It’s an unseasonably warm Monday evening, and even warmer inside the studio at DIG Yoga in Queen Village. I’m hiding in the back near the door. Sweat drips from my forehead, staining my new Lululemon yoga mat, as I struggle in downward-facing dog. I glance at the girl next to me—she looks totally Zen—and begin contemplating a fast, early exit. This is only day one of my 30-day yoga challenge, and I’m starting to think I’ve made a terrible mistake.
I always assumed I would hate yoga: the snail-like pace, the lack of competitiveness, the hippie-dippy ommmms. But for the sake of New Year’s—fresh starts! Personal challenges!—I decided to give it a fair shake: 30 days of yoga classes, at 30 different studios in the Philadelphia area. If I didn’t like yoga after this experiment, I figured I’d officially be a lost cause.
The first week was hell. I’m a fairly decent runner, but I wasn’t used to stretching and bending. “Listen to your body, and don’t push past what it’s able to do,” instructor Johnathan Raiss told me after a particularly grueling class at Fishtown’s Amrita Yoga. It was a nugget of advice I would hear again and again: Not only does forcing your body into yogic submission invite injury; it won’t help you become stronger, bendier or more confident on the mat.
When I focused on doing the poses in ways that worked for my body, something started to happen: By week two, I could easily touch my fingers to the floor. My arms and shoulders were getting noticeably stronger; my abs were tighter. I could keep pace with the rest of the class. I was able to focus and stopped comparing myself to the people around me. And oddly enough, I was enjoying it.
Nearly halfway through the challenge, I attended an evening class at Yoga on the Ridge in Roxborough. By the time I got there, only one spot was left: front row, dead center. Without batting an eye, I rolled out my now-well-used yoga mat. I wasn’t hiding in the back corner, and for the first time, I didn’t care. After 30 days, I still can’t do a headstand, but I’m getting there—front row, dead center.
Curious about where I did all those down-dogs during the challenge? Here's my day-by-day diary of all the studios and classes I attended.
Day 1: DIG Yoga
Location: Queen Village
Class: DIG Hour
Instructor: Nikki Robinson
This is what I would consider my "home" studio (in that I've taken a half dozen classes here in the past, which is approximately a half dozen more than I've taken at any other studio), so I thought it was the right place to start. This particular DIG Hour turned out to be all about abs. A fun class to start this challenge with. I have to admit that I felt a bit sheepish and sort of hid in the back, but I think this is something all newbies go through. Being able to watch the more advanced yogis around me was helpful, in terms of knowing what the heck I'm supposed to be doing, but it was a bit of an ego blow. I just need to embrace my beginner status and learn to be okay with it (something that's a bit of a challenge for a person who's as competitive as I am.) But hey, it's Day 1 and I'm already learning a lesson. The class itself was a sweaty, steady pace, and the perfect way to burn some steam before bed. I felt strong and confident. Bonus: I slept like a total baby.
Day 2: Maha Yoga and Healing Arts
Location: Center City
Instructor: Justicia DeClue
So THIS is where all the yogis in Center City go for happy hour. We were packed in there like sardines, which made this moderate-to-fast-paced class sweaty, sweaty, sweaty. Very fun, relaxed community vibe.
Day 3: Philly Power Yoga
Class: Philly Power Yoga
Instructor: Ewa Zeljazkow
I was SO NERVOUS about this class. I have not had great experiences with heated yoga, having almost blacked out the last time I took a class. This time, I spent the 24 hours prior drinking as much water as I could muster. I also invested in a $16 yoga hand towel from Athleta—greatest investment ever. I didn't pass out (go me!) and the towel was a total life saver. I sweat just thinking about sweating, so the towel allowed me to wipe away the buckets of perspiration and provided a slip-proof surface for my hands. The class itself was fantastic. Ewa gave me the confidence I think I needed for this challenge: to not worry about not being able to do certain poses (I'm a total yoga beginner here) but to give myself props for even showing up—because showing up is more than half the battle when it comes to fitness. The class was not too stiflingly hot for newbies and the pacing was good: fast enough to keep me interested and challenged, but slow enough that I could keep up. Definitely coming back here!
