CSOCS 3452 Yoga: Culture, Theory and Practice
Haley Barber’s Mid-term Project: Karma Yoga Studio
I was very excited to check out different yoga approaches especially the diverse teachings that are within the Cambridge area. When I learned about the project I made sure to do my research to see the variety and choices that were offered. Unfortunately, I have a very busy and tight schedule and I realized that there is not much flexibility in all the locations. It was hard to organize the public transportation time and that of the class. My requirements were, I needed something near-by, and a relaxed atmosphere. I then found the Karma Yoga Studio which is located in Harvard Square. Once I started investing their website I found that there were frequent classes and the Harvard Square location was in a very convenient location which fit well in my schedule. I did some more research and realized there was a great variety of classes and I was pleased to see there were classes from 7am to 7:45pm which would work for most people’s schedule. The studio seemed like it was really trying to work for a wide variety of people, and to be very accommodating to the average busy person. The website was very well organized, enticing, gentle and quite pleasant. Their website was expressed that they are a socially conscious and environmentally responsible organization committed to engaging progressive ideals in every aspect of their conducting business; they give 5% of profits to environmental protection organizations including all donations go directly to help pay for the vet bills of local homeless animals and injured wildlife. (Karma , 2011) This studio was for me! I just had to pick a class which class I wanted to take. There are so many options, but unfortunately my schedule only allowed me to pick a class on Thursday evening. The price was reasonable for drop-ins classes which are $15 for an adult, but $12 for a full-time student or senior. In the mornings there is a great special; it is a $10 "get-out-of-bed" class for all classes before noon, and free tea!
I picked a vinyasa flow class directed towards ‘all levels’ with instructor Bethania Bacigalupe. On the website they had bios of each instructor so I was pleased to gain some background knowledge on my instructor and her style and perspective on yoga before I even got there. Bethania Bacigalupe’s perspective on yoga is focused on the healing aspect because she personally was helped by yoga with the physical symptoms that emerged from an injury. Her specialty is the vinyasa practice which emphasizes inversions and breath plus a restorative practice and meditation. Her teaching is inspired by her personal therapeutic practice and her successful use of yoga as a rehabilitative tool. Bethania teaches with a profound respect and fascination with anatomy and the brain. Her classes place a strong emphasis on alignment, breath, and healing.(Karma , 2011) I felt very comfortable and excited to get such an understanding of the instructor because from my previous yoga experience, I am very much affected by the instructor. I can be very sensitive and if an instructor is too rough or has really high expectations my personal yoga lesson is negatively affected. I enjoy the calm and gentle instruction we receive in class, but I could tell Bethania was going to be fun, energetic, and passionate and I was right. (Karma , 2011)
The website had a fairly thorough explanation of Vinyasa Yoga. Vinyasa flow focuses on the form, movement and breath and integrating them into a flow of sun salutations. The website described Vinyasa as a very popular contemporary yoga style that requires descent knowledge of the basic yoga postures. The class leads through a series of breath-synchronized postures which are linked to one another through a flowing movement. The class is supposed to harmonize each movement of the body to each breath taken, so the breath is not forced to follow the actions of the body as occurs with other forms of exercise. Some Flow classes will use a heated room but this one was not specifically heated. They also mention that it is general-style class and is unique based by each different instructor. (Karma , 2011) They also describe it as “Vinyasa (Flow) is a dynamic form of yoga that links the breath with the transitions of the body into postures, or asanas. It is the joyful movement of our physical selves and provides the foundation for a thorough exploration of the body-mind connection.” (Karma , 2011)
Before I even stepped into the Karma Studio, I wanted to have a good idea about what Karma Yoga is so I would be able to see if the studio was honest, consistent, and true. The quote on the front page is “Almost everyone knows what 'karma' is. But did you know that 'karma yoga' means 'selfless service' in Sanskrit? Let's all try to do our part, while always working on expanding our circle of compassion.”(Karma , 2011) Their mantra is karma is union through Selfless Action. The philosophical foundation of this program is that of karma yoga, a Sanskrit phrase that literally translates to the path of union through selfless action. The foundation focuses on incorporating these principles by involving community outreach as an essential component of the studio. (Karma , 2011) According to “On the Meaning of Yoga” by Joshi “karma-yoga is the restriction of the mind to its essential acts. I n the Matsya-purina, it is called kriya-yoga, which is the practice of right virtues such as kindness, cleanliness, lack of greed, and so on. Emancipation is here and now for one who looks equally upon the opposites like pain and pleasure." (Joshi, 1965) I felt as though this business was quite honest in their karmic values and what the studio stood for I believe they actually presented. The founder Jesse continues his karmic values when he encourages Karma Yoga Studio volunteers to help the homeless and donates to C.A.R.E. (Community Animal Rescue and Education) an animal rescues non-profit, that Jesse has also co-funded. (Karma , 2011) He runs a very sincere and community oriented business.
