being present: a woman is back on the mat

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Lately I’ve been feeling all of the feelings. At first, being present feels as if your body is covered in bandaids, which you’re constantly ripping off. Every feeling is pronounced, real and raw, and it takes breathing through every nick, tear and bite in order to survive. Breathing allows you to claw your way out of the dark. It’s been five days living mindfully, and I can already tell you that I feel different. It’s a shift imperceptible to everyone else but me, but I feel more alert, my sleep is deeper, and I actually feel the weight of time. I’m present for the hours because I’m held accountable for how I fill them. It’s up to me to define the quality of every moment spent, and as a result, I’ve returned to my yoga practice.

I’ve written at length about my yoga practice, how I fell in love with mindful movement and how I’ve felt disgusted by the lack of kula (or community) and the fact that a once methodical practice has devolved into cardio stretching. When I started the practice in 2002, yoga wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now (and certainly those who have practiced since the 70s would say the same thing) and teachers were more focused on community, alignment and enlightenment than the designer yoga pants and star-studded conferences.

I can’t tell you how many yoga studios I’ve visited the past year where I wouldn’t trust a teacher’s hands on my body. The speed at which people move (New York demands velocity! We’re competing with SoulCycle!), without careful consideration over how limbs are placed on the ground, drives injuries at a rate I’ve never seen. I’ve witnessed yoga teachers glide past women doing up-dog with their arms spiralling inward, lower back collapsing. I’ve seen teachers encourage students to kick up into their handstand practice (parenthetical: kick-ups, by the way, are the opposite of being present) instead of drawing energy from their core. Teachers, and I’m being generous here, encourage students, regardless of their body type or ability, to assume the full shape of a posture rather than finding the shape their body can realistically take.

Yoga has become a whispered axiom: handstand by any means necessary.

As a result, I’ve walked out of the fanciest of studios, mid-class. A few solid teachers may make a studio’s name, but we’re left with the remains. Empty “spiritual” mantras and a push to power through versus being still. So believe me when I say that when I’ve found two studios that bring the goods, so much so that it’s encouraged me to return to a consistent practice, that this news is BIG.

East Yoga is ninety minutes of truth, my friends. They may not hock the colorful $80 leggings, and the space might be sparse and minimal, but the classes are anything but. I’ve taken quite a few of their classes and have been floored by the consistent, thoughtful instruction, the hands-on adjustments, the pause and breakdown of poses, the encouragement of props (if a studio turns up their nose at props, WALK THE FUCK OUT!!!). I’m quite fond of Anna Greenberg, and after ten years of a mostly on, sometimes off, practice, I actually have found new ways to get into poses. Her deconstruction of postures is simple and spot-on, while delivering a class that burns. It’s been a while since I’ve been sore from a yoga class, and the first time I took her class I woke up with hamstrings on fire.

If you live in New York, RUN, to East Yoga. If you find the EV a difficult commute, check out Yogamaya (another fave). I also plan to check out Katonah Yoga tomorrow, and I’ll report back all the details.

This feels good, to be present. To be back on my mat with nothing to hear other than the sound of my breath.

3 thoughts on “being present: a woman is back on the mat

  1. So glad you’ve found a ‘real’ place to practice! I have to admit, for years I took “yoga” classes at the gym I attended and now that I attend an actual yoga studio I see how laughable those classes were. It was exactly what you said- cardio yoga, and a competition to see who could get into a handstand first.
    When a new studio opened up close to my house I tried a few classes and found a teacher who is amazing. He’s practiced for years and I implicitly trust him. Also, lucky for me, it’s a late evening class and sometimes it’s just me so it’s like getting one-on-one classes.
    I’m thrilled yoga has become so popular, but in many cases, it’s not really yoga anymore.

    Like

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