After doing some research on what style of yoga I would like to experience and where I would like to go, I chose to go to Soma in Newport, RI. The reason why I chose to go to Soma was because I was very interested in attending a class at a studio that was outside the Cambridge or Boston area to add some depth to the class presentations. I also discovered that they were offering a Hatha yoga class on Saturday mornings. Hatha yoga was of interest to me because I fully enjoy our Hatha experience in class, feel comfortable doing the breathing and movements, and wanted to explore it further. Soma opened its doors on September 10, 2001. Tonya Zaloumis was the original owner who claimed that she wanted to open the center to create a peaceful sanctuary for yogis to study and practice yoga in the local area. Tonya has since sold the studio to pursue her yoga studies and to have the freedom to travel (M. LeBlanc, personal communication, October 18, 2010). From entering the studio, I completely sensed what Tonya Zaloumis wanted to establish, a peaceful sanctuary.
When first entering Soma, I was welcomed with large, lush plants, decorative pillows, and a statue of a happy Ganesh. I automatically felt comfortable as I kicked my shoes off, and talked to the women at the desk regarding the morning class. When I arrived, a class was already in process and the sound of chanting was coming from the other room. The studio consists of two quaint rooms separated by glass French doors. The first room held the front desk, a lounge area on the floor, yoga mats, and some merchandise. The second room was a larger room where the classes took place. When I entered, I filled out the necessary paper work at the front desk and got a chance to talk a bit with the instructor for the class I would be taking, the Hatha Yoga class. I was quite nervous because I have never taken an actual yoga class in a yoga studio before and don’t feel that I am the most flexible when it comes to the positions. I was assured by my yoga instructor, Meredith LeBlanc, not to worry about my insecurities, that it will all be fine, and that it’s more about “being flexible with the mind rather than the body”. This made me feel much more at ease and comfortable with starting the practice. Once the early morning class was finished, we were able to enter the other room and begin to set up for our class. The studio room was larger than the first, painted a pale blue with a large Om symbol and a prayer painted on one of the walls. On the other wall, there was a built in table that seemed to have some sort of alter set up. Placed on the alter, there was incense, lit candles, and a cute picture of a golden retriever. The ambience of the room was extremely calm and welcoming and seemed to fit nicely with the style of yoga that the instructor would be teaching.
Though the center offered many different yoga classes and different styles, my instructor, Meredith LeBlanc, focuses on the practice of hatha yoga. The text Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes hatha yoga in their glossary as “science of yoga which purifies the whole physical body by means of shatkarma, asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, concentration, as a prelude to raja yoga and samdhi” (Muktibodhananda, 1993, p. 614). Muktibodhananda also describes the objectives of hatha yoga in the following:
The main objective of hatha yoga is to create an absolute balance of the interacting activities and processes of the physical body, mind and energy. When this balance is created, the impulses generated give a call of awakening to the central force which isresponsible for the evolution of human consciousness. (p. 7)
The class that I took really seemed to focus on this “philosophy” of yoga style. Throughout the process of the practice, emphasis was on the breath and focusing on the energy flow throughout our bodies to try and reach this level of concentration and awareness. During the exercises and poses, the instructor would ask us to focus on our breath and the awareness of the different chakras. This was the first time that I have done chakra work in yoga. Muktibodhananda describes chakras as that circular motions or wheels that collect energy in swirling masses (p. 161).There are seven chakras in the body that each focus on a different function. Our practice started with Aura Sweeps that cleansed negative energy from our body and mind, Sun Salutations that helped heat up the body, standing poses that focuses on the first chakra (Root Chakra) leading up to the second chakra (Navel Chakra), twisting poses that focused on the third chakra (Solar Plexus Chakra), back bend poses focusing on the fourth chakra (Heart Chakra), 2 inversion poses that run up the chakra system, and headstands which focus on the upper three chakras (Throat, Brow, and Crown Chakra). During the practice, Meredith would describe to us what each chakra represented and wanted us to focus on the energy building up in the chakras purifying our bodies as well as our minds. We ended the practice with breathing exercises and the chanting of Gayatri Mantra. This mantra’s text was what was painted on the wall of the studio under the Om