21 February 2011
I had been interested in yoga since I came to Lesley University, mostly because I was never really exposed to it in my home town. When I came to this college, which has a strong holistic belief system, yoga became more accessible and I heard of more people who practiced it. I personally became interested in yoga because of my own physical pains due to stress from school and work. When given the push in Yoga: Theory, Culture, and Practice to visit an outside site for the midterm I was happy to have an excuse to go, visit, and experience Karma Yoga Studio. I chose this site because it is a studio located locally in Cambridge and is where I normally walk by but never go in. The Karma Yoga Studio in Cambridge is right on Massachusetts Avenue, and I passed by it all the time. I have always noticed it but never went it. I thought to myself how nice it looked on the outside with large windows in the front of the studio which glance into an organic Zen inspired tea café.
I wanted to take a session that was really different from the exercises in class. I wanted to learn some new asanas and experience something new. Because of this I was really drawn to the idea of hot yoga. It seemed to be the exact opposite of the hatha yoga practice in class which is very easy going, and where we take our time and focus on the breathing. As opposed to the hot yoga which was described as a much more intense level than I was ever exposed to, with more difficult poses, and at a much faster pace. The session I found was called Forrest Yoga which is taught in a room at about 80 degrees. (Karma) On the Karma Yoga Studio website it was described as an inspirational practice that helps connect to the core of the body, intending to be a rigorous work out focusing on lower body and balance. Forrest Yoga uses heat and deep breathing to sweat out harmful toxins. The intensions of the poses are to revitalize the body. It also describes the session as a way to learn effective tools in dealing with fear and struggle, which I found very interesting that they are adding an emotion component to the description of the yoga practice. Karma Yoga has labeled the class for those at all levels and states that Forrest Yoga does not require strength or flexibility, only a willingness to learn and respond to the body as needed. (Karma)
I had high expectations for Karma Yoga Studio. From the outside it looked like a high end, stylish, clean, and open environment. The price for one session for a student was twelve dollars which I felt was reasonable; not the cheapest price but certainly not the most expensive out there. So I was hoping to get a bang for my buck. Due to the description online it sounded like exactly what I wanted. When entering the studio the Karma Café located at the entrance and a lobby with chairs and tables along the windows, hardwood floors, and dim lighting making the environment feel natural and very comfortable.
History of Karma Yoga Studio:
Karma Yoga Studio has three locations within the Boston area. The Cambridge studio was founded in 2002 by Jesse Winder, which offers a wide variety of yoga styles. (Karma) Jesse also developed PhysioYoga which is taught at the studio that is a style which combines traditional hatha yoga with biomechanics and sports medicine. (Karma) He has taught yoga at the Alternative Medicine Immersion Program at the Natural Standard Center in the efforts to further Integrative Medicine. Besides being a physical therapist and yoga instructor he is also knowledgeable in holistic nutrition, herbology, and martial arts. (Karma) The website states that Jesse lives according to ahimsa, Sanskrit meaning to do no harm. He incorporates his values within all business of Karma Yoga. He is a strong believer in progressing ones business only if it will be a greater benefit to society. Not only that but 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) On the website there is a section that says “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 working on expanding our circle of compassion.” I was very impressed to see this. I did feel that the Studio was very community oriented. I felt it showed that having the word karma in the name of the studio was more than that. It is a studio that is still a business but that has values and ethics which I think is very refreshing. That it practices modern values of yoga without pushing ideals onto clients.
After signing a waiver and paying for the class I was directed downstairs to a studio room with hardwood floors and a beautiful light sculpture on the wall. I was expecting the teacher to be a little preachy or self important, and I expected the students to be experts in Forrest Yoga, whom take the class all the time. I have a yoga mat that I brought with me but I was delighted to find out that the studio will lend clients a blanket and yoga blocks for free. I went at around six o’clock on a Friday night so I did not expect to see a lot of people there but the class filled up pretty quickly totaling in about ten of us with plenty of room to spare. I thought that is was a great class size where the instructor was able to assist everyone. It felt very personalized and not a class where the clients are receiving a sense of mass produced yoga.