Day 4: Amrita Yoga and Wellness
Class: Amrita Flow Level 1/2/3
Instructor: Johnathan Raiss
Holy crap. My body is TIRED. For as jazzed as I was after last night's power yoga class, I'm just feeling exhausted today. I'm beginning to wonder: Am I going to fail at this challenge? I went to Amrita tonight hoping my body can make it through the 90-minute class. This flow class was a bit slower and more deliberate than I expected—at least, compare to last night's power yoga sesh–so we're holding poses and repeating Vinyasa sequences three or four times. My arms are shaking from the beginning; this is not going to go well. Instructor Johnathan corrects my form a few times which is helpful but I'm pretty sure he knows I'm dying (which is good—it's nice when an instructor can pick up on these things). Surprisingly, the 90 minutes seem to fly by, despite my shaking arms and abs. I'm able to zone out pretty well during savasana. My body is grateful for the rest. After class, Johnathan asks how I feel. "I'm tired," I tell him, and explain the challenge. He gives me some really great tips for easing into some of the poses I was struggling with, and reinforces some of what Ewa said last night: It's not about doing the poses perfectly. You have to adjust for where your body is at and give yourself props for even showing up and trying. So that's what I'm going to do: congratulate myself every day of this challenge for getting off the couch and on to the mat, even when I feel exhausted.
Day 5: Yoga Garden Philly
Location: South Street
Class: Lunch Hour Vinyasa
Instructor: Brittany Policastro
I loved, loved this class. What a brilliant way to spend a lunch break! Brittany focused a lot on poses that open up the shoulders and back, to accommodate all the desk-sitting we do at work. I was surprised at how sweaty I got in just an hour—if I were going back to work (I'm not—I took the day off, woo!), I'd need some kind of strategic hair-and-makeup plan. But the class was a great way to recharge for an afternoon spent writing.
Day 6: Sweat Fitness
Location: Queen Village
Class: Vinyasa Yoga
Instructor: Alex Holmes
Even though this is my gym, I've never been to Alex's class before, despite almost every other yoga teacher in the city raving about her. So I decided to get myself out of bed (yes, 10 is early for me on a Saturday) to check it out. The class was great, but very mixed level—eaning, there were a few times when the less experienced yogis (read: me) just sat there watching the more advanced yogis doing more difficult poses. It was neat to see, but made me feel a tad disconnected from the class. Maybe this is the difference between a yoga class at a gym and a yoga class at a yoga studio?
Day 7: Mama's Wellness Joint
Location: Midtown Village
Class: Revival Flow
Instructor: Daniel Cordua
I was nervous going into this class for a number of reasons. My body is pretty tired (though, it feels better than when I went to Amrita) and I've been feeling a cold coming on since last night: sore throat, stuffy nose, the whole bit. I was very happy to learn that Daniel couldn't get the heat to kick on; I wasn't sure how a hot room would make me feel. Besides, I sweat enough on my own. Comfortable in the room, this class turned out to be my favorite of the challenge so far. Including me, there were only six students, which meant that Daniel was able to give us individualized adjustments and attention. He was also the most encouraging teacher I've had so far (partly, I'm sure, because the class was small enough that he could do some personalized cheerleading). I know yoga is not supposed to be competitive, but I couldn't help but feel proud when he would say, "Very good, Emily!" Or "Great adjustment, Emily!" Hey, I played sports for 10 years; it's practically in my blood to want to be coached and thrive off feedback. In the end, I left the class feeling energized and less flu-y than when I got there. I'll take it!
