February 21, 2011
Physioyoga at Karma Yoga
As a complete beginner to yoga my main focus in finding a studio was an easy class and a non-intimidating studio. I came upon Karma Yoga, which offered classes directed at “all levels” and focused on the physical and scientific- concepts I can wrap my brain around. The environment was friendly and inviting, the site was informative, the class seemed exciting and simple. Karma Yoga is a little of everything, it has classes of all types, and instructors that vary as much as their wide array of classes. The class that attracted me the most, however, was their physioyoga class, a combination of the spiritual and traditional hatha yoga, with a focus on physical and scientifically proven movements. Karma Yoga is a new studio that has already made an impression on its community and many of its patrons as it dedicates itself to green living, healthy choices, injury prevention, a spiritual mind, and most importantly a fun experience.
One of the best aspects of Karma Yoga, that I noticed right away was it was very open and inviting. It had a calming and friendly environment and there were many individuals who were willing to help me and direct me, as I was new. Because I seemed confused, a woman sitting next to me helped me with what I needed: telling me I'd need to pull my mat against the wall because we'd be using it, and helping me gather all the supplies I would need. The list included a mat, a blanket, a strap, two blocks, and a roller (a very menacing roller). I've never used any of this “stuff” and felt a bit intimidated, as such I began chatting with the more experienced woman. I asked her if it was a difficult class and if it was for beginners. She told me it was for all levels, and that she'd been to many different yoga classes, but this one was the best. She was clearly a regular who had gravitated to this particular class. She said it was a slow paced class, but you still got a deep workout and it really worked. She helped several other newcomers as well she appeared to be the experienced mother figure of the class.
I was very pleased with the welcome I was given, I immediately got the impression that the studio was very “community” oriented, and many of the regulars knew one another and treated each other like friends. They welcomed new comers and helped them out. My instructor introduced himself and even went around shaking the hands of all the new students, including me, and asked us to introduce ourselves. Everyone was very friendly and helpful, it was a very comfortable environment. The class was very diverse with both new and old members, young and old. They were all looking for different things in a class, and our instructor sought to accommodate them. This was truly the class for “all levels”.
Karma Yoga Studio is about bringing the East to meet the West, and involving the community. Yoga is an old Eastern practice, but at Karma it is mixed with science and athletics to get a very nice Western mix. Not only that, but they're very dedicated to the community and the environment. They offer many different types of yoga: traditional hatha yoga, various versions of vinyasa yoga, hot yoga, and a few non-yoga classes like Bollywood dancing, among others (Karma Yoga, Class Descriptions). They are a new and expanding line of yoga studios currently in three locations around the Boston/Cambridge area. It was founded by my classes instructor, Jesse Winder, in 2002 as a community outlet for practicing yoga and different styles of eastern fitness. Karma Yoga was founded on the principle that yoga should be for everyone and it has a basis for individual attention. Jesse Winder's physioyoga, the class I attended, is a combination of hatha yoga with evidence-based scientific research in biomechanics and sports medicine. It is very physical and focuses on proper anatomical alignment, joint protection and health, and effective body mechanics (Karma Yoga, Teachers).
When the instructor came in I was dazzled with how friendly and upbeat he was. He spoke about a thousand words a minute, all of them interesting and informative. I felt like I was in a class- with his lecture/demonstration/questioning style. He began the class by asking each of us what we wanted to do that day, and many people gave suggestions. He would begin each pose with a demonstration, an explanation of what the pose exercises, why it is a good pose, and the different ways it can be used. He would than have us perform the pose and go around helping us to adjust the pose, while asking questions and talking about the different benefits of yoga and the muscles used.
The class was very slow paced, the instructor joked with us and told us to hold the pose for “20 minutes” while he talked. He told us that the next day our muscles would be working at a 70% greater rate because we were stretching rarely used muscles. He taught us that by pulling our limbs in more slowly we can stretch them back further than we ever thought possible. He also told us that laying poses were really efficient, because we could achieve greater stretches with less risk of damaging muscles and joints. He warned us of sitting poses; they are the easiest to damage a joint. He appeared very knowledgable and enigmatic. Our instructor, Jesse Winder, is the founder of Karma Yoga Studios and the practice of physioyoga. He's been teaching yoga for over 15 years and founded the studio in 2002. He is a supporter of the scientific research behind yoga, and a major part of his instruction is focused on injury prevention and support of the limbs. He studied for 6 years with a physical therapist and Iyengar-trained yoga teacher, Kim Amlong to develop this new style (Karma Yoga, Teachers). I experienced the effects of this body alignment first hand at my site visit.
