Palms face down gripping the mat, shoulder blades drawn down the back and hips up high towards the ceiling: Adho Mukha Savasana, or more commonly known as Downward-Facing Dog. The pose is all too familiar but this time, there are glow sticks wrapped around my wrists, a DJ in the corner, Technicolor lights on the wall beside me and light reflecting only from the disco ball overhead. It may not be that uncommon to find yourself in such a room on Saturday nights but inside a yoga studio? The event, hosted by Gaea Yoga, was a special occasion and a chance for students to add a little more playfulness to their practice.
Instead of one teacher leading the class, there were three. Instead of lasting an hour, the event was two. Instead of reciting passages from well-loved yogis like Erich Schiffmann or B.K.S. Iyengar, there were light-hearted jokes and upbeat music. Of course, a yoga practice is meant to have a calm, centered focus but who says we can’t have fun too? Even though the atmosphere may be unusual, it was nonetheless exciting and the changes brought a renewed attentiveness to my practice not a distraction.
While all of the teachers had been certified and strongly associated with Gaea, they all offered significantly different styles. Ashley Bell was the first to teach, who I’ve become familiar with since moving to Charleston as I immediately fell in love with her Lotus Inspired classes. A style strongly rooted in the elements of vinyasa flow, it creates an expressive dance out of your yoga practice leaving you feeling empowered and graceful. Inhaling up for Warrior I, bowing over the bent front knee for a Devoted Warrior, quarter turn left, pivoting on my feet to devote my warrior pose in the opposite direction. Exploring all four directions of the yoga mat is a signature of Lotus and Ashley is so talented in giving enough direction so you can follow along while still keeping a fluid pace.
Mitchell Hughes completed the sequence of standing poses but shied away from the fluid motion of vinyasa. While he completed his training at Gaea, he now calls Columbia home where he teaches Grass Roots Yoga. Instead of challenging students through movement, we remained steady in our legs and allowed our upper body to move slowly in correlation with breath. The most memorable aspect of his sequence was the balancing posture, beginning with knees bent. Instructed to cross my hands, take hold of the right foot and on the inhale, pressing down through the left leg to float the right foot up. Maybe, extend it out in front of you. The real difference was noticing how much my right foot, grasped in my hands, felt weightless as all the energy was pulsing down the left to give enough lift. A variation of Supta Hasta Padangustasana, in not only the way your hands are crisscrossed but in changing how you get into the pose.
Kate Smith, the founder of Gaea, is currently acquiring her 500-hour certification with a focus on Yin so it was only natural for her to step in and finish the class. Yet, she emphasized more so on a dynamic variation to the traditional calming practice. In that, she encouraged movement instead of static rigidity within the poses. Instead of folding my right leg in, left leg extended behind and folding immediately over the bent shin to come into pigeon, I gradually walked my hands out and paused to notice every shift of stretching sensation. It made the two to four minute postures seem less like an extended amount of time, anticipating to get out but enough time to explore.
Ultimately, we should all challenge ourselves in new ways and try out different styles. Just because it isn’t the “typical” style, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. If it is, how will you truly know until you try it? It’s a principle that applies not only to my yoga practice but one that I’ve carried throughout life, which is why I want to share my experiences with students at College of Charleston. I’ll be continuing to post not only reviews of events related to music and yoga, but a frequent blog detailing different concepts, poses, classes, teachers, studios or any other theme related to yoga practice. All of this will be in an attempt to help students clear any confusion they may have regarding the varied practice and begin their own.
So, regardless if you’ve rolled out a mat inside a studio yet or not (although I recommend you try it), remember to keep surprising yourself and branching out to new people, classes, interests, anything. And to satisfy those who do love a good quote to linger on, I provide this one:
“Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past, or a pioneer of the future.”