Day 8: Bikram Yoga Philadelphia
Location: Center City
Class: Bikram Yoga
Instructor: Chris Fluck
Confession: This is the class I have been dreading. But in the spirit of getting things over with, well, I'm getting it over with. So no: I didn't go into this class with the open-est of minds. That said, I was buoyed with a small wedge of hope from last week's heated power yoga class, which I survived just fine, so really how hot could this be? Turns out, it's a LOT hotter. The 15 degree difference between 90-degree power yoga and 105-degree Bikram is not only noticeable but for me, a person who sweats when she thinks about sweating, a bit insufferable. The first 45 minutes of class went by fast enough but the last half really lagged. My mat was basically a slip-n-slide and my eyes burned as makeup-filled sweat drops clouded them. The Bikram poses and sequence weren't particularly challenging, mentally speaking, which in a weird way contributed to my discomfort; there was nothing—no bizarre body positions or flowing sequences—to take mind off the fact that I was an uncomfortable sweaty mess. Chris was asd encouraging as he could be, but I know he could tell I was pretty much dying. In the end, I considered it a success that I made it to the final minute without bailing. So I'll just go ahead and check Bikram off my list.
Day 9: Dhyana Yoga
Class: All Levels Dhyana Vinyasa
Instructor: John Vitarelli
I was jazzed about this mid-afternoon class. John was one of the yogis we featured in our latest Be Well Philly print issue so I had high hopes that his class would be awesome. It was a small group composed mostly of studio newbies, so I was in good company. The flow was well paced—challenging enough, but I could keep up just fine—and John's adjustments were super helpful. The one issue was that my mat, which I'd literally hosed off the night before after sweat-fest Bikram, was still wet, so it was hard to hold a bunch of the poses. Oh well—live and learn.The class left me feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the afternoon.
Day 10: Anjali Power Yoga
Class: Hour of Power
Instructor: Kristin Monzo
Here we go with the hot yoga again. At least I'm going into this practice with a dry mat. Kristin and the other studio employees couldn't have been nicer in welcoming me to the studio. Entering the practice room, I was pleased to find that the heat didn't take my breath away as it had at Bikram. After a few minutes, I got (somewhat) acclimated before the power hour started. This class was one of the faster paced classes I've taken. I enjoyed it very much, but wouldn't recommend it off the bat for very new beginners. The sequences were all poses I'd done before, of course, just at a faster clip, which makes sense since this is only a one-hour workout. Of course, I was sweating buckets within two minutes, but it felt good. Two things I really liked: 1) We did ab work—like, actual sets of crunches—which I haven't done at any other studio, and I very much enjoyed it, and 2) Kristin had a really awesome soundtrack, which helped take my mind off the heat. One other neat thing about this studio: They've taped off the spaces where you should set up your mat. Like, there were actual tape outlines on the floor to tell you where to set up. It was great because it meant you don't sit there wondering which direction your mat should face (you'd be surprised at how confusing this detail can be to someone who's new to a studio) and in a packed class, it gives you delineated breathing room from your neighbor. Pure. Genius.
Day 11: Yogawood
Instructor: Maiga Milbourne
It's 5 a.m., and dang does it feel early. (Anyone who reads the blog knows I'm not a morning workout person.) But shockingly when my alarm went off I felt wide awake. We (hubby came to this one) headed off to Jersey before the sun was up for a 6 a.m. class. Yogawood is probably the perfect studio to do a before-dawn's-early-light class: the absolutely gorgeous dark hardwood floors, low lighting, and candles make it feel soothing and comforting—almost as nice as my duvet back home. I'm feeling a little soreness after yesterday's power class, but Maiga eased us into the Vinyasas so it gave my body time to wake up and loosen. After a few sun salutations, we did some great spine twists and hip stretches. My favorite part was in savasana when she came around and gave each of us some adjustments, pulling my neck longer and pushing my poor, computer-hunched shoulders back. Felt amaaaaazing. Why doesn't every instructor do this??
