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Things That Make You Go Om
Allison Lowrey

Wake Up Yoga

For anyone whose body doesn’t naturally bend like Gumby’s, yoga might sound like a more daunting challenge than scaling Mount Everest. On the flip side, die-hard gym rats who think the only way to get in shape is through a manic Spinning class might scoff at the idea of yoga as exercise. But the health benefits, both physical and mental, of consistent yoga practice are undeniable. Finding your yoga comfort zone is crucial--and it’s as simple as finding a cozy studio, a hands-on teacher, or well-paced class.

I avoided yoga for years after studios began sprouting up faster than gray hair on a newly-elected President’s head. For one, I hate exercise for the sake of exercise. But beyond that, I was skeptical of all the silly names for poses. I was also doubtful that standing on a mat could be considered a workout. From the outsider’s perspective, Downward-facing Dog hardly looks like it would cause a person to break a sweat. Sporting a pair of my most judgmental, uptight East Coast goggles, I ruled yoga to be reserved for hippies and yuppies. My tie-dye-wearing, Grateful Dead-following days long gone (and my high-class socialite days about as imminent as growing a third arm out of my forehead), I chalked yoga up as a fad. It was something Britney Spears demonstrated on a talk show, for God’s sake. Surely it wouldn’t last.

Except it did. And anyone who ever tried it raved about it--their afterglow uncontainable. I finally caved in and put aside the notion that exercise classes had to involve kicking, punching, stepping, and cycling. I would pay lots of money to stand in a barren room with a bunch of strangers and channel my inner Cirque du Soleil. And I would enjoy it, dammit.

Wake Up Yoga

Wake Up Yoga--consistently raved about as Philly’s best yoga spot--is where I began my journey. I signed up for the beginner’s series in Fairmount, which spanned ten weeks. Our extraordinarily patient and inspiring teacher, Tina, helped us master each basic position to go through a vinyasa. She went at a slow pace. No beginner was left behind. By the end of the first hour and a half class, I was drenched in sweat and completely hooked. What’s not to love about an exercise routine that includes naptime at the end?

With each class, we progressed. Our class of once-wobbly beginners was now confident enough to tackle tricky poses like crow and wheel. Tina walked the tightrope perfectly, encouraging us to branch out without pressuring us to go beyond our comfort-level. Always, I’d feel sore the next day, which is how I validated the experience--at least physically. Mentally, I felt healthier, too. Less stressed, I found focus on a daily basis and slept better at night. A cynic at heart, I hadn’t anticipated yoga’s calming effects, but I embraced them.

Sun Light Yoga

After the beginner’s series ended, I started attending Saturday morning sessions. At 8 am. Which required me to roll out of my South Philly bed at 7 o’clock in the morning. As if waking at that ungodly hour on the weekend wasn’t proof enough of my dedication, I also bought my own mat instead of relying on the ones provided by the studio. Since I intended to continue practicing, there was no reason to lay my forehead on a mat where someone’s sweaty bare feet had possibly been hours before.

Every session at Wake Up continues to be challenging and revitalizing. You can practically taste the positive energy flowing through Wake Up Yoga’s studio and risk being blinded by the beaming grins of your classmates after the final ‘Om… Namaste.’

It’s that good.

On the occasions--and there were several--where I overslept after an overly celebratory happy hour the night before, I dropped in to other area yoga studios that held beginner/intermediate-level classes later in the day. This is how Sun Light Yoga entered the picture. Exactly one block from my house in South Philadelphia, Sun Light offered complete convenience. But it didn’t offer vinyasa yoga, where poses flow from one to the next in conjunction with the breath. Instead, I took a hatha yoga class, which is the pure and traditional form of yoga.

Wake Up Yoga

Maybe it’s just that South Philly is not a very Zen place. Maybe it’s that many of South Philly residents are either elderly or hipsters… and those demographics don’t tend to stray from their habitats--the Acme market/local pubs. Whatever the case, there were only two other people in my class at Sun Light. While not as physically taxing as the classes I was accustomed to, hatha was a pleasant experience. The teacher emphasized the meditation aspect of practice. As a fill-in studio, it would do. But with class coming to an end at just under an hour, and not having done any vinyasas, I left feeling restless. Sun Light offers a ton of programs beyond yoga, so it could be a fun spot to check out when you’re feeling adventurous. Looking to get into Pilates? Salsa classes? Belly dancing? Check their website often… they just might have what it takes to cure those inevitable winter blues.

After a particularly stressful workday, I ventured to Dhyana Yoga in center city. Granted, luxuriously wide spaces are hard to come by in this town, but this studio’s narrow hallway jacked up my blood pressure the minute I set foot in the door. It was jammed with people bumping around the hallways, salmon fighting their way upstream to make their way to the studio as another class let out.

Wake Up Yoga

After finally getting settled with my mat, I bucked up when I took a look around the room. Curtains acted as the divider between the two studios, which meant the class wouldn’t be expected to do inversions. Apparently sometime after my tween years, when I last did a cartwheel, I developed a paralyzing phobia of being upside-down. Thus, the curtained studio space at Dhyana Yoga was a welcome relief. No headstands, handstands or shoulder stands… phew. When the teacher entered, a hush fell over the room and we prepared to begin class. A no-nonsense yoga instructor, she sternly corrected people’s poses and seemed disenchanted with the lot of us. Maybe she had a bad day. Maybe she was called last minute to fill in for another teacher. Maybe we were the biggest bunch of buffoons she’d ever had to deal with. Who knows? But her vibe almost made me wish I were back in my cubicle, dealing with corporate bullshit.

Dhyana Yoga handed out hymnal books at the beginning of class that we could read from as we chanted. It was like a Catholic mass with all the half-hearted, off-key congregational singing. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the spiritual side of yoga, Dhyana is your spot. The other 20-some people jammed in the room for that class obviously enjoyed the session. But this Easter/Christmas Catholic just wants to clear her head and stretch some muscles, and other venues involve less talk and more rock.

Such as Yoga Sutra. After another soul-sucking day at the office, I gave this studio a whirl. Also in center city, Yoga Sutra is more like a place of business than the other studios. It’s huge and has a changing room with showers, like a gym. The rooms are spacious, there’s a sitting area for people to drink tea, and there’s even a place to shop for yoga gear and accessories. What it boasts in amenities, it lacks in the cozy atmosphere of Wake Up’s studio. But the convenience of its location on Broad is a huge draw--as is the fact that your first class is free! No strings attached.

Sun Light Yoga

Ropes are attached… to the walls of one of the studios. The ropes are used in some Iyengar classes, which is a great practice to try if you’re just getting into yoga. It helps students learn the proper way to do poses and understand the importance of balance.

As for Yoga Sutra’s beginner/intermediate vinyasa classes… they are challenging and fast-paced. If I hadn’t taken the beginner’s series at Wake Up, I would have been completely lost. Overall, the teachers are friendly and helpful and Yoga Sutra most definitely serves to wash some of your stress away.

Admittedly, I practice ‘yoga light.’ I do yoga when it fits into my life… I don’t live my life to practice yoga. The spirituality and history around yoga are indeed centering, but I have a long way to go to learn the nitty-gritty details about chakras and such. In a perfect world, we would all practice yoga every day. And as a result, the world would be a much quieter, peaceful place. But for now, quieting the never-ending chatter that runs through our heads--nagging us to pick up toothpaste at the drug store and submit our self-appraisals for our annual reviews--and simultaneously getting a good workout in is the most that many of us over-worked, multitasking fools could hope for.

Listings associated with this Feature:

Dhyana Yoga Yoga Sutra
Wake Up Yoga Sun Light Yoga

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