Monday, March 1, 2010

Karma Yoga Studio: Embodyoga

"The beauty and charm of selfless love and service should not die away from the face of the earth. The world should know that a life of dedication is possible, that a life inspired by love and service to humanity is possible...Our compassion and acts of selflessness take us to the deeper truths. Through selfless action we can eradicate the ego that conceals the Self. Detached, selfless action leads to liberation. Such action is not just work; it is karma yoga." Mata Amritanamdamayi, a.k.a. Amma, The Hugging Saint (Karma Yoga Studio)

Anything that promotes a life inspired by love is something that I feel is worth checking out. Karma Yoga Studio, located in Mid-Cambridge at 1120 Massachusetts Avenue, has a website set up to lure folks like me in. The website is not flashy or over the top. Nor, anywhere on their site do they claim to be able to change your life forever and make you into something that you are not. What they do manage to do, however, is set your mind at ease. There is even a lesson in Sanskrit on the left side of the screen teaching you that “karma yoga” means selfless service. I always love a website that teaches me something. Their mission is to be “a socially and environmentally responsible organization committed to engaging progressive ideals in every aspect of conducting business. Toward this goal, we give 5% of profits to environmental protection organizations, donate our space for community and non-profit use and events, and are active supporters of many organizations working toward positive change in our shared world.” (Karma Yoga Studio) That kind of a mission statement is one that any practicing yoga student can get behind and support. And so it was with this very idea in mind that I set off to Karma Yoga Studio to join Lakota Sandoe for her Embodyoga class.

I have spent the last two years packed in like a sardine within the walls of Baron Baptiste Power Yoga in Cambridge. Baron offers a great experience but I wanted to connect on a deeper level that did not involve getting covered in my neighbor's sweat. The fact that I spent the first week of the New Year in the hospital has forced me to slow down a bit as well. Visiting Karma Yoga Studio was something that I was looking forward to doing not just for my body but for my mind and spirit as well. The simple act of opening the doors to Karma Yoga Studio felt inviting.

The first floor of Karma is taken up almost entirely by an organic tea café. I LOVE tea. After paying just $10 (the get out of bed special) I walked down stairs to where the class was located. The original artwork on the walls and the warm woodwork that was displayed throughout the studio was inviting and comforting. The low lighting was also a nice change from the bright day light that I was used to having at Baron. I was happy to read on their website that yoga props such as mats, blocks, straps, blankets, and pillows are available free of charge to all students in each of the two studios within Karma as are the showers and locker rooms. (So often yoga studios charge for water, mats, and towels. True to form Karma Yoga Studio does not charge for any of these things. Karma lives and breathes the very essence of their name.) After locating the woman’s locker room and dropping off my coat and shoes, I slipped into the studio, grabbed a mat and some blocks and sat down. Lakota, a yoga teacher who is certified to teach Embodyoga, introduced herself to me and asked of any limitations that I may have physically. With a class of only three other college age students I knew that this particular class was going to give me an opportunity I had rarely seen within the last two years at Baron. Class sizes at Baron can exceed upwards of 80 people and so to have this opportunity of a 4 to 1 student to teacher ratio made my heart sing! Many yoga studios that I have been in have had one thing in common, wanting to pack as many people as possible into the studio for practice. Perhaps the Embodyoga class that I went to just is not as popular as the other Vinyasa classes at Karma are. Perhaps Karma Yoga Studio does not pack their classes full. Or, perhaps I was just lucky and picked the two rainiest days of the week when no one really wanted to get out of bed, either way I was happy to be in a smaller class size with personal attention and adjustments.

The music playing in the background would have normally been a distraction but for the first time in a long time I was able to block it out. Playing music during yoga practice has never been something that I understood or appreciated. To me a yoga practice is supposed to be personal and reflective. How is that supposed to happen with music being played in the background? I am also the kind of person that needs to move with the flow and/or beat of the music. So if the flow of the yoga class gets off from that of the flow of the music I feel off balance. I blame it on the four years that I spent in marching band and having to keep in step with the beat of the music. It is why I do not listen to music when I am at the gym. I get lost in the music and I do not have time to focus on my body like I should be. Lakota managed to have the perfect mix of music playing in the background that I was able to block out, until Bjork came on that is. After Bjork came over the speakers my concentration was done with. It was all I could do to concentrate on the breathing method that Lakota had taught us at the beginning of class.

