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They know you don’t belong.

May 12, 2010

I think that some common associations that are made with yoga are hippies, vegetarianism and emaciated indian men.  We are, however, in NYC — a city of the utmost prosperity (and squalor, probably…as you know these things go) and so of course yoga has many different faces on our dear Isle of Manahatta.

I feel very at home in your standard breed of yoga studios: a brightly painted, 1 -2 room studio that maxes out at about 25 people and smells heavily of  nag champa.  I can even breath freely in a highly trafficked and more upscale institution like a YogaWorks or OM. There is however, a loftier type of studio and that is the yoga-cum-spa-cum-country club…and they know I’m not a paying member.  I feel like the kid wearing the kick me sign down the hallway where everyone is laughing at them and they’re not really sure why… But it’s got to be in my head right?

You may be wondering how I ever gained admission to such a fine establishment. The answer is simple: the NYC Yoga Pass Book. Like most other studios in the book, you are entitled to two free passes to two of the swankiest yoga operations in the five boroughs. I’ve, as of today, used all four of my chances to dine at the masters’ table: Exhale Mind Body Spa and Pure Yoga (both East, and West).

I have so many things to say about these experiences. I’ll start with this: I think that the two places should duke it out for number one.

The second thing I will say about this is that sometimes I just want a nice shower after class. Is that so wrong? Without a doubt you can sure get a nice clean up at these two places…all inclusive. And they’re spa showers, you know, those nice shower heads that are like a tropical torrential downpour that you’ve only seen in upscale design magazines? Yep.

Outside of that, my experiences at the two studios were surprisingly different. In my mind, the winner is Exhale MBS. Overall, I would say that what they lacked in facility luster, they made up for in friendliness and ease of mind.

Both of my experiences with Exhale led me to believe that they scoured the city for some of the most pleasent people for their front desk staff. The yoga instructors seemed to be quite nice too, although austere as yoga instructors go. Must be that plush life style they can live with paychecks from a place where membership price is something only disclosed in a lenghty meeting with a sales professional. The two classes I took there were a stark contrast to one another as I took a Yin Yoga class and a Music Yoga Flow class. The Yin Class has a very restorative tone, while the Music  Flow class was a vigorous vinyasa to loud music that was often of the hip-hop variety.  The two women who taught the classes respectively were both good at keeping the tone light and humourous – something that I can always appreciate. And of course, after the class, I enjoyed a leisurely and wonderfully refreshing shower…I even used a complementary robe. BOO YAH!

As for Pure Yoga (East and West) I could not really deign to make it number one of two as I found it exceedingly bizarre. Yes, I know, pot calling the kettle black but I just couldn’t get over the feeling that I stuck out like a sore thumb. First of all, I was led to believe that you could not just show up to this members only facility, but that you needed to call to have a membership person sneak you into the system to reserve you a spot. This is just a way to ensure that you will sit through a membership pitch, (as if people with the friggin pass book are the audience they should be seeking!) as is the confiscation of your license.

I will say that the facilities are hands down much nicer and much more carefully designed at Pure. Both locations scream out that they’ve had top interior design firms’ mits all over. But even all of the bells and whistles of the facilities didn’t help to sell me on the overall experience. When I first got to Pure Yoga East the membership person told me I would have to keep my things in a cubby hole with my shoes. Hello? What are LOCKERS for? Just because I don’t happen to have my lock with me does not mean that I cannot still store things in a locker. Oh, and really? Like I’m going to leave my wallet and iphone in a cubby hole for 2 hours because you have a no cell phone policy? Really? Have you ever heard of an “off” button? I know these things sound like frivoulous concerns, but I was being treated like a beggar off the street! My things are worthy of a locker!

Ok, so clearly I wasn’t thrilled about the service there, but I was still hopeful for the yoga classes. I will say, to preface these stories, I did  enjoy both classes I took. Now that that is out of the way…These classes reminded me of how people who summer in the Hamptons would immitate a hippy. There was something slightly contrived and a little dishonest about the first class and the second class was just a little obscure. The first class was taught by a woman who was published (is this the criteria to teach there, I wonder?) and was pitching and selling her book in the studio. She also played the guitar and made us sing a very long chant that seemed to have been selected based solely on her ability to find the chords for that particular chant versus another. Directly following this lenghty chant that I kept nodding out through, was an equally long winded philosphical discussion based on some paper that the student teacher was writing that included a lot of personal examples stating family distress and struggle (awkward). Oh, and did I mention that we went around a room of over 60 people and had to introduce ourselves? What’s next energy balls and trust exercises? I am so not closing my eyes and letting some stranger catch me. I told you already that theyknow I’m not a member so they will probably just let me drop right down back where I belong; below them. Zing. Ok, ok…It wasn’t bad, but it was just strange and time consuming. We probably didn’t do too much asana practice although what we did was nice…and some how that philosophy guy managed to get around the room pretty well to give good hands on corrections and rub my lower back with China Glaze.

Tonight I took my second class and while it wasn’t nearly as contrived it sort of also struck me as odd. This teacher was a carribean transplant that had clearly trained and studied extensively in India. His class was a more advanced class, which maybe explains some of my discomfort, but maybe not. Also, I should mention, it was his series. He made that very clear. Unfortunately, I’m blind as a bat and have recently been wearing my glasses instead of contacts. This doesn’t make for such a successful yoga combination, so I operate without eyesight usually. This teacher was dependant upon your ability to see his demonstration and, well, um, I couldn’t see and I was corrected thusly: “In my series, the arms are down.” Eep. Other than that, which only rubbed me the wrong way momentarily , it was just plain difficult. I feel like we were expected to be more advanced than yoga 2/3, but that can be so subjective. Handstands are hard, dammit.

Maybe like the girl that just got dumped by her boyfriend that she was really quite fond of and unwilling to be without, I have said disparraging things abou these studios to mask my own pain. I will really miss the pampering locker room facilities now that my passes are all used up. Maybe, however,  there is just something a little contrived about the yoga country club experience.

I’ll take my funky little one room school houses any day. I mean, it wouldn’t hurt if they got spa showers, but I definitely don’t need a robe. Robes are whack anyway.

[Image via: Flavorwire]

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One Comment leave one →
  1. wlodek permalink
    May 17, 2010 5:02 am

    hi, it’s extremely amazing & amusing how different the western views of Indian spiritual heritage can be. i myself prefer Peter Brook’s great contribution (Mahabharata!) that seems to me the crucial and brings us closer to unity. all the best to you!

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