For this project, rather than looking in the greater Boston area, I chose to look around my hometown for a center that fit my interests in Yoga for attending when I am not in the city. After looking at a few different potential sites, I chose Central Mass Yoga and Wellness, Inc. in West Boylston, MA. I chose this site because it had many class offerings, a variety of instructors and outside programs, and a focus on traditional Yoga philosophy practices, such as Hatha and Iyengar (Central, 2010). As well, the website home page informs that it is a “Sacred Link Affiliate of the Himalayan Institute,” which has a focus on connecting Eastern and Western ideas through Yoga, spirituality, and holistic health practices (Himalayan, 2010). While the center has its roots in the East, it is becoming a bridge between values, with the introduction of a variety of practices which use Yoga as rehabilitation, a tool to promote learning, among other applications that are proven more practical for those in the West. Overall, it is a well rounded center, with plenty of offerings that stem from both Eastern and Western ideologies, as well as the capacity for quick growth and community building.
History and Setting
The founder Lucy Cimini started the center in 2000, after an array of studies into various forms of yoga. With her, “background in Education and Social Rehabilitation,” she has made the center's name through her focus on rehabilitative yoga for PTSD patients, recovering addicts, and prison inmates (Central, 2010). Since its establishment, the center has expanded three times, “now offer[ing] over 35 classes per week including a 200 hour teacher training program,” as well, the center offers various workshop sessions which focus on everything from horseback riders to educational support techniques for teachers and parents (Central, 2010). Starting in 2011, they will be offering a 500 hour teacher training program as well (Central, 2010).
In terms of the physical set-up, the center has a check-in and shop area where students come to sign-in and pay for classes. Also in this area, one is able to purchase mats, yogic décor, candles, etc. There are three studio spaces where classes are held. Each could hold approximately fifteen students and a teacher. These spaces are decorated appropriately in neo-traditional stylings, lotus flowers, statues of meditating entities, sanskrit Aums, dim lighting/ candles, curtains, etc. In the newest of the studios, it is hardwood floored, with the capacity for heated yoga.
Central Mass Yoga aims to serve all ages and facets of people. The center offers classes for therapeutic, health, exercise, mindfulness, among other foci. Some of the more interesting and specific offerings include: pre-natal yoga, Yoga Warriors ™ (for PTSD), YogaKids (an “approach to integrative learning using yoga as a pathway”), and Tweens Yoga (for ages 10-15) (Central, 2010). As well, they offer a menagerie of levels, forms, and fusions of common styles, such as: Hatha Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, and Ashtanga Yoga (Central, 2010). There are workshops specifically tuned for teachers and parents to help aid children develop tools of concentration and attention, with an emphasis on helping in educational situations. There are numerous teachers from a variety of different backgrounds and areas of interest, who each hold classes to accommodate these backgrounds.
In my experience at the center, it seemed to live up to the website's variety. The class I attended was called Heated Yin Flow, and was a fusion of Yin and Vinyasa Flow styles of yoga, in a 100 degree studio. Being only the second week that it was offered, it was a small class of seven participants. The group had three individuals who seemed to be familiar with yoga, easily transitioning and holding the prolonged poses. Two of whom were middle-aged (one male, one female), the other in her late twenties, all were in good physical shape. There were also two very unfamiliar students, female, middle-aged. The instructor, Erin made a point to move closer to them to model the poses, and help with props where needed. While the earlier three were fairly quiet and there for the full yoga practice, the latter two were a little more caddy, with a more Western disposition towards the class. One of the two stated before the class began, “I don't even know what this is, I just came for whatever was at five;” her intonation leading me to infer she was there only for exercise, and because yoga is an 'in' thing to do currently. The final participant other than myself was a friend of mine whom has a similar interest in Eastern philosophy, new to the practices of meditation and yoga, but with a respect for the founding principles behind the practices. Considering the small class size, this was a very varied student composition.
After the class, I was able to observe students and teachers from two other classes in the area outside of the studio, and again it was a wide variety of participants. There was at least one high school aged male attending the Moderate Heated class, as well as people ranging up to their 60s entering a Restorative Yoga class. While it was certainly a diverse group of people, everyone that I had the pleasure of speaking with seemed friendly and had a good disposition towards the practice as well as the building community.
Central Mass Yoga seems to be the perfect fusion of Eastern and Western Yogic practice. While on the website the first thing highlighted is, “classic yoga at its best!” there is a great deal of non-classic elements infused into the center's offerings (Central, 2010). These Western elements take the form of western science, rather than popular culture influence, such as an emphasis on attaining a lean 'yoga body.' The way that these influences are manifested is through the focus on the therapeutic benefits of yoga. The best example of this is the Yoga Warriors ™ approach. This therapeutic practice was developed at Central Mass Yoga, and has become extremely well received, and is quickly becoming one of the best options for treating veterans with PTSD (Yoga Warriors, 2010). There are now multiple training offerings for teachers across the east coast, that are offered free of charge to veterans. As well, the program has taken steps toward Western legitimization through scientific research studies, in order to prove its effectiveness. The current research protocol tested a randomized group of active members of the armed forces doing yoga to relieve stress from duty, against a group who did not practice; the study is ongoing (Yoga Warriors, 2010). While Lucy is traditionally trained in her practice, she is taking her knowledge through a Western approach of inquiry in order to legitimize the practice that she has already proven to be effective with many veterans. Another example of this inclusion of research based practice is the inclusion of a YogaKids program. YogaKids is a certification regulated practice that lays it's focus on the benefits of yoga for children in schools. It helps young students foster attention, concentration, and self-esteem (YogaKids, 2009). While not an aspect of practice, the community is influenced by Western technological stylings as well. Central Mass Yoga maintains a blog, where research and article references are posted highlighting various benefits of continued practice of Yoga, most of which are physical or mental benefits.
