Monday, March 1, 2010

Soni Yoga: Kripalu

The venue I chose to visit is called Soni Yoga. It is located at 290 Concord Ave in Cambridge. I found this studio through an online search and chose it based on the two criteria of being fairly near by, and having an overall good rating from reviewers. I also decided to try Soni because I wanted to look into a studio that not many people from class were planning on visiting. So luckily, when I began to research the studio, it fit into all of these necessities for me, as well as providing interesting-sounding classes.
The website for this venue is very well organized, simple and aesthetically pleasing. On the Home page there is an introduction that explains how the studio was founded in 2007 by the owner, Soni in dedication to a “joyful practice of yoga”. With a very limited description of the studio’s philosophy, from this home page I found that the instructors here try to emphasize breath and then “proper alignment” to increase flexibility, and strength, as well as an attempt to continuously learn something about yourself.
Under the “About Us” tab, I found a little history about Soni, the owner and one of the teachers of the studio. A brief paragraph explains that she had learned yoga “before she could walk” and that “She still follows Ayurveda and Vastu living, a simple living in harmony with nature, and strives to reflect all these things in Soni Yoga”. There is also another short paragraph introducing Soni’s husband David, and some names and information about their family and pets. I was a little disappointed not to find a description of their yoga philosophies besides that they say at the bottom “Please come and join us for a joyful yoga practice. We will help you build a practice that is unique to your body, mind and spirit”. So from this last statement, I assumed that the yoga practice at this studio might be similar to that which we are learning about in class, about how yoga is individual and personal.
Another interesting aspect to this studio is that they offer Life Counseling with David, Soni’s husband. There are not many specifics as to what this entails, but the brief description under Services says that David has been a pastor and mentor in addition to being a yoga teacher and that he can help set goals that “speaks to the entire you”. I was curious to find out how this connects to yoga, if it relates to or contrasts yoga theory, and, how having a background in Christian beliefs may affect David’s own theories.
Soni supports an Ayurveda in their daily lives and describes a little of what this means in a separate tab on the website. Here, it is described as a 5,000 year old science of life and healthy living from India. It says that these practices restore individual balance and harmony and that Soni is a certified practitioner who can give consultations on how to incorporate and benefit from these changes in your life. The description states that “Ayurveda teaches you how to live right, with daily practices and routines that promote health and vitality while reducing pain and illness”. So from this, it would seem that they instructors would base much of their classes on this concept.
The classes offered include Hatha, Anasura, Kundaline, Healing, Pre and Post Natal, Restorative, and Yin Yang. If you click on each of these under their own tab it explains a little about the background of this type of yoga, who it can benefit most, and why it may be beneficial. Each class seems to be targeted at a fairly large demographic, with some for women, for elderly customers, and I even found a class that has a combination of Yoga and Pilates which I think is intended for more strength training purposes.
While Soni Yoga seems to dedicate a large portion of their practices towards a traditional Indian cultural view on yoga, I still feel that there is a very strong connection with Western culture based on the set up and style of their theory and practice. This mostly comes from the integration of Pilates into one of the classes, as well as the classes that are targeted for women and/or pregnancy since traditional Indian practices and texts exclude women from yoga.
Description of Class Visited:
So based both on interest and time constraints I decided to go to a Thursday night class (7:30-8:45) called Yoga Stretch – Kripalu. This was one of the only times that the classes worked for me, but also I was interested to find out what Kripalu meant.
When I got there, I had to walk around to the back of the building for the entrance. Through the door was a small lobby type room with a front desk, cubbies, a shoe rack and a few products for sale like yoga mats and mat cleaner. I immediately looked for brochures, flyers or any type of informational bulletin boards but found none.
After putting my things in the cubby we walked behind a small partition to the studio. We were instructed to grab some of the props and set up our personal “stations” with the few remaining minutes until class began. Some of these props included foam blocks, long support pillows, blankets, and ropes.
As I set up my station I began to notice the aesthetics of the room. It was dark, with many small and different kinds of lights from the ceiling and on the wall. There was a large Om painted on the right wall and smaller ones in white on the ceiling. All of these visual distractions, combined with the music the instructor played and the sound of the cars on Concord Ave and hard rain on the roof, I found it very difficult to stay focused.
The class was small, only seven people plus a second staff member who participated in the back of the room. There was an elderly couple, two middle-aged women and three (including myself) young women around their twenties.
The instructor was Jennifer, a very small, young woman and a new instructor to Soni. She explained at the beginning of the class that this was not her usual style of yoga and that she was filling in for Nora, the usual instructor. She asked if there was anyone new to yoga and said that this was going to be very gentle and easily adaptable.
After class I looked up Jennifer’s bio on the Soni website which I found to be fairly general and vague. She describes her practice as varying from “quiet and contemplative yin to spirited vinyasa sequences and everything in between”. I was hoping to get more of a personal background about her beliefs and philosophy towards yoga but I somewhat disappointed.
Just out of curiosity, I also read Nora’s bio, the instructor who usually teaches the class I attended. Hers was much more detailed, stating how and when she received her certification, why she practices yoga and how she runs her classes. While I am satisfied with the class I attended, I do wish that I had gotten to experience it with the instructor who has much more experience with it and has been teaching at the studio since it opened in 2007.