symbol. The text said “Om bhur bhuvah svahta savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yanah prachodayat”. My instructor sent me her favorite translation of this mantra interpreted by Christopher D. Wallis. The interpretation was “Om. Earth. Atmosphere. Heaven. May we focus our awareness on the alluring radiance of the rising sun, the Vivifier; may it inspire our thoughts and meditation” (M. LeBlanc, personal communication, October 18, 2010). Not only did the practice seemed to embody the hatha experience, Meredith’s yogic philosophy also embodied this approach. Meredith described her Hatha teachings as based on a quest to find our true essence. She described how that was what her first teacher had taught her and what she will continue to share with others. Her path of yoga was defined as
the path of self-discovery and energizing the divine light inside. Through the physical postures (asana), thoughtful breathing (pranayama), relaxation, proper eating, positive thought and meditation I believe that we get down to our core essence, shed off the distractions, and be present with the flow of life. We answer the question Who Am I? I Am That, I Am That, That I Am. (M. LeBlanc, personal communication, October 18, 2010)
My personal experience during the practice was quite positive. Meredith was nurturing and conscientious in her instructions. My cousin, who has severe asthma and knee problems, came with me to the yoga studio that day. She was instructed by her doctors that it may be good for her and she wanted to give it a try as well. Meredith was very helpful in providing and modeling modified versions of the poses so Amie could benefit from the practice. She was also very encouraging without making us feel uncomfortable if we were unable to do any of the poses. Blocks and straps were provided, which are part of Iyengar yoga style. These props were very helpful to remain present with the postures without worrying about the difficulty of achieving them. It was the first time I ever used these props and found them to be not only helpful to achieve the physical postures, but valuable in my personal experience to stay with the poses in a meditative way. I was also completely amazed about what I was able to achieve throughout the practice. I have always felt very unfit and out of shape, but I was able to do every single posture in ways I didn’t imagine and felt very comfortable while doing them. I was even able to achieve a headstand for a short amount of time. I felt very impressed with myself for being able to do so well in the class, but give strong credit to the instructor and the class environment. The group consisted of 7 women of all ages and had a sense of acceptance and non-judgment. I felt like I was in such a safe space, that I was able to achieve to the best of my ability. Throughout my studies in Expressive Therapy, the idea of a “container” or a safe space is something of great importance when working on our own personal expressions as well as working with clients. I compared the safe space I felt during the yoga practice with the idea or concept of the “container”. From my understanding of the “container” in my academic studies, providing a safe and supportive environment allows for the individual to have a sense of trust and comfort within the space to express themselves and reach certain levels of awareness in their personal growth and healing. I felt this during the yoga practice and was able to reach a higher level of awareness in yoga than I ever have since I started taking this class.
I was also able to tie in my expressive therapy personality by taking the time after the class to journal in an artistic reflection about my experience. I always feel that I am able to connect with my experiences, whatever they may be, more clearly if I am able to express them using the creative arts. I chose this time to use visual arts and oil pastels to journal around my experience. When I finished the practice, I felt so invigorated and full of heat and energy. I felt my body to be filled with this energy as well as radiating with heat. Even though my physical body felt so fire-y and alive, the world and my mind felt so calm and peaceful and relaxed. Taking these feelings, I drew a dark figure representing myself radiating this energy using warm colors like reds and yellows surrounded by cool peaceful and relaxing colors like blue and purple. By doing this art piece and look back on it days later, I am still able to connect with my experience and what my body and mind was feeling and communicating.
Overall, my experience was extremely positive and I feel that I was able to learn quite a bit from my class at Soma in Newport, RI. My yoga teacher was not only supportive in class, but was also extremely helpful and open to my questions and discussion. I feel from getting another perspective on hatha yoga, I was able to broaden my knowledge on the subject and feel a closer connection to the practice. I do hope to visit this studio in the future and to take other classes as well to learn more about the many different styles and aspects of yoga.
Muktibodhananda, S. (1993). Hatha yoga pradipika. Bihar, India: Bihar School of Yoga.