Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Molly Keane - Midterm Paper

Molly Keane
Project and Presentation
Yoga: Theory, Culture & Practice

I am a beginner yogi, just discovering all there is to offer from a yoga class. While my experience has been rich, covering poses, history, practices, and cultural differences all under the topic of yoga. However, my curiosity for yoga drifted to how studios in other states might handle their yoga practices, despite how similar to my current class in Boston they might sound on paper.  There is such diversity in yoga practice in America and yoga practice overseas, I was curious as to whether yoga practice could be different just a few states away.
This is why I decided to sign up for a class offered by “Poseabilities” studio, located in Oxford, ME. According to their website, Poseabilities studio had been founded by a woman named Katey Hawes five years ago. Katey is a registered yoga teacher and has completed her RYT-200, received from the Shala Institute of Yoga in Bridgeton, ME. The website did not disclose exactly when she got her certificates. They had several different kinds of yoga classes offered on the website, including yoga through physical therapy and classes focused just on bodywork through yoga. I decided that I wanted something a step above beginner’s yoga,  and decided to go with a class offered on Saturday Morning entitled “Fundamentals Flow Yoga II.” 
Before class I has a chance to talk to my instructor, Ms. Kathryn Gardner, who does massage therapy primarily but has been practicing yoga for years and obtained her yoga teaching license in 2012. She explained to me that this was vinyasa yoga, which is a breath-based yoga focusing on movement lead by the power on inhalation and exhalation. Vinyasa is commonly referred to as “vinyasa flow” or just “flow” because the movements are similar to dance and rhythm. 
The atmosphere was intimate. The studio was a small room that would fit about twelve people max. On the wall there were blankets, blocks and mats provided for people who did not bring them. There was a substantial amount of soft light provided by the windows, but the windows were covered in soft white drapes that made everything less brisk. Music and chanting played very softly to encourage as little talk as possible. Kathryn greeted everyone who walked through the door with a smile and a small conversation, as if she knew every single one of these people. I later found out she actually did, “Most of these people are regulars and will come to yoga once if not multiple times a week,” Kathryn said as she sat upon her mat in the front of the class. 
Practice started off very slow with a few sun salutations, very similarly to my class in Boston, but very quickly it became a little more fast-paced. We hardly ever held a position for more than three seconds. Kathryn would use named to describe the poses such as “downward dog” or “happy baby” which I found almost comical, being used to Hindu names for poses.  I wouldn’t consider the movements to be quick, but they were certainly more quick than the slow poses I had done in my yoga class in Boston. Before long my heart rate was up and I would even be shaking, as some poses were difficult to preform. The class seemed so familiar and formal with each other, for instance Kathryn would sometimes say “left” instead of “right” than quickly correct herself, often accompanied by a witty remark about how it was the morning or how silly she was being, which would often result in laughter from the people in the classroom. Coming from limited studio experienced, I was relieved that it was ok to laugh and be human, because sometimes it’s just so much energy to not make any noise or react loudly to anything. People would even be bold enough to comment on more restful poses and say things like “thank God!” or “phew!” which would again result in small laughter from everyone. Another thing the instructor did often was go around and re-pose people if she noticed they were not stretching or posing in the correct way. I got re-posed multiple times, quite a bit more than most of the people in the class. I kept having to remind myself that this is a judgment free zone, that no one would care if I’m messing up so many times, that these people have been doing this a lot longer than me and that I am not a regular so it doesn’t matter if they think I’m terrible because I will never see these people again anyway.
For a class I was told focuses a lot on breathing, there were little actual exercises that focused solely on breathing. Kathryn was constantly reminding us to inhale and exhale, and let the rhythm of our breath control our actions, but there was never a time where we all sat and focused on breathing out of our nose or out of our mouth or anything that challenged natural breath. I didn’t mind that there were no exercises, it just came at a shock since I was expecting there to be more of those in vinyasa.  Kathryn later explained “This is a class for people who have experience with vinyasa. We often encourage people to show up ten minutes early to conduct their own breathing exercises and to generally get in the zone.” At this point I figured it would be too late to tell her that vinyasa yoga was something I have almost zero experience with, which goes the same for yoga in general. 
There were some poses in this class that I had never preformed before, some were amazing and some were just beyond my level of flexibility.  Kathryn kept using the phrase “thread the needle” which meant we would have to take our leg or arm and stretch it to the oppose arm. This was usually done in a plank-like or downward dog position. I found the pose really challenging and it was difficult for me to maintain balance, breath, position and stretch all at once. It was these positions where I became shaky. Another new position for me that I loved was “happy baby.” Happy baby is when you are on your back and you bring your feet up to meet your outstretched arms, grabbing the big tow and then pushing up with your legs so you get a nice stretch. I could have done this pose for hours.  About half way through the class I realized that there was no mirror anywhere in the studio, which differed greatly from my studio in Boston that has a wall-length mirror. I felt it was much harder to feel what pose I am in without seeing how I look. It was far from an appearance thing, more of a reassurance thing. 
I thought it was interesting how the studio Poseabilities was not only a center for multiple kinds of yoga but also a wide variety of other health and wellness services as well. On their website, they state their purpose is “dedicated to promoting individuals and groups in realizing their greatest potentials for health, wellness, and happiness. We provide a continuum of services and classes to reduce imbalances and discomfort, and to maximize life enjoyment.Yoga therapy was one type of offering that I thought was appropriate, even though traditionally a yoga specifically for therapy would have it’s own studio and own place. Another offering from Poseabilities is physical therapy. They offer massages and exercise that is sensitive to getting healthy and considering any ailment that you might have. I think that this is a wide variety of different things to be held in one place, but other than that I think it is a great idea to have such restorative and healthy practices all influenced by each other in one small area. Yoga is a great practice in itself but when you go to class and are automatically surrounded by all these people dedicated to physical therapy and therapy in general, you are influenced further by a whole new take on health. Why shouldn’t two practices striving for wellness get together and be in the same place? Or why should they? There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to sharing a space.
One of the main reasons I think the space is being shared is not only for the benefits of wellness practices, but also because of the demand for Yoga in the southern Maine area and the overall economy. As a Maine native, I can say with confidence that modern and upcoming trends tend to hit this state a little late. Other than Portland, there isn’t a terrible amount of dense population, which breeds multiple yoga studios and a diverse range of exercises. Oxford has a population of about 57,000 people, which compared to Boston’s number of 646,000 is not enough to harvest multiple studios, or even separate studios for physical therapy, yoga therapy or different practices in yoga. More rural areas tend to only have enough room in the economy for one long-standing studio, which has no choice but to take in more than just yoga to get a stable enough income to run a business for more than five years. This is also why the variety of yoga classes you can take at one place is so large, getting to specific with your practices lowers the amount of practices you can have a week, which in turn lowers income. Yoga is a spiritual practice, but when people turn it into a business, you have to have customers. 

Overall, my experience with Poseabilities was similar in some ways to what I have done in the past and wildly different in other ways. Things I liked about the practice included the time of day it was at: morning instead of evening. I felt very awake and ready for the day after my practice, and to have that feeling at the beginning of the day is helpful, whereas at ten o’ clock at night it feels a bit unwelcome. If I were to participate in this practice on vinyasa yoga again, I think I would first practice on my own. There seemed to be a level of fitness and flexibility everyone in the class could achieve but I was behind the 8 ball on that. Kathryn was wonderful, nice and considerate, but it really distracted my breathing and general calmness when she would come over and fix my poses, it made me feel like I was doing something wrong even though I know logically she was trying to help me. I would hate to learn the wrong way, but my raja’s energy really clashes with that. I would revisit Poseabilities again in the future.


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