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A “Jubliant Sweat-Fest”

February 7, 2013


It is Thursday night and I’m going to abstain from physical activities today after I was crowned the dancing queen of San Francisco last night. In lieu of my much needed physical exercise, I’m going to exercise my mind…as always, for your benefit.

Since arriving to San Francisco I’ve been struggling to ascertain what exactly is going on in the yoga scene out here. What I have uncovered so far is that almost no one dares to say that “yoga is not for them.” No, no, that would be very un-California. One must have a healthy body, but more importantly a healthy mind-spirit…or spirit-mind. Anyway, I’ve said that there doesn’t seem to be quite the concentration of yoga studios here that I was once used to, and even so it seems like the yoga studios that I’ve visited don’t seem to support my “California Yoga Theory.” Where are all of these Californian devotees practicing? Until yesterday I was at a loss, but alas, today I have some answers. Hold tight, today’s post will be another one of those looong ones.

FIRST: Who is Rusty Wells? When I first heard of Urban Flow Yoga I learned that at its head was the illustrious Rusty Wells. I had never heard of this person and I pride myself on poking my nose around all yoga business, always. Ok, maybe only when it suits me. Admittedly, I do not even have a subscription to Yoga Journal. Can I tell you who Rusty Wells is? Well, actually, no I cannot, but I did do some research. He appears to be a charming, charismatic, and very fit yoga instructor that is quite the fixture in San Francisco. He’s the founder of Urban Flow Yoga, and a devotee of many a well-known teacher including the likes of (my beloved) Swami Visnudevananda (and the Sivananda tradition from which Rusty got his beginnings), Baron Baptiste, and Sri Dharma Mittra (lo! another Dharma devotee!) I’ve never practiced with Rusty (yet) but after only one class at “his” studio I can somewhat see all of these influences. It would seem that Rusty is a charming, dimpled man that has devoted his life (since the 1990s anyway) to yoga. To some, he just is yoga. To others, Rusty is truth…or at least according to a Persian woman interviewed about Rusty who confessed that Rusty (or something that sounds like it) is “truth” in Farsi. Well, truth be told, I am more than a little curious to take a class with him.

Ok, now, URBAN FLOW:

I watched the videos featured on the Urban Flow’s website to begin my research for writing this post and I am conflicted to report that I was initially nauseated by them. As I watched all three videos, and then even one more for good measure I realized that my disgust was based in confusion and jealousy. Confusion, first, because this is not the  yoga that I was drawn to nor the yoga I ultimately studied. Secondly, jealousy, because I really love the tradition that I’ve studied so devoutly but I find that it has changed my dream of being a yoga teacher and I’ve had trouble reconciling its principles with the normal yoga classroom dynamic (ultimately, I don’t really teach…yet). Urban flow, by comparison, is popular. Really popular…like they had a security guard (no joke!) outside the door for the rush hour class.

Urban Flow’s evening classes boast attendance in the hundreds. EVERY NIGHT. That is insane. Perhaps it is because it is the only donation based studio  in San Francisco, but perhaps it is something more. Bhatki. This is as interesting a concept to me as it is perplexing. According to UF, Bhakti Flow is “yoga of love and devotion to the God of one’s own unique understanding.” If that isn’t a beautiful statement, I’m not sure what is, and yet somehow I struggle with Bhakti. On the surface I believe that I’m culturally strained to accept the Bhakti package that I most often receive, which is Hinduism. I’m not really a religion kinda girl and I’ve already sworn off the one of my upbringing, so it feels strange and stressful for me to joyfully chant the names of many Gods from yet another religion I do not practice. Yoga teachers and studios often go to great lengths to make sure that the religious origins and underpinnings of yoga don’t alienate practitioners but the truth of the matter is that if you are practicing a vedanta based yoga then yoga is inextricable from religion. I’ve done vedanta based yoga, and although I feel slightly out of place (seemingly everyone is known as Vishnu something-or-other) I really enjoy it. While I can’t really generate the same energy and attitude, it is a warm and welcoming environment. It is against these people’s basic life principles to treat me with the same mistrust that I harbor towards them! Muwahaha.

This soul searching raised a few questions for me:

*Do I have yoga all wrong?

****Hopefully, I do not have yoga ALL wrong. I think what I suffer from is being extremely biased towards one way of thinking and that I have a somewhat closed mind to other interpretations and presentations of yoga. I often feel like a theater enthusiast that studied greek classics that is surrounded by Tarantino fans. There is nothing wrong with Tarantino, and whether or not he acknowledges Greek tragedy as his origins they are linked. 

*Why am I such an uppity yoga bitch?

****So I’ve read the yoga sutras. Whoopee. A lot of people have read them, and for pleasure…not because they had to. And, ultimately, many people who read them once have gone back to read them countless times and have even read several versions of them. I wasn’t even the best student of the sutras (that title, was reserved for my pal Jason, who I think still sleeps with his copy of the sutras under his pillow). And yet, even though I was a lack luster student of the English translations of the sutras, I still get all judgy when I go to yoga classes. Confusingly, I feel holier than thou. Silly, silly uppity yoga bitch. I need to work on that.

* Should I take another, very different, 200 hr yoga teacher training?

****Who knows, it seems like it would be a very formative experience for me. I’m so mired in the one tradition that I’ve studied and practiced that I feels superior to other schools of thought. This feels not only very un-yoga, but destructive and retarding. (ha, I love properly using the word retard.) In yoga we often talk about samskaras (patterns) and mine are so deeply seeded  and don’t seem to be coming through in the most positive of ways. It could be beneficial to change my samskaras or add new ones. Anyway, most awesome yoga teachers (or at least famous ones) boast many trainings with all sorts of  fancy and well known yoga gurus. 

*Why is some yoga popular and other yoga not really?

**** If you know the answer to this question, then I beg of you, tell me. The best I can do is a shot in the dark. I propose that a) yoga has been distorted by the media etc. as merely a means towards a sick body and stress relief. This causes many people to be disappointed by slower more introspective classes. Also,  b) many people associate yoga with hippies. When they go to a yoga class they want to be magically transported to Woodstock. A disciplined environment is probably a real turn off for these people. Places like Dharma Mittra, Jivamukti, Urban Flow, etc that promote Kirtan kinda are like Woodstock. Everyone’s all in a loving mood, the music is upbeat…there is a lot of swaying and acid. It feels good…and the bottom line is that people like to feel good. I suspect this is what makes yoga like that popular. 

Forgive my VAST digression. Back to Urban Flow yoga. I’ll save you from death via suspense. I like what is going on there and am moved to (sporadically, I’m sure)  continue visiting this studio. I’m sure that they are popular for a reason, and I can feel it simmering under the surface. Ah,the surface. For a donation based studio, its got really nice digs – expansive – and a friendly staff. It even has a semi convenient location at Van Ness and Mission. I’ll forgive them the fact the website actually says they have “varied and hip music” and “use a state-of-the-art sound system” because I’ve recently been inspired (by my experience with Urban Flow) to be less of a judgey, dour, bitch face. Hell, I might even say that the music was varied and hip (although I’ve grown accustomed to yoga in silence.) The studio also employs interesting, yet useful practices like a “no touch chip” if you don’t want your yoga teacher to molest you (as I surely would if I was teaching you.) I’m also a fan of the practice of advisory. The website has this warning: “If you are not someone who enjoys a jubilant sweat-fest of Bhakti flow, this may not be the right class for you.”

Well, you’ve been warned of the sweat fest, and ranted at, to boot. Urban Flow? Sure.

One Comment leave one →
  1. mom permalink
    February 8, 2013 9:32 pm

    uh, oh. Here we go again!

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