Day 12: Wake Up Yoga
Location: Passyunk Square
Class: Burn to Shine
Instructor: Kate DeRosa Howell
I feel tired today. I think my body could have slept a few more hours. But here I am at yoga, hoping it wakes up—and fast. This studio is probably my most "local" studio, in terms of proximity from my house. It's fairly straight forward in terms of set-up: a lobby with places to stash your stuff, a bathroom, and a practice room. But the sounds of construction upstairs meant that Wake Up is renovating, so I'd be curious to come back in a few months to see the transformation. The class was comfortably ful, a dozen or so of us in the room. It was a good mix of ages and abilities, which is always nice to see. Kate was an excellent instructor, talking us through Vinyasas and some poses I've not done before. I was sweating in no time as my body gave in to the rhythm. Great way to start a Saturday morning.
Day 13: Practice Yoga Studio
Location: Queen Village
Instructor: Jeanne-Marie Derrick
I found myself at Practice due to a scheduling snafu, a last-minute switch from where I'd planned to go today. I wasn't sure what to expect. To be quite honest, I'd not heard of Practice until I was wildly googling for alternative classes after my other one got messed up. Turns out, this is a no-frills, true neighborhood a studio, just a room with old, worn-in hardwood floors, and a few cubbies to keep your things. I'd never done a restorative class, or really anything slower paced than a beginner's Vinyasa class, so when we started pulling out prop after prop (two blankets each, blocks, bolsters, straps, and even chairs) I was royally confused. Not five minutes in, I realized this class was all about comfort and relaxation, and not getting a sweaty workout, I was happy to go with the flow. The next 90 minutes were spent with eyes closed as we got into relaxing poses and basically fell asleep. It was amazing! I decided afterward that everyone, everywhere should take one restorative class a week. What a good excuse to take some much needed relaxing "me" time.
Day 14: Pacific Yoga
Class: Vinyasa Flow
Instructor: Laura Edoff
I love the vibe of this new Kensington studio. It's tucked on a residential street and, walking in, the studio feels like a cheery home: bluish green walls and a big floral-printed midcentury couch along the wall opposite cubbies full of yoga props. It literally feels like you're doing yoga in somebody's living room. My class was small—just three of us—which meant lots of personal attention. Laura was excellent at pacing the class and tailoring poses to our levels, offering very good modifications. Ever since my evening at Amrita, when instructor Johnathan told me that how eventually downward facing dog becomes comfortable as child's pose, I've been thinking about what he said. I was skeptical; down dog has always been so brutally uncomfortable for me, taxing my arms and shoulders until I'm uncontrollably shaky. But something magical happened at Pacific. About two-thirds of the way through the class, after several Vinyasas, I found myself in downward dog and ... Wait just a minute! I was comfortable! Like ridiculously comfortable. Laura invited us to do one last Vinyasa if we felt our bodies wanted it, but I totally stayed put. I was finally starting to see what everyone was talk about: down dog really IS a resting pose when you do it right. Huzzah!
Day 15: Yoga on the Ridge
Class: Community Class
Instructor: Theresa Conroy
I've written a lot about Yoga on the Ridge's terrific events (yoga and beer, anyone?) so I was excited to finally get to see the studio and meet owner Theresa. The unassuming space is in a small shopping center, so it's hard to know what to expect. But on the inside, it's cozy and inviting: warm hardwood floors, purple accents on the wall, pretty vintage cabinets for prop storage, and a really cool wood-slat room divider I totally want to steal for my own house. We chatted for a bit before class, so by the time I went to set up my mat, all that was left was a space right smack dab in the front of the room. I realized about halfway through the class how this front-and-center position didn't at all bother me. It was a real revelation, considering that on Day 1 of this challenge there's no way you could have PAID me to be directly in front of the class. I was a hide-in-the-back yogi, fearful that everyone would judge me by how terrible my triangle pose was. But I think I'm finally getting it: Yoga isn't about how good you are compared to other people, it's about how much you progress compared to yourself.
