Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Yoga Loft: My Experience

The Yoga Loft: My Experience
Kayla Turcotte
Lesley University

            This paper focuses on my experience at The Yoga Loft in Wilmington, Massachusetts and its relation to the theory, culture, and practice of yoga. In order to learn as much as I could about this yoga studio, I read through their website thoroughly and then did some research of my own; both on the yoga studio itself as well as the theories of yoga they base their classes off of. Attending a class at The Yoga Loft further enhanced my knowledge of the subject and allowed me to experience the practice firsthand and take in the mix of cultural influences the studio incorporates into their practice.

            I have always had an interest in yoga, both in its impact on people physically and spiritually and how it varies from culture to culture. I have taken a few basic yoga classes here and there in the past, but all of them have been very “Americanized” ways of practice. Going into this project, I wanted to find a yoga studio that I have not been to before to get a new experience and see if it was any different that what I had encountered in the past. I chose to go to The Yoga Loft in Wilmington, Massachusetts. I had assumptions that it would be just another yoga studio strongly influenced by American culture, but I was pleasantly surprised. 
The Yoga Loft
            To get a basic understanding of The Yoga Loft, I first visited their website before going to the studio. I quickly learned that they are a Vinyasa style yoga studio and offer a variety of beginner and intermediate classes in Ashtanga and Power yoga. They also offer special classes at times, including Yin yoga and hot yoga, and a variety of workshops and teacher trainings. They have different membership opportunities ranging from drop-ins to 20 classes to monthly unlimited, and give a discount to students and teachers. They have schedule of all of their current classes online, which is very helpful. The website also includes a short biography about each of the yoga teachers that work there, which I found to be interesting. Many other yoga studios I have looked at online do not include this information. I liked being able to read and learn about the teachers’ backgrounds and motivations in their practice.
            Jen Ryan founded the Yoga Loft in 2005. She was attending college in California in the 1990s when she discovered her love for yoga. After finishing her degree there, she moved back to her home to Wilmington and decided she wanted to study and practice yoga fulltime. Her goal for The Yoga Loft was to “create a fun, friendly place for people in the community to come and practice” (The Yoga Loft, 2012). She is very involved in the yoga community, owning another yoga studio in Middleton, Massachusetts, as well as starting The Yoga Amistad of Massachusetts six years ago. The goal of The Yoga Amistad is to “help bring yoga teachers and students together at the local level and work on bringing even better yoga instruction to the community” (The Yoga Loft, 2012).
Background on Vinyasa Style Yoga
            On The Yoga Loft’s website they state that they are a Vinyasa style yoga studio, offering classes in both Ashtanga and Power Yoga styles. I decided to do a little background research on what the ideas, goals, and theories are behind Vinyasa style yoga before I attended the class. I wanted to get a better understanding of what exactly Vinyasa style yoga entails and what to expect from a class of this style.
            Pizer (2012) describes Vinyasa yoga as a “connection between movement and breath” (p. 1). In practice, this means that “poses will flow from one to another in conjunction with the breath” (Pizer, 2012, p. 1). Throughout my various readings on Vinyasa yoga, I saw the common theme of the importance of breathing throughout the poses and flowing from one pose to the next. Smith (2007) also states this basis for the practice well by saying, “The practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is based around several series of asanas (‘postures’ or ‘poses’), tied together in a ‘garland’ (mala) of poses by a series of movements (vinyasa). These movements and poses are coordinated with a breathing technique (ujjayi pranayama, ‘victorious breathing technique’), which is practiced throughout the sequences of asanas and vinyasa.” (p. 27).
            The tradition of Vinyasa yoga began with Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who then passed his teachings on to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and BNS Iyengar; both of whom were disciples of Krishnamacharya (Steiner, 2012). It began as Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga and the philosophical roots can be found in the Yoga Sutra by Patanjali (Steiner, 2012).
            This form of yoga began to appear in America in the 1970s. Normal Allan was the first American to be taught by Pattabhi Jois (Steiner, 2012). A few years later David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff were also taught by Jois, and they then invited him to America where he taught a small workshop in California. Jois’ son Manju accompanied his father on this trip and ultimately decided to remain in America to continue to teach the traditional ways of Ashtanga yoga in the west (Steiner, 2012).
My Experience
            My experience at The Yoga Loft was much better than I had expected. I had anticipated it to be a typical Americanized type of yoga studio, but I was pleasantly surprised.
            The Yoga Loft was located in a plain, brick building with a few other businesses surrounding it. Looking at it from the outside did not impress me, but that opinion quickly changed when I stepped inside. I walked into a small, entrance-area room. It had a desk across from the door, some benches and coat hangers to the left, and a set of doors covered in curtains to the right. The woman at the desk greeted everyone as they walked in and had them check in. It was my first time going to this studio, so she had me fill out a short form with basic information such as my name, address, how I heard about the studio, any injuries or medical conditions, and an emergency contact. After taking a few minutes to fill this information out, I took off my shoes and walked through the curtained double doors.