My instructor was Rachel Bairstow who came off as a very nice and humble instructor, with the mindset that she will be learning from the students as much as we will learn from her. She molded the class to what the clients respond to the most and what resonant with them. She was encouraging those with more experience to do their own variations on poses to ensure that they get the most out of the class, and for a beginner like me she was very helpful with easing into the poses and deep breathing. With the exception of Downward Dog all the poses were new to me so I felt that I was getting lot out of the class. However I felt that the class was extremely intense. With practically all of the asanas there was a part of my body violently shaking, which I see as good because I was stretching many areas of my body that I normally do not use, but at the same time very difficult for me to stay in poses. And I certainly experienced a warm if not burning sensation in my body. With the asanas there was not a lot of Sanskrit used in the class but using the western terms such as, Dolphin, Warrior, Turbo Dog, Ostrich, and Pigeon with many of the poses using yoga blocks. Even though it is considered a form of hot yoga the only part of my body that was sweating were my hands which really made it difficult for me to hold poses on the mat without slipping which became very frustrated towards the end of the session. The poses were exhausting for me, but I got through them by focusing on breathing. Throughout the session the instructor would periodically be dimming the lights, which by the end felt very relaxing. I felt like I was reaching my limits in the poses, especially with my legs, but it felt even better to lie down and relax my entire body to finish the class.
After class I talked to my instructor, Rachel, about Forrest Yoga and Karma Yoga Studio. She told me that she believed that the studio holds many yoga traditions. Each class is over an hour long, and is designed for clients to explore many different styles from different angles. The studio wants to offer a broad array of yoga to their clients to enrich their experience. Rachel became interested in Forrest Yoga three years ago where she trained with Ana Forrest, its founder. She described to me how Forrest Yoga was more Yang than Yin. How Yang is used to portray a more muscle building class, which uses heat, and moves quicker. In a Yin class it is at much slower pace where poses are usually held for over five minutes as opposed to the Yang classes in the studio. Forrest Yoga focuses on energy and heat building within the body. I asked her if there was any spiritual aspect of the classes, where she replied that there is always a spiritual component to yoga and that no matter what the clients come in for or why, they receive something more than just physical exercise. Forrest yoga focuses on the strength of the body, breath, and spirit. After the session I interpreted this as; by working on the physical endurance and limits of the body, and pushing past it, one can do the same for the mind with will and determination.
Karma Yoga Studio seems very community based and offers a wide array of classes. When in the studio the clients were definitely dominated by college students of those in their twenties and female. Within my class of ten there was one college aged male and two older females. However I did not see anyone who was not Caucasian, which confirmed my expectations of yoga in America being dominated by young white females. Even though I feel that the studio has the ideal that yoga is for everyone it is still a business in where those who can afford it go to sessions. Even though yoga blocks and a blanket are complimentary all the students still came with their own mats and yoga pants. The studio has its own locker rooms for those to change into something more comfortable, where there was definitely a sense of proper yoga attire of tight polyester as opposed to sweat pants.
Karma Yoga Studio is where yoga is seen in a holistic context, and that context comes first in comparison to a purely physical aspect. I was please to find that the studio has a gym an option for clients, but it is a yoga studio first and foremost. Their classes range with Gentle to Core Strength PhysioYoga developed by the founder, Anusara, Vinyasa, Kundalini, Power, and Hatha yoga. The studio also offers three non-yoga classes; Nia, Chi Kung, and Bollywood Dance. (Karma) They highly encourage yoga for beginners and for those who do not normally workout in gyms stressing the health benefits. The studio has a very fun loving attitude. There is no ‘one way’ of doing yoga and everyone was very helpful.
For my first practice in Forrest Yoga I feel that I would not have benefited as much as I would have without the knowledge I learned at Lesley University. Without that I would not have been focusing as much on the breathing, and without that I doubt I would have got through most of the poses. I found it to be a very rewarding experience, for example I know now that I am attracted more towards a slow paced class, and afterwards I felt proud of myself for hanging in there with the asanas. I found Karma Yoga Studio very welcoming and I may stop in there the next time I walk by for some tea.
"Karma: Mind • Body • Fitness." Karma: Mind • Body • Fitness. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2011. http://www.karmayogastudio.com/index.htm