Day 16: Studio 1831
Everything about yoga tonight was not what I expected. For one, I'd planned to go to a different studio, but checked the class time at the last minute, only to discover they'd canceled the class. Great. So then I scrambled, trying to find a class I could make it to that wasn't unreasonably far away. I remembered this small studio, which is mainly a dance studio but has ome yoga classes, from when I lived in Fairmount. Turns out, they had an evening class that fit in perfectly. I showed up and discovered that the usual teacher, owner Valerie, was out of town, so we'd be having a substitute. That's fine—I can roll with the punches. There were two things I noticed immediately about the studio: It had mirrors (most of the yoga studios I've been to don't have mirrors, and I was about to find out why), and it had a very hard tile floor. I thought my mat would give me enough padding, but I quickly realized why most studios have softer wood floors: It's a LOT more comfortable. Then there were the mirrors. I remember back four months ago when I started taking beginner yoga classes. It perplexed me as to why studios didn't have mirrors. Wouldn't it be easier to watch yourself in a mirror so you could see exactly what you're doing wrong? Answer: Nope. In this class, I couldn't take my eyes off myself, and it really, really threw me off. Not just concentration-wise, but in my balance, too. I found that in trying to correct the things I thought I was doing wrong, I was only making the poses worse. It was frustrating and distracting. I came to the conclusion that it's better to be doing poses wrong and have a teacher tell or show you what corrections to make, than to make the adjustments yourself, backwards, in a mirror. That way you can feel—not see—how a pose is supposed to work. Muscle memory and all that.
Day 17: Focus Fitness Main Line
Location: Bryn Mawr
Class: Yin Yoga
Instructor: Holly Brinton-Bomba
Several instructors throughout this challenge have asked if I've done any yin yoga. "It's really important," they advised, "You'll really tire yourself out if you're just doing Vinyasa all the time." So, here I am at yin, unsure of what to expect. I ran into my pal and Be Well cover girl Jennifer Schelter, who'd just taught a class at FFML, and she decided to stick around for yin. "You'll love it," she said. "It's so relaxing." She was right. It reminded me of the Restoratives class I took at Practice Yoga, except this one was less about supported napping (which I'm not bashing, by the way—it was so, so awesome) and more about getting deep into poses that stretch, restore and relax, and holding them for several minutes. We worked a LOT on hips, which was right up my alley since my hip and shoulders tend to be my biggest problem areas. I left the class feeling loose and ready to collapse in bed. You know, after I drove back to the city.
Day 18: Nava Yoga Center
Location: Philadelphia Navy Yard
Class: Yoga Wall
Instructor: Kayla Fell
Yes, you read that right: Yoga Wall. As in, yoga on a wall. In this class, I learned, you let gravity work its magic while you get into modified versions of poses you already know (down dog, child's pose, etc) as you're suspended by straps from a wall. Here, the class maxes out at eight people: four on the wall, four on the mat, and you switch on and off. Kayla has mastered the skill of keeping eight people engaged and working when half are doing one thing and half are doing another. There's really no down time, even though you expect there to be. Hanging from the wall is obviously the most fun part, and I found it to be super relaxing. Maybe it was all the blood rushing to my head, but there's something soothing about letting gravity work out all the kinks so your body can't just relax. If I could make this a once-a-week regimen, I totally would.
Day 19: Raja Yoga
Location: Graduate Hospital
Instructor: Wes Tudor
Another studio that feels like you're practicing in someone's living room—I'm beginning to see a trend here. I was happy I got to the studio early for this one, because this class was absolutely packed; Wes mentioned he'd be adding a second Saturday morning class shortly to accommodate the extra interest. This class was co-taught by one of Wes's teacher trainees. It was not the sweaty Vinyasa style I've been getting in spades elsewhere, but a slower, more pose-centric (i.e. not flowing, connected sequences) practice that emphasized alignment and breathing. It became clear, too, that Wes in particular is big on safely executing poses—not contorting your body past its edge to fit into a pose you're not ready for. That's refreshing. He's also one of those teachers who can tell in a split second that you're juuuust ever so slightly leaning forward (or to the side, or whatever), and that's what's throwing off your balance. I like that—how a good teacher can read the subtleties and adjust from there, without wrenching your body into a pose it might not fully want you to be in. The practice was a good reminder that it's okay to slow down, and while you might not leave a class drenched in sweat, you're still getting a good, balanced workout.