            When I walked into the room, I instantly felt more at ease. It was a very big, open room that gave off a very welcoming feel. It had wood floors and walls painted in a calming red-brown color. The lights were dimmed, but I was still able to take in all of the small details that went into this room. There was a large painting of a lotus flower and a quote by Patanjali on the front wall, which I found very interesting. It was just enough detail so that it was not overbearing. There was a tall, square lamp in each corner of the room giving off just a little bit of light. In the far back corner, there were two small tables. One had a radio and the other had candles and statues associated with yoga, such as a praying monk. The only thing I found strange that did not seem to agree with the calm feeling of everything else in this room was the music. It was somewhat loud and current music; not quiet or calming natural sounds that I have experienced in other yoga studios I have attended. Despite this, I still felt very at ease.
            I noticed that the room was relatively full when I walked in, even though I was ten minutes early to the class. I took this opportunity to look around and observe the people that were attending this class. The first thing I noticed was their clothing. It was the same clothing you would expect to see in most yoga studios in America today; tight, multicolored yoga pants and small tank tops. The vast range of ages surprised me, though. There were about 20 people, ranging in age from 20s to 50s or 60s. I was surprised by how many older people were attending the class; I had thought it would be mostly younger people. There were also three males in the class, which I did not expect. In my experiences, the American culture influence on yoga tends to tell society that only females participate in yoga, so I was glad to see that males are beginning to break that stereotype.
            Everyone had already set up their mats and began stretching, so I took one of the only empty spots left located in the back of the room. The older woman next to me told me that I may want to get a couple of blocks and a yoga strap from the shelf to the side of the room, so I did. I went back to my mat and began some basic stretching. It seemed as though many of the people in the class had been there before and knew what they were doing. I used this to my benefit throughout the class, often watching them to see how they did their stretching and poses later on. After a few minutes, our yoga instructor came into the room and sat down on her mat at the front of the class.
            Jen introduced herself to the class for the people that did not know her, although the majority of the people had been there before and did know her. After her quick introduction, we jumped right into the class. Jen began by having us do easier poses, focusing on stretching and warming the body up for more difficult poses later on. She had us begin by going into child’s pose and after a few minutes we moved into table. From there, she instructed us to move back and forth between cat and cow at our own pace, focusing on our breathing while doing the exercise. Our poses always flowed smoothly, one leading into the next without much effort. After a little while Jen had us lie on our backs and put the yoga strap across the bottom of our foot and lift our leg up, stretching our heel toward the ceiling and our toes toward the wall behind us. I could really feel this stretch in my hamstrings. After doing this stretch with each leg, we slowly began to move into sun salutations and warrior poses. We did a couple routines of sun salutations, which I was more comfortable with having done them in other yoga classes previously.
            Jen then had us move into more difficult poses, many of which I could not do because of my knee injury. I tried a few of them and she was very helpful in showing me variations of the poses that I could do. When I was not able to do the pose or variation, I took the time to observe how the other people in the class were doing the pose. The majority of the people seemed very experienced and were able to do these more challenging poses relatively easily. Jen then talked us through another routine of sun salutations and then instructed us to lie down in any comfortable position.
            Class was coming to an end. As we lied down and got comfortable, Jen turned the music down and dimmed the lights until the room was almost completely dark. She then lit one small candle and brought it to her mat at the front of the room. We then lied there in silence for about eight minutes. She did not say anything during this time; she did not guide us through relaxation like we do in class. It was calming, but I found it easier to go into a deeper state of relaxation when it was more guided, like it is in class. Jen then had us slowly sit back up, say “namaste”, and then the class was over.
            Overall, I really enjoyed my experience at The Yoga Loft. It was challenging, but in a good way. It allowed me to learn some new poses and new ways to stretch and strengthen my legs and hips, which, as an added bonus, I feel will also really help heal my knee injury further. Strengthening the muscles around my knee is an important part of the healing and rehabilitation process and I really enjoy learning new ways I can go about doing this.
            I also enjoyed the mix of cultures I saw while there. While all of the people attending the class seemed to be there for the “Americanized” style of yoga, for reasons like fitness and exercise, I liked that the teachers working at the studio made an effort to incorporate traditional yoga culture into the studio and experience as well. I think that it was a good balance between the two and I enjoyed it much more than the regular American style yoga studios I have attended in the past.
            I feel as though I have learned a lot from this experience, both in how yoga is portrayed and practiced in America today and its more traditional and cultural roots. I enjoyed learning the theories of yoga through my own research as well as through firsthand experience in a yoga studio within my community. Knowing the theories behind the practice really helps my understanding of the poses and the benefits that yoga can have on the mind, body, and spirit.

Pizer, A. (2012, June 17). What is vinyasa flow yoga. Retrieved from http://yoga.about.com/od/typesofyoga/a/vinyasa.htm
Smith, B. (2007). Body, mind and spirit? towards an analysis of the practice of yoga. Body Society, 13(25), 25-45. doi: 10.1177/1357034X07077771
Steiner, R. (2012). Tradition: The legendary history of ashtanga vinyasa yoga. Retrieved from http://www.ashtangayoga.info/ashtangayoga/tradition/
The Yoga Loft. (2012). Welcome to the yoga loft. Retrieved from http://www.yogaloftnorth.com/index.html

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