The website for Karma states that, “Warmth, awareness, stability & integration at the core will be emphasized through this initial series. Throughout the practice attention will be given to proper alignment, appropriate & enhancing breathwork, diaphramatic & organ support, as well as yogic physiology.” (“Karma Yoga Studio”) Lakota taught us ujjayi breathing. The inhalation was deep and through the nose while the exhalation was a cross between a hiss and a deep throaty satisfying “aaahhh”. The exhale comes out in the same fashion as if you were trying to fog up a window with your breath. We were to use this breathing technique, Lakota said, so that we were always supporting our diaphragm and organs. The ujjayi breathing brought a deeper, more focused awareness to my core that I had never experienced before. I was not feeling a particularly more intense stretch but I was more aware if I was out of alignment somewhere within my core and I was more aware of my breath in general. With the audible throaty “ahhhh” I was able to notice when I had left my breath to focus on something else.

Lakota’s Embodyoga class differed from the yoga classes that I had been taking recently. The class flowed at a much slower pace and focused on the connection that each individual had with their breath. Yoga classes should all follow this guideline. Even the faster paced power yoga classes can still take time to slow down and remember the basic connection that we each have with our breath. Perhaps it is the very mission of the Karma Yoga Studio that gives the Embodyoga class deeper meaning.

When creating the framework for Karma Yoga Studio, Jesse Winder (the founder of the studio) never had his mind far from the thought of others. Karma yoga is usually translated into “the yoga of action.” Karma yoga is much more than a service to others. It is more than merely giving clothing to the needy or helping out at a food pantry. As Alan Reder states it is “a supercharged version of the adage that when you give, you also receive.” Reder continues by saying, “At some point, however, the distinction between ordinary actions and service, or actions to relieve the suffering of others, disappears. Yoga teaches that as we develop spiritually, our awareness and compassion grow, making us more alert to suffering around us and less able to turn away from it. In essence, the pain of others becomes our own, and we feel driven to relieve it, much as we'd instinctively act to end pain in our own body or heart.” (Reder) Jesse Winder IS a Karma Yogi.

On Sunday, February 28, 2010 the studio hosted an event to benefit relief efforts in Haiti. The tea café upstairs donates 100% of all cow’s milk sales to the Farm Sanctuary in Massachusetts. Handmade cards made by local students were for sale in the café and the art on display throughout the studio is done by none other than local Cambridge artist Lori Schouela. Every Sunday a $7 Karma Yoga class is taught by one of four volunteer yoga teachers. All proceeds from the 90 minute Vinyasa class go to local animal rescue efforts. Do not forget that 5% of all profits made by Karma Yoga Studio go to environmental protection organizations. Winder has created a business based on the image set in the Bhagavad Gita. In the third chapter of the book Krishna explains why it is important to carry out the duties laid before you in life. The concept of karma yoga has been around for far longer than Winder’s Studio in Cambridge but he has managed to link the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita with the needs of the present day.

Although I only took the one class at Karma Yoga Studio I can assume that the underlining theme in each class is to do well unto others. Lakota used the last few minutes of savasana to have us concentrate on someone, or a group, that needed some love sent their way. We concentrated the love in our heart center and then sent it out through the universe to reach them where they were. The studio offers 15 different yoga classes, 3 non-yoga classes, and a gym and something has to connect it all. Whether it is the underlying desire to help strengthen the body of each person that walks through the door, to leave them feeling a little bit better than they did when they walked in or to help` each person pay it forward it does not really matter. What really matters is that Jesse Winder has his culture down to a science. He knows what the yoga world needs right now. Lakota’s music list said it all, or maybe it was the Beatles. All you need is love.

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