Day 20: Jai Yoga
Class: Slow Flow
It took me a few passes on Route 30 to even find this studio—upstairs, on the second floor of a shopping center, nestled among offices. But once inside, I was pleasantly surprised: It had two practice rooms, plus a merch area, and the space felt warm, cozy and inviting. The class itself was another slow-paced one (as the name implies, duh) and there were only a half dozen or so of us in there. I'm happy to report that I officially know enough poses—and their names, some even in Sanskrit!—to not have to keep my eyes glued on the person in front of me in order to know what's going on. That's refreshing. Christine didn't do much in the way of adjustments, but that's ok. The class was mellow enough that we all seemed able to keep pace and do it correctly.
Day 21: Hotbox Yoga
Class: All-levels Donation
Instructor: Kerri Hanlon
It is the craaaaaack of dawn, and I'm up for a 6:15 a.m. yoga class. Once I'm out of bed and in my tights, I feel energized and ready to go. I've convinced my hubby to tag along for this one, because he's never done a hot yoga class and I want him to get over his fear of what he expects to be complete and utter body-melting heat. Because this is a wee-hours-of-the-morning class (6:15 am in Manayunk) there are only six students in the giant, light-filled upstairs practice room. The space is beautiful: High ceilings and a giant wall of windows that overlooks Main Street. I can tell that Kerri has just turned on the heaters (it is the first class of the day, of course) so the studio isn't nearly as hot as other heated classes I've taken. It's probably just as well: The hubs will definitely survive this one. I really liked this class. It was moderately paced and we did a handful of poses I've not done elsewhere. I was definitely sweaty, and found that doing the class first thing in the AM left me energized all day long. If Manayunk weren't so far from my house (which, mile-wise, it's not, but having to get on 76 during rush hour traffic to get home makes it feel a lifetime away), I would make this a regular thing.
Day 22: Verge Yoga
Class: Stationary 60
Instructor: Cara Bradley
It was handy that there's a Lululemon store directly across the parking lot from this studio in Wayne. I'd been meaning to invest in some shorts for heated classes, and since today's class at Verge will have the heat cranking, I figure now's as good a time as any. Armed with my new shorts, I find a spot in the class room, which, I'm surprised, fills to capacity for a 4:30 p.m. class on Tuesday. Who are these people that can sneak out of work so early to get to yoga? I'm jealous. But soon the class begins and I realize that Stationary, which is a Verge original, is a lot like Bikram, but with a more comfortable heat setting: It's a sequence of poses (always in the same order, I gather, as I realize the regulars all know what's coming up next), that focus on holding deep stretches, and pairing them with breathing. As I learned in Bikram, this isn't exactly my favorite approach to yoga. My mind tends to wander since I don't have to concentrate quite as hard on sequences and moving from one pose to the next. But compared to Bikram, this is a much more enjoyable class -- largely because the heat is muuuuuch more tolerable. I would recommend this to someone who likes the Bikram concept but not the over-100-degree heat.
Day 23: Enso
Class: All-Levels Vinyasa
A friend recommended this studio to me. I'd not heard of it but was happy to give it a whirl. The studio has a fairly large parking lot, which, if you've ever been to Media and experienced all the street parking meters, you know is a selling point. It's a basement studio, though, so don't expect to get flooded with sunlight. The practice space was large, though, and seemed especially spacious given the fact that there were only five of us in class that night. All women, but it was instantly clear to me that we represented a pretty broad range of yoga skill levels—and I liked that. One girl was obviously pretty advanced, a few of us were somewhere in the middle, and there were one or two students who were clearly there for the first time. It was a pretty typical Vinyasa class, but one thing we did that I have not done in other classes was a series of moon salutations. I had no idea this was a thing! I'm well versed in sun salutations by now, but moon salutations were a whole new experience. The class left me feeling nice and sweaty.