The studio has expanded to three locations in the Boston area, one in South Boston, Commonwealth ave, and in Harvard Square. The Cambridge studio was founded in 2002 by Jesse Winder, which offers a wide variety of yoga styles all with strong impression of Karma Yoga. The founder Jesse developed PhysioYoga which has brought into this studio. PhysioYoga hat is a style which combines traditional hatha yoga with biomechanics and sports medicine. If I have a chance, I am quite interested in this style of yoga. Jesse has taught yoga at the Alternative Medicine Immersion Program at the Natural Standard Center in the efforts to further Integrative Medicine. According to the studio’s website, Jesse lives according to ahimsa, which is a Sanskrit meaning “to do no harm”.
On Thursday, February 17th I called Karma Yoga Studio in Harvard Square, just to make sure that the 7:45pm session was still going to happen. I was quite sick and was hoping that it was going to be a relaxed and I was a bit nervous because my body was not up to par. I normally wouldn’t mind more of a physical intensive yoga but I felt like I just wanted a low intensive but still a meditative and spiritual experience. I walked down to Harvard square and walked into a very peaceful room. I got there 15 minutes early so I could get myself acquainted with the space, and I started by experience by signing a waiver and paying 12 dollars for the class and I was directed to the downstairs studio. The studio had hardwood floors and a beautiful light sculpture on the wall. I didn’t know what to expect for the latest class of the day, and I didn’t want too small of a class because I was slightly intimated because this was my first studio experience. About 7:40pm the room had filled up to about 15 students which was just right. Everyone in this later in the evening class seemed to be coming from a long and stressful day, and this was their oasis and their time for themselves. The demographic of the class seemed to consist of women in their 20’s to their 30’s. They all wore some sort of yoga pant or shorts and either a tight sports top or a loose athletic top.
My instructor introduced herself as was Bethania Bacigalupe who seemed calm, funny and very nice. She started the class with a gentle reminder of using breathe and if you need a moment or as much time as you need, to go into child’s pose. She also mentioned to use variations of the poses or more experienced could go deeper into the poses. She also prefaced with that she would go around to individuals and will help adjust their bodies. This class started out with a relaxed pace and quickly speed up to a rhythmic speed of sun salutations. I knew my body was weak because of my current health so I was not pushing my body beyond what it could do. Through-out the poses she would say now exhale with this pose and inhale with this pose. I thought it normally would have helped control my breath, but I was having an especially hard time. Bethania had a nice and encouraging guidance, and she would describe the positions or asanas in western terms instead of sansript terms. I was so focused on the flow and continuous motion that I barely had time to worry about how sick I felt. After the 80 minutes of constant flow of sun salutations I was exhausted, and finally when we laid down for 5 min, my body felt extremely relaxed and did not want to move. The pace of movement was quick but the breathing was controlled and slowed. I have experienced ‘power yoga’ before and this was not an intense as some of my previous experience. Compared to the Hatha Yoga we practice in class the experience was much more focused on the movement and controlling the breath instead of the deepening the meditation and connecting the mind.
I believe the foundation of Karma Yoga Studio has an eastern perspective of Karma. I believe the business is geared to making the whole community a better place. I think in both subliminal and deliberate ways the people involved in this business get a deeper understanding of the spiritual. But I do believe that the way they present yoga has been definitely westernized. I think the individuals who come to Karma Yoga Studio don’t necessarily come for a place for furthering a spiritual finding but instead a place of physical exercise with the benefits of mental relaxation. What people can get out of this practice is not a negative experience but it is a different experience than what you would receive if you would practice the western style of yoga. We focused on breathe it was more for the help of moving the body and not the body helping further the meditation.
Joshi, K. (1965). On the Meaning of Yoga. Philosophy East and West, 53-64.
Karma. (2011, February). Retrieved February 15, 2011 from Karma Yoga Studio:
Muktibodhananda, S. (1993). Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Bihar, India: Bihar School of Yoga.