With these very specific, Westernized forms of yoga noted, traditional practice should be highlighted as well. While it is certainly no Ashram, of the forty-two classes offered weekly, seventeen are various levels of Hatha Yoga. As well, classes based on traditional philosophy, rather than practice account for another fourteen of the classes. These are based on Iyengar, Yin, and Vinyasa styles, with a philosophical lean towards traditional benefits, rather than simply for physical exercise.
The Heated Yin Flow class fell somewhere in the middle. While the practice was not of traditional origins, the philosophy behind it was more Eastern than Western. I chose this class after hearing from a classmate about the Yin practice, with it's very long holding of asanas relative to other common practices (3-5 minutes). As well, I was interested in trying heated yoga, so this class seemed perfect. Erin, had a very traditional outlook on the practice, her bio on the website puts it best, “with each practice we don't become closer to perfection but to ourselves” (Central, 2010). This outlook as well as some Western drawings can be seen in her class, which is described that, “Yin postures keep the core supple, target chronic tension, increase flexibility on a deep level and connect you to your intuition... Vinyasa practice will generate heat and internal awareness;” the primary three benefits of Yin being physical, the latter benefit of Yin, and the benefits of Vinyasa are more abstract, and in tune with Eastern thought. The heat was a little surprising at first, but was extremely beneficial overall. While I am relatively new to regular practice, I was easily able to hold the lengthy asanas without the aid of props. Between the heat, the long duration, and Erin's instruction to “melt into” the poses, I was able to push myself much farther than I have before, with less strain than ever before. Because of this I was able to focus on my breathing, and clear my mind of distractions. This was a great exemplar of the center's diverse style, drawing on Eastern and Western thought, through a fusion of different techniques and motifs. I definitely plan on attending this class whenever I have the chance.
The Central Mass Yoga website welcomes visitors with the knowledge that this center focuses on mind, body, and spirit (Central, 2010). This holistic view is traditionally Eastern at its root. The popular Western view of yoga is for fitness, primarily physical, but not uncommonly mental as well, as is the basis for the Yoga Warriors ™ rehabilitation claims. The center itself extends to include the less commonly noted aspect of the spirit, and spiritual energies as well. In the description of the center's offerings, it is explained that their classes' practices, “draw from three traditional lineages of yoga: Hatha, Iyengar, and Ashtanga” (Central, 2010). The traditional philosophy could be seen, or rather, heard in Erin's class leading words. She spoke of energy flow, and energy laden breathes throughout the practice. However, being a Yin class, there were some nuances of Far Eastern yogic practice as well. The music playing was distinctly Buddhist, rather than an Indian Raga, or silence. Erin spoke of the energy conduits as meridians, rather than nadis. Considering the practice being Yin, this was appropriate.
Being a Sacred Link Affiliate of the Himalayan Institute, Central Mass Yoga has a theory basis which strives to connect Eastern and Western thinking. The Himalayan Institute was founded by Swami Rama, and continues to seek his mission, “to discover and embrace the sacred link—the spirit of human heritage that unites East and West” (Himalayan, 2010). This philosophical base is an explicator of the forays of the center into the more westernized forms of study and inquiry such as Yoga Warriors ™ and YogaKids. While the foundations of these practices are in traditional Yoga philosophy, the manner in which they have been developed, for directly practical purposes is distinctly Western.
I feel very fortunate to have come across this center for my home practice. It seems to keep all of the Eastern facets of Yoga that feel important to me, while incorporating Western ideology that will promote wider practice of Yoga in the future. Being a prospective teacher, I found the YogaKids program extremely interesting, and plan to attend the workshop when it is held next; this workshop can be counted as professional development as well. With my growing interest in Yoga and Eastern thought, I found it particularly convenient that the center also offers a Yoga Teaching Training course for certification. I would love to integrate yoga into my classroom and school, as a high school teacher of mine once did, and this program could be a means to achieve that goal without postponing my entry into the classroom. This center is doing a lot of interesting and innovative things, while maintaining a holistic disposition, and I hope to continue my practice there in the future.
Central Mass Yoga and Wellness. (2010). Central mass yoga - index. Retrieved from http://www.centralmassyoga.com/index.htm
Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy of the U.S.A. (2010). About us. Retrieved from http://www.himalayaninstitute.org/About/AboutGateway.aspx
YogaKids International. (2009).Yoga for children, kids yoga dvd, yoga poses for kids, in the classroom: yogakids. Retrieved from http://yogakids.com/
Yoga Warriors. (2010). Yoga for ptsd - post traumatic stress disorder | yoga warriors. Retrieved from http://www.yogawarriors.com