Jesse Winder's physioyoga style is ideal for anyone, because of its main focuses on proper anatomical alignment, joint protection and health, and effective body mechanics which can appeal to newbies, people with injuries, and hard core athletes looking for the ideal balance between strength and flexibility (Karma Yoga, Teachers). His innovative yoga style is well researched and well honored, and his enthusiasm is evident in his teaching. Throughout his lessons he often talks about how some poses were hard for him at first, and it is clear he has a lot of fun while also teaching the many benefits of yoga. The physioyoga class itself, as experienced by me, was very physically strenuous. Poses that would seem easy became quite difficult to hold for long periods of time. And for some of the poses I learnt I could bend my body in ways I never had. We used many different materials that I'd never had the experience of using before. I struggled greatly with the roller, as I would not roll when we were meant to roll, and when we weren't to roll all I could do was roll. One tool, that our instructor described as “the cheapest and most useful” was the strap; it became very handy for poses and was simple to use. I personally think the cheapest and most useful tool we used in that class was the wall itself. We did many laying poses where we used the wall to stretch our legs, including a lotus pose. One of the interesting questions the teacher asked the class was “why do you get pins and needles when your feet/hands fall asleep?” He wouldn't let any of the regulars answer, which tells me it was a question he liked to ask often, the answer was the nerves. He related his “lessons” to everyday effects to show us how these movements can help our circulation all the time.
Karma Yoga employes many different yoga instructors of various backgrounds, and it is truly a place for anyone. Their mission is to support different viewpoints: aiming at the scientific, physical, and spiritual aspects of yoga, as well as support the community, and show yoga as a fun experience (Karma Yoga, About Us). They create a light and upbeat atmosphere with enthusiastic and engaging instructors, and a selection of soothing and upbeat music. The Karma-Yoga experience is always developing, Jesse Winder is currently attending Harvard Medical School Clinical Training in Mind-Body Medicine to develop his classes further. Jesse Winder has taught yoga to clinicians at the Alternative Medicine Immersion Program at the Natural Standard Center, a fore front in Integrative Medicine. He has even had the honor of speaking at Harvard College for his entrepreneurship (Karma Yoga, Teachers). Karma Yoga exemplifies the American yoga experience because it illustrates our ideals, while also promoting health and relaxation that the busy American lifestyle often lacks. Karma Yoga particularly reflects the Cambridge community it is located within, by supporting its local charities (as well as developing its own), and supporting a green environment and healthy living within the community. Karma Yoga is about bringing a world experience, the various different aspects of their spiritual practice, to an americanized setting.
Karma Yoga also has a strong focus on all types of health. They have their own tea shop and emphasize the benefits of herbology and holistic nutrition. They are strong supporters of charity and a green environment, they donate 5% of their profits to environmental protection organizations and have an eco-boutique which offers yoga and wellness accessories and a selection of ecological-responsible and fair-trade items (Karma Yoga, About Us). They offer one class in which all of their profits go to their joint animal rescue project, and instructors for this particular class work pay free (Karma Yoga, Class Descriptions). C.A.R.E, the Community Animal Rescue and Education organization is co-founded by Jesse Winder, the founder of Karma Yoga, physioyoga, and an instructor. C.A.R.E. Is also the first and only Cambridge-based animal rescue non-profit organization (Karma Yoga, Teachers). From their goals, and the many activities of the instructors of Karma Yoga it is clear they are very community orientated and are focused on developing a greener planet, as well as providing spiritual and physical practices for their clients.
Before attending Karma Yoga I was expecting (hoping) the class would be like our Lesley classes: slow paced, easy going, focused on breathing and relaxation. The Karma Yoga class was a lot more physical than I anticipated. When looking for a class to attend I chose a class that was directed at beginners in the hopes that it would be more calm and easy going. The class did have an easy going nature, but I was a bit intimidated by the use of some of the yoga “props”. When faced with the pile of props before me, I had no idea what to do. I remember discussing the uses of a yoga strap within class, but never did I think I'd actually encounter one. With that said, I did enjoy the class, and I believe it was fairly slow paced (although I'm not sure how someone with “light injuries” might keep up with it). It was a lot more focused on the physical than the spiritual, as our Lesley class explores, which I liked because I felt I could relate to it more. I did miss the relaxation/deep breathing exercises of our class. Although the Karma Yoga class did end with a short period of meditation, I felt it was a bit rushed, and not very calming. My Karma Yoga instructors voice wasn't as calming as Laura Douglass'. In all I'd say the Karma Yoga class was a lot more energetic, although the poses were held for longer (you'd expect there to be less “movement”) the instructors fast talking and enthusiasm gave the class a certain energy. I understand why the texts mentioned that Hatha Yoga is sometimes thought of as a more physical form, from this class, but I understand the authors disagreement with such comments because the class is as spiritual as you interpret it. This concept is one of the ideas I like best about Karma Yoga, they take a great effort to incorporate the physical and the scientific while also showing how spiritual it can be perceived.
"About Us." Karma Yoga. Karma Yoga, n.d. Web. 19 Feb 2011.
Karma Yoga Studio. Karma Yoga, Web. 19 Feb 2011.