the image on top is "Welcome Home Sweet Sugar" by Kelsey Brooks

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Black Swan Yoga

Black Swan broke apart the concepts of all a donation based studio can become. Never before was I so incredibly proud to come from a donation based studio, nor inspired into spreading donation-based love.

Before I get into the excellent instruction that I received in Ben's class, let me talk about how the studio itself works.

It's a co-op. A cooperative, donation based space. Teachers don't get paid from a central authority who runs the studio (honestly, I don't know if one person's name is on the lease- but from what I've heard decisions are made through the group). Teachers rent space, and are reimbursed through student donations. It keeps it honest and open, and simply enough- if students want you, you'll be there.

It's stylish and authentic. Oftentimes decorating a yoga studio or creating a 'sacred space' means putting up reflections of cultural symbols that most cannot relate to*. Black swan creates the format through an authentic, hip design that really show what their yoga means: self expression, creativity and ingenuity. Paper mache black swans line the walls and their photography and social media presence is stunning. I wish I lived in Austin so I could play with these guys. I really do.

I took Ben Heath's class: mindful, passionate, well-sequenced, great points of alignment- an all around excellent class. With radiohead twice in the playlist (love it!). Ben also teaches a class at 4:30 AM in the morning (no joke) on Saturdays that he will not accept donations. It's pure kundalini for two hours! How amazing, after a night of partying or just some restless, curious night, you found yourself at Black Swan..... crazy visions of how insane that morning would be.

Black swan reignited

*note, I have nothing against cultural appropriation: I walk around with a metal Ganesh around my neck and an Om earing, both presents. Yet those symbols have become meaningful to me through my practice. It's impressive that Black Swan goes outside that paradigm to choose symbols that may be meaningful to non-yogis.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Camel with Natasha

This is my second time taking a camel-oriented class with Natasha, and I don't think I'll ever forget the points: engage your legs, allow the lower spine to remain, bend only in the upper spine. Like bending over a beach ball.

I've been shadowing her Tuesday class, and I love it so much. The classes are slow, mindful, and yet intense. Incredibly intense in the way I suppose only an ex-ballet dancer could create. For example, the half-warrior with the arms reaching forward. The sequencing, although a vinyasa flow, has the work ethic of an Iyengar class, with everything working up to a pose at the end, often a backbend.

I also notice the classes having a profound change in my practice: my tadasana arms- which I will make sure to carry with my in my warriors, in my down dog- have a more significant outward rotation, accomplished by engaging the outer arms. There are so many points of alignment that she gives, I wish I could keep track of them all. I hope my body remembers, even if my mind forgets.

The last class I took, we had incredibly intense virabhadrasana & ardha chandrasana sequence that brought us to the wall. But, Natasha would smile, the wall just makes things harder, right? We stood with our back leg against the wall at a 45 degree angle, and our front foot facing forward, a low lunge. The intention was that we learned to push our back hip forward and engage our back tight. And let me tell you- the engagement and pressing back of my back thigh has made EVERY warrior 2 since considerably easier.

The next class, I commit to taking some notes right away. Next tuesday!

Backbends with Ryan

I did my first full-out backbending session with Ryan the other day! We typically have been having evening sessions, focusing on calming the mind's restless and anxiety, releasing tension and coming to a place of stillness.

Backbends, although relaxing in the sense that they offer a release of negative energy, are a pretty energizing practice. But the other evening we met slightly earlier than usual, so I thought I would give it a go. He loved it. Absolutely loved it. I've never been so inspired by someone else's backbending practice!

Monday, April 4, 2011


Jared Hirsch is admirable for his intense knowledge of yoga and his willingness to share his passion for avocados. Side note: It makes me wonder what fruit or vegetable I could write an ode to. Fennel? Apples? (La Luna? My signature fennel-celery-apple juice?).

When Jared opened up class asking if we were looking for anything in particular, it didn't take me long to blurt out "Courage and Clarity". Jared added compassion to the mix and summed up essentially what I ache for: Courage, Compassion and Clarity. We were to practice with the intention of embracing these things.

The chant "Om Ma Namaha" was repeated throughout class in a series of flowing variations on sun salutations, and forward bends. The class was creative and intentional, flowing seamlessly through in and out breath variations. We started off class with dynamic shades of child's pose, one arm and one leg up and then child's pose. The emphasis was on uyaji breathing, and Jared came around to everyone in class to offer individual attention and correction to their breath.

Before we moved into warrior sequences, we prepared the shoulders by inhaling them up to a T, exhaling and flipping them up while tucking the chin into the chest. Inhale, rotate the shoulders out, glance up, exhale glance down, flip shoulders over and tuck your chin. One of my favorite parts was the movements we made from warrior one to airplane, every motion on the breath, everything part of a cycle one can lose oneself in.

There were so many creative forward bending we did, including some from kneeling, and even one (and my memory may be fading) in a bridge pose. What I love about a flowing class like this is that it somehow stimulates creative thought: I'll be halfway through a pose and just start laughing because an inspirational (and yet so obvious) idea will occur to me. You know, that perfect solution one can never find with restricted blood flow under stress, yet sometimes pops up in yoga.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Jo Flaherty

I cannot think of a better way to start a Friday night than at Jo Flaherty's 5:30 at Down Under.

Right away, we started class on a creative note: a stretch for the hand that involved taking one's palm in what I like to call "spider man pose" and taking one finger at a time and bending it away. Learning a new thing right away is a great way to get me right in the flow of things, and- I'm trying out this phrase- turning the "being present" switch on*.

*... is that too dorky?

We moved into an intense and intelligent vinyasa sequence that rolled through variations on crescent lunge, and all the fun sun sals and side planks, to Jo's wise advice and excellent taste in music. She had that ability to hold the space very well- frequently yoga is spoken of as "creating and dissolving sacred space" (in the words of Richard Freeman). When an instructor focuses on doing this, the practitioner can indeed tell.

Ease in attitude led the transition into side arm balances. Jo held poses patiently, much longer than most vinyasa I've experienced in this area, and I felt really inspired by that. There was the element of conscious creativity: sequencing to target opening in places one might ordinarily miss, while a strong dedication to 'sitting' in a pose. Having to fully come into being (instead of receding into the transitions) brings out stronger elements in me, and the next Friday I'm out on the town, I'm starting here : )