I've danced with a Slinky and balanced my body on the bottoms of a friend's feet, all in the name of yoga.
People have long argued about what "yoga" is, and whether more creative and Western interpretations qualify. I've studied in India, and even the motherland has a multitude of ways of doing yoga.
But in the eight years since I began practicing, I've become pickier. I want something that's a little different every time, and that challenges my body and my mind. It's even better if it comes in a unique location with a teacher whose voice calms without being degrading.
It's easy to drop in on the closest yoga studio or gym with a class, and I've done a lot of that since moving here in September. In fact, I've tried out and enjoyed more than 15 classes.
Put simply, there are just a ton of options here. Before committing to a place, I've wanted to try them all.
I'm still discovering. But with the new year, and many people looking for a fresh start — whether physically or mentally or both — it seemed a good time to share what I've found in my travels. The idea, I guess, is that perhaps in my journey, you'll find your destination.
One benefit to this kind of tour: You won't have to put up with an erratic GPS. As I got settled in the Springs, I kept getting lost. (OK, actually, it's still happening.) It's often meant me not making it to class on time.
This is a big no-no in the yoga world. And as a new student, it's all the more important to arrive early, as you'll often be asked to sign a liability waiver.
I got as far as the entrance to
CorePower Yoga (623 N. Nevada Ave., 1025 Garden of the Gods Road, corepoweryoga.com) when I saw a Yoga Sculpt class had already started. The door was open, and people were standing there with weights in their hands. Yoga classes use various devices, such as straps, to help reach when our arms can't, but this was not something I'd ever seen. You could say I panicked — I turned around and left.
Regional manager Lora Lantz explains the class is conditioning-focused, blending yoga and weights. "It's changing up the routine and uses the muscles in a different way," she says.
Weeks later, I went back for the CoreRestore slow, deep-stretch class. Relaxing as it was to stay in each stretch for several minutes in a dimly lit room, and impressive as CorePower's reputation is — it's always voted No. 1 or No. 2 Yoga Studio in the Independent's Best Of readers' poll — $18 per drop-in class was a little too rich for my blood.
The donation-based system at cambio. Yoga (3326 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., cambioyoga.com) looked more in my price range. After failing to find it the first time I tried, I got back a couple weeks later to try a noon vinyasa flow class.
All of their classes are held in rooms that vary from warm to hot. A lot of practitioners swear by the heat: They say it's supposed to detox the system with all that sweating. The heat does make you more bendy, which is good for getting into a pose you couldn't otherwise.
For whatever reason, though — maybe because the class was mat-to-mat packed, or maybe because, as at CorePower, the smell of sweat invaded my nose — I wasn't in the mