Thursday, January 21, 2010

Restorative Yoga at Yoga Garden SF: Not Restored So Much As Humbled

I'd taken a 6:15am bikram class (followed by a post-bikram, post-shower nap, which is the most glorious experience but always makes me late to work) and had had a long work day, so an 8pm Restorative Yoga class at The Yoga Garden (described as "deep relaxation," "guided breath awareness," and "active enough for our restless minds and relaxed enough for our tired bodies.") for only $5 seemed like a great idea.

Did you ever read The Secret Garden?  The Yoga Garden is a bit like that - an unassuming building in the middle of a busy, boring street, but you walk through the gate and there's flowing water, bright green moss lit by blue light, plants & flowers and soothing sounds and bamboo and it's just gorgeous!  You follow this little oasis path around the building to the back, where the studio is located - very tiny, with only two unisex changing rooms and two bathrooms, but peaceful and...quiet.  Very quiet.

So as I mentioned earlier, I'm a slow learner.  But I've been spoiled by bikram, because it's the same every time and now I know what I'm doing.  I love when teachers compliment my Dhanurasana or new students give me sideways glances to see how I'm doing a particular pose.  I'm realizing that I've become...dare I say it...a tiny bit cocky.  But at Restorative Yoga, I felt ill-at-ease.  The calm, informal, slow-paced environment was strange and foreign to me - no one's yelling at me to lock my knees! The space is so small!  Everyone's so smiley and no one's sweating!  

I established myself as class idiot early on when the teacher had us sit cross legged and repeat a chant.  I thought she was starting the "om" and we were joining in, but in fact I was just om-ing along with the teacher AND with the class.  Oops.  Then I slid gracelessly out of my folding chair while trying to set up an inversion, and started laughing.  No one else did.  Why was this so hard?

I'm guessing Restorative Yoga takes some of its cues from Iyengar, what with all the pulleys and blocks and blankets and bolsters and so forth.  Sometimes I felt like we were spending as much time fiddling with props as we were actually in the poses, and I admit for the first two poses I was bored and thinking what a better stretch I'd be getting if I didn't have blankets and bolsters.  But the rest of the hour and a half class was fascinating - all the props do allow you to relax more into a pose, and deepen it, and stay in it a lot longer.  But strangely, it was hard for me to relax - my mind was racing and I wanted to be working the whole time, fixing the minutiae of the pose, getting it just right.

Marisa, the teacher (and as I found out after class, co-owner of the whole place!) was really lovely - she had a great, casual yet expert manner, and provided individualized instruction and adjustments to everyone in the class of about ten or fifteen girls of varying ages and sizes.  Even though I was feeling more and more like an idiot as the class went on (like when she said "you're not answering me so I'm assuming this block is too high" why didn't I realize she was talking to me?) Marisa was always warm and friendly and helpful.  I did feel very stretched and I liked the idea of counteracting the dark, rainy weather by doing a lot of forward bends, going even more inward - which for me, meant becoming even more aware of my active brain.  Does this mean that bikram isn't meditative so much as it's so hard I forget to think?

It's hard to judge Restorative Yoga without bias because it was my first non-bikram class, and it was bound to be an eye-opener.  I'll have to visit the Secret Garden later in the year and try something new.  I was reading The Alchemist on the two buses it took to get home (NOPA is just too darn far away, next time I'll be lazy and drive), and while some of that book had me rolling my eyes so hard I could see my brain, I do wonder if maybe my "Personal Legend" is to embrace the inner yoga idiot.  Or, just learn how to do an inversion without falling off the chair.

Yoga Garden - NOPA (Haight & Divisadero)
All types: Ashtanga, Core Strengthening, Hatha, Iyengar, Partner Yoga, Prenatal/Postnatal, Restorative, Shadow Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, Vinyasa Krama, Yoga For Children
First time drop in - $5 w/ coupon

Image taken from - teacher Kendra doing a restorative pose with the ropes and bolsters and blankets and blocks and everything.

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