Day 24: Shanti Yoga Shala
Location: Midtown Village
Class: Intro to Ashtanga Yoga
Instructor: Larry Mangel
Another morning class because I have a work event to attend tonight, and in the name of variety for this yoga challenge, I'm trying out Ashtanga today, a style of yoga I know absolutely nothing about. So I figured an intro class was the perfect place to start. And, as it turns out, I'd signed up for a class with one of the studio's co-owners, so it seemed extra perfect. The first thing I learned was that there seems to be a lot of rules: I wasn't supposed to have brought my water bottle into the studio, for example. So that was a little … weird. Larry was extremely nice about it, explaining the reasoning, but it was still a tad jarring. This class was another in which the series of poses are predefined. Even though there were only four of us in the class, I felt like I was playing catch up—they all clearly knew what they were doing, and I always felt a half-step behind. Larry was patient and kind but there didn't seem to be much room for modification: You do the poses as prescribed, and if you can't do them, you're sort of out of luck. I'm sure I'm totally over simplifying, but it's the honest sense I got in the class. Overall, despite the fact that everyone at the studio was extremely warm and welcoming, I left feeling like maaaaaybe this isn't the style of yoga for me.
Day 25: Yogasphere
Class: All-Levels Vinyasa - $5 Donation Class
Instructor: Alison Gilheany
I'm always up for a good deal, even if it means driving 45 minutes to get it. So when I arrived at Yogapshere I was happy to fork over my $5 for an hourlong evening class that I was sure would help me unwind. The studio was beautiful: It's on the top floor of a building that looks like an old barn, with vaulted ceilings boasting beautiful exposed wood beams. (Side note: The studio weirdly shares the building with a Sleepy's mattress store, but you forget that as soon as you walk inside.) This being an evening class, the lights were dimmed and candles lit. And it being a $5 class, it was absolutely packed. We're talking wall-to-wall yogis. One thing I've learned about yoga over these past weeks is that unlike a lot of other kinds of exercise, you don't need a ton of space to do it. With a few exceptions, all you really need is the space of a yoga mat. So being just a few inches from your neighbor isn't so much a physical problem, as a mental one until you just get over it. Alison was a fantastic instructor. Her instructions were clear and well paced, and her voice extremely soothing. It felt like a really great community studio (people seemed to know each other, some even longtime friends) so I was happy I got to check it out.
Day 26: Jennifer Schelter
Location: Chestnut Hill
Class: Inspirational Vinyasa Yoga
Instructor: Jennifer Schelter
At long last, I get to take a class with Be Well Philly's 2013 print issue cover girl Jennifer Schelter. The class was in the parish hall of St. Martin in the Field church in Chestnut Hill. It was a lovely setting for a yoga class. A huge space with a vaulted ceiling, hardwood floors, and a stage where I'm sure many a church Christmas pageants have taken place. Jennifer dimmed the lights and conducted the first half of the class in the dark, lit only by a few tea candles in the windows. It was absolutely glorious—so relaxing, so peaceful, so introspective (after all, there's literally nothing to look at, so you might as well focus on what's going on inside you)—and I was sad when she turned the lights on for the second half. What I loved about this class those was Jennifer's focus on opening up the joints doing what some might consider rather "basic" yoga poses. I talked to her about it afterwards (my shoulders now more open than they have ever been before) and asked about her approach. She said she's not into all the flashy stand-on-your-head moves that a lot of other instructors tend to elevate. That it's not all about how tricky and advanced you can get in your poses, but how well your poses work for your body. It's not about acrobatics but about doing what feels good—and right, and safe—for your body. This was a refreshing approach, considering how many classes I've been in in which I've sat an watched people mess around in hand stands, knowing full well that there's no way in hell I'm doing one myself. That said, this class was in no way an easy pass. As I said, my shoulders, which are traditionally a very big trouble area for me, felt more open and aligned than they have, well, ever. The lesson? There is absolutely nothing wrong with going back to the basics. Oh, and Jennifer tells me now that she's added more candles to light the class the whole time, no overhead lights needed. Awesome!
