based yoga classes). The student begins by closing their eyes and taking part in the recall of Sanskrit chants. The chants are slightly different from those practiced in our course, but I have recognized some of the words, such as shanti.
Next, the student places their peace fingers, forefinger and middle finger, on the third eye. The thumb and ring finger are used in alternating-nostril breath work. I would guess that about 5 minutes is spent on breathing, pranayama, alone. The student retains the breath between each exhale. At the longest retention, the breath is still for sixteen seconds. I am unsure of the significance of this number.
Asanas in Soni hatha yoga are done with an air of joy, as mentioned earlier. The teacher spends time discussing the role of the asana on the internal organs. More western-style yoga classes talk about the muscle groups being activated during yoga. I appreciate the knowledge of massaging my kidneys during “happy baby” (I don’t know the traditional name of this pose), and opening the bladder during standing leg stretches. Twists are associated with the cleansing of all the organs during Soni’s classes.
At the end of the asanas, ten minutes is spent in meditation, followed by closing chants. The element of hatha yoga I would like to learn more about, especially in relation to yoga classes, is moral discipline, or yama and niyama. I am aware that the ethics of the individual’s yoga practice includes non-violence, cleanliness, and truthfulness, among other facets (Elsevier). I am uneducated in this area of yoga, but I do believe that with the realization of the mindbody and one’s truth in meditation, a spiritual path is created, and in turn, spiritual ethics arise.
I would also like to learn more about the mudra in yoga. What I know of these symbolic gestures includes the soft touch of the forefinger on the thumb during meditation and “dancing Shiva”, and the peace fingers on the third eye during the alternating nostril cleansing. This is the aspect of hatha yoga I see the least during my experience at Soni Yoga.
The largest Eastern influence I see and feel at Soni Yoga, besides Soni herself, is the content of their teacher-training program. According to the website (www.soniyoga.com), the student is trained in asanas, pranayama, bandhas, kriyas, meditation, the four paths of yoga, anatomy and physiology, diet and nutrition, karma and reincarnation, and the Bhagavad Gita. Required reading for the course consists of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Fundamentals of Yoga by Shri Brahmananda Saraswati, among others. The combination of traditional aspects of hatha yoga creates a holistic background for the Western student.
Although there is a strong Eastern presence felt at Soni Yoga, the Western influence is undeniable. I am a Westerner myself, and knowingly fall victim to the myriad of Buddhist-inspired decorations and house wares. I immediately noticed the different furniture, pillows, wall art, and figurines from the Swedish megastore IKEA. I love the decorations, but I know that they serve us Westerners who need an aesthetically pleasing place to practice. Soni does have her own mandalas on one wall of the studio, and a traditional alter at the head of the space. The foliage throughout the space and dim lighting add peaceful ambiance.
The yoga and pilates class also draws my attention to the influence of the American clientele on the studio. I do not have a background in pilates, but I do not know it as a spiritual and ancient practice, such as the other yoga classes offered. A very Western, yet necessary side of Soni Yoga is their use of electronic communication. You can find Soni Yoga on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/SoniYoga /281511081962) or visit visit their extensive and very informative website (www.soniyoga.com). If you are “on the go” like most Americans with never-ending to-do lists, you can also reserve your spot in class online, with your credit card (https://clients.mindbodyonline.com/asp/home.asp? studioid=2535).
Overall, I had two great experiences at Soni Yoga. I feel a genuine connection with Soni. She radiates love, compassion, and joy. It’s not very often that I meet someone as present as Soni. She remembered my name throughout both classes I went to. Her guiding comments made me smile during poses. I am “her little frog” (personal communication, 2/12/2010) because of the deep hip stretches I was led through. The calming nature of Soni’s person allows me to relax on a very deep level throughout my practice. If telling a friend about Soni Yoga, I would emphasize the holistic essence of the studio and Soni’s friendliness. I plan on making Friday morning hatha classes a part of my personal practice.
Bihar Yoga. (2010). Bihar yoga. Retrieved from www.yogavision.net on February 28, 2010.
Community Development Department, City of Cambridge, Massachusetts. (2010). North Cambridge, Neighborhood 11. The Department of Cambridge Community Development. Retrieved from http://www.cambridgema.gov/cdd/cp/neigh /11/area11.html on February 28, 2010.
Elsevier, B. V. (2009). Abstract: Yoga. Article Locator. Retrieved from http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0889857X05701265 on February 28, 2010.
Soni Yoga. (2010). Home page. Retrieved from www.soniyoga.com on February 28, 2010.