What Happened:
The class went well, it was a little too slow for me so I found it very difficult to stay focused in the poses since they were held for so long. We did very few poses, and the instructor insisted that we use the adaptive props even though I did not feel I needed them. The class was very small though, so I liked that the instructor could easily come around to everyone to see that they were doing alright. She was very actively walking around adjusting people, getting props for them and giving small encouragements. One thing that confused me was that Jennifer said that if she came to you to make an adjustment, let her do all of the moving for you. Maybe that is the point of this kind of yoga, but I was under the impression that part of yoga was being able to monitor and adjust yourself.
The class began by lying flat out on the floor just breathing. Then we moved into a pose in which we had one of the pillows under our backs. Next we did turns on both sides of our bodies in which we lied with our knees both off to one side and our arms stretched out like a T. This I feel was held way too long for me personally and became really annoyed because my hands and feet began to fall asleep. We also did a pose with the strap/belt thing where we put our feet through it and pushed, then lied back on the floor. I unfortunately did not feel any kind of stretch from this, which Jennifer said we were supposed to feel in our lower back. I only felt uncomfortable with my legs spread apart and the strap digging into my hips. I feel like the positioning of the props to up a good portion of the class, and that it would have been more beneficial to do it without, seeing as many of the people in the class didn’t seem to need them either.
I was disappointed that the instructor did not explain what Kripalu was, especially since she knew there were new students in the class. I assumed it had something to do with the first part of the title of the class, “stretch” but decided to research it when I got home anyway. I had a very difficult time finding a definition for this word but after spending some time researching, walked away with the general impression that it emphasizes proper breathing techniques in a way that combines many different aspects of yoga.
The most helpful website I found to explain what this meant discussed Kripalu as a “incorporating into one system the physical and purification practices of Hatha Yoga; the mental disciplines of Raja Yoga; the prana awakening principles of Kundalini Yoga; the devotion of Bhakti Yoga; and the emphasis on service of Karma Yoga”. The short article goes on to explain the three phases that encompass Kripalu. Stage one is based on “willful practice” which means understanding and coordinating the breath. Stage two “focuses on your attention to inner sensations” and requires you to try and hold the postures and poses for a much longer period of time. The final stage has a meditation/prayer focus.
I’m very glad I looked into the meaning of this word, although I wish I had before the class. During the session I was confused and distracted by the length of time we were holding these postures, but if I had known that that was the point of this kind of yoga I would have tried to embrace it more. I find it interesting that this approach to yoga tries to incorporate many different physical and mental aspects of yoga into one practice.
While I liked that the class was small and I thought the instructor was very helpful and friendly, I was only satisfied with the experience I got from this particular class. The studio was visually busy and I got easily distracted by all of the decorations, noises and lights. I also lost focus quickly and became bored with the poses and movements. I would have liked to try another class and I still think I will at another time to see if I would enjoy the studio better with a more stimulating class.
Overall, I found that the studio does incorporate some of the aspects of yoga that we learn about in our course. The instructor asked us to focus on our breath, in each pose, similar to our class practice, and I feel this is a common attribute the studio incorporates into many of its classes. I do not feel that this studio is one that was created for the fitness aspect of yoga that has become popular in the Western culture. I think that they do try to maintain a somewhat traditional practice and philosophy of yoga, but have made some obviously necessary adjustments to accommodate the more dominant view of yoga.

Soni Website:
Research on Kripalu:

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