Day 27: Studio 34
Location: West Philly
Class: Align and Flow
Instructor: Shawn DeClue
I love, love, loved the vibe of this studio, which felt part yoga studio, part community gathering space. It was huge, which made sense given all the classes and programs they have running. This class was excellent: a good crowd, and a good range of ability levels. Shawn did a terrific job of orchestrating the class. Best part? She successfully got me into an L-shape handstand! I know this isn't rocket science for most yogis, but I've had such difficulty doing this pose, mostly because my shoulders don't cooperate. But with some help from Shawn, I was finally able to do it—and hold it. I'm definitely no pro, but it's a good starting point.
Day 28: Dana Hot Yoga
Location: Bala Cynwyd
Class: Hot Vinyasa (All Levels)
Instructor: Richard Garrison
I was stuck behind a support column in this class, which made hearing and seeing a tad difficult. Note to self: Get here earlier next time to get a better spot. Those challenges aside, this was a good class. Richard did good job of building sequences, adding poses as our bodies warmed up. One thing I'm glad I've conquered is my fear of heated classes, Bikram aside. And actually, I think that now I know that I have survived the Bikram heat, I definitely won't die in a 90-degree hot yoga class. This is a mental hurdle I honestly did not expect to leap in this yoga challenge. Color me pleasantly surprised!
Day 29: Still Point Yoga Center
Class: All Levels Gentle
Instructor: Cathy Landschoot
Time for another confession: My body needs a break. I mean, I guess I'm not surprised. I don't think I've ever due anything, ever, with as much commitment as I've tackled this yoga challenge. And while I'm definitely seeing changes—my back is stronger, for example, and my abs are noticeably, well, more noticeable—I can tell my muscles are pretty tired. So when I signed up for this class, which is actually billed on the Still Point website as an "active" class (i.e. more like the Vinyasa flow classes I'm used to), I was sort of, a tiny bit, admittedly dreading it. But when I showed up and the first words out of Cathy's mouth were that the class was actually Gentle and not Active, and she really needs to get around to updating the website, I was elated. What it turned out to be was a restorative class, similar to the one I took at Practice Yoga Studio in Queen Village—a lot of props and lots of deep breathing to help you achieve a state of pure, blissful rest. My shoulder, which was so nice and open at Jennifer's class earlier in the week, is now tighter than ever (grrrr) Cathy helped me figure out ways to support my tired rotator cuff to make sure I didn't injure it. And holy moly was I well rested at the end. I could have stayed and napped all day.
Day 30: The Yoga Den
Location: King of Prussia
Class: Beginner/Intermediate Slow Flow Yoga
Instructor: Gretchen Hasson
You're seeing a trend here, right? As much as I felt like a wimp going out on a slow flow note, the class actually served as the perfect bookend to this experience. I quickly realized that Gretchen knows her stuff—she was spouting off anatomy knowledge like it was nothing. What that meant was, she was an absolute pro at breaking down poses and explaining how to get into them in ways that make sense for where you're body's at. Other instructors along the way have done this, of course, but this being my last class, I suddenly felt compelled to get all my burning yoga questions answered once and for all. At the top of that list: What the heck am I doing wrong in downward facing dog? I know something's off, because in almost every class the instructor comes over to correct my form, but I can't for the life of it figure it out myself. Gretchen cracked the code, y'all. It has to do with pivoting at the hip by tucking the hip crease in. Here's how she recommends checking your form: Get into downward dog, and have a partner stand behind you. The partner then wraps a belt or strap around your hips, right where you;re supposed to be hinging. Then the partner lets go of the belt. If the strap falls out, you're not tucking the crease correctly; if you are, it stays. Mine fell out immediately of course, which showed me that I wasn't creasing at the hips in the right way. Gretchen's modification: Bend the knees slightly so your hips shoot higher toward the ceiling. It sounds super counterintuitive, but actually Ive had several instructors suggest that I bend my knees—no one's ever explained why. Gretchen says eventually, as the hip opens up more and becomes more flexible so it's able to tuck, I'll be able to straighten my legs, but for now there's no shame in having a bend at the knee. Genius! And now I have something to practice. Good thing my husband can help with the belting.