Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Grace Maskell

CSOCS.3452.Yoga: Theory, Culture and Practice

Midterm Paper

February 21, 2011

The Back Bay Yoga Studio:

Pranayama and Therapeutic Movement

I decided to go to the Back Bay Yoga Studio, which is on the second floor of 364 Boylston St. and was established in 2001 by Lynne Begier. The class I attended was Pranayama and Therapeutic Movement instructed by Nicole Clark. I was drawn to this session due to a back injury I sustained in high school along with my interest in the breathing techniques we have been exploring through discussion and practice in our very own class.

This studio says on its website that it offers Ashtanga (led and Mysore-style), Forrest, Vinyasa, Restorative, Yin and beginner classes. Each of these are explained on the site. Under Ashtanga it says: “Originator of all Vinyasa styles, the Ashtanga yoga system focuses on coordination of movement with the breath using counted vinyasa, to move through a set series of postures. This practice builds strength, flexibility and endurance and is appropriate for people of all ages, shapes and skill.” Forrest is described as a combination of “heat, deep breathing and vigorous sequences to sweat out toxins while the long holds in the pose progressions help you flush, oxygenate and rejuvenate every cell.” Vinyasa Yoga “emphasizes the sequential movement between postures, coordinated with and guided by deliberate breath.” Restorative Yoga “is a gentle therapeutic style of yoga that uses props to support the body in restful still positions. The focus of the practice is to restore the central nervous system and the internal systems of the body.” Yin Yoga “is a complementary yoga practice to the more dynamic and invigorating yoga styles that are predominant today. In Yin Yoga, all the postures are done on the floor (no standing poses) and are held passively for several minutes in order to access a safe and positive 'stress' on the deep layers of connective tissue in the body.” Every day has a full schedule of these various kinds of opportunities as well as $5.00 community classes, meditation by donation, events and workshops and even private instruction.

This studio appears to serve all types of people and its prices are comparable to most studios in the Boston area. It does have a Facebook page and has been reviewed sixty-five times on with a resounding 4.5 out of 5 stars. Although both of these venues offer advertisement, the Facebook page especially helps to mainstream Back Bay’s forms of yogic practice and exude a more ‘hip’ and westernized mentality. To add to the westernization to pull in more people they offer Hip Hop Yoga and fast paced classes that state under the description that the only “so-called requirements are that you come ready to sweat and smile!”

This range from traditional yogic practices to more modern and ‘Americanized’ offerings is very approachable. As someone who knew very little about yoga before this course, a studio that allows you to choose how far you want to take your cultural experience is welcoming.

From the outside, the studio is unobtrusive as is the foyer. The first thing I noticed was that the elevator smelled of incense. When the doors slid open I was confronted with a bright room full of people. The ages of the people appeared to range from early twenties to forties or fifties, and although women outweighed men, both genders were represented. To my right were shelves of shoes so I knew right away that my own shoes had to come off. It has been many years since I have been required to take my shoes off in a public place and the common trust that no one was going to take your shoes threw me off at first. Once I was barefoot, however, I felt more connected to everyone else. Up and down the hallway were hooks for coats but, although I put my shoes on the provided shelves, I could not bring myself to hang my coat where anyone could take it. The staff was helpful but I definitely felt a bit like an outsider. Everyone was barefoot and dressed in all manner of workout clothing – from leggings and tank tops to loose pants and t-shirts.

The locker room was small and crowded and there was an area for mat storage, although the sign clearly stated that only members were allowed to store their mats at the studio. There were lockers available to everyone (most were unlocked), showers and bathroom stalls. One thing that struck me as odd was the collections of smooth black pebbles in the bottom of the bathroom sinks. I suppose they add to the ambiance but I was unsure of their purpose since everything else seemed so practical.

I was early for my class so I decided to sit in the small seating area in the front room. There were a few people there already who appeared very comfortable with the place. One of them mentioned she was going to do the pranayama class and the others were very excited by this because they were unaware that it was offered. I observed that the studio offers merchandise, rentable yoga mats, various forms of hydration and the use of a free water cooler.

There are two large classrooms on the main floor and another on the forth floor. The one I was called the ‘sun room’ and had high ceilings and large windows. The air was warm, the lighting was dim and set up against the far wall was a table on which was a statue of Ganesha and a couple of lit candles. I was in the classroom about fifteen minutes prior to the beginning of the session but I was not the first one there. People were spread around on their mats stretching or sitting/lying still. There foam blocks, thick blankets and a few other things stacked on shelves on one side. When I entered I noticed that everyone had a blanket so I got one too, although I did not know what it was for. I felt the need to blend in and so I gave in to my pack mentality and copied everyone else.

Nicole Clark started the class by burning incense and being very personable. She asked if anyone had an injury and discussed what the class was for and how to best benefit from the practices she was about to walk us through. We began by expanding our abdomens with every breath and worked up in stages until every breath lifted the collarbones. The instructor told us to allow the breath into all parts of us and when we exhaled to make the sound of an ‘h’ in the backs of our throats. As we began stretching, she would tell us when to inhale and when to exhale and as the patterns began to appear and my concentration deepened my only thought would be a sporadic realization that my mind was completely still. This realization would break the concentration but with the instructors guidance it was very easy to regain focus. During certain stretches and positions, Ms Clark would work with individual participants to help them reap the most benefit.

Leaving the class was difficult. The transition from the dark, warm room to the cooler and much more brightly lit front room was jarring. There were even more people than before and the centered feeling I had just gained was lost. It was, however, somewhat regained after I left the building and stepped out into the fresh air. I enjoyed the class immensely. The environment allowed me to relinquish my racing thoughts and succumb to peacefulness. While I was there I had no choice but to truly be there. Thinking about school or work would not change anything because I was not in a place to do anything about them anyway. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to still the mind, reconnect with the body and focus on the constant and reliable flow of breath that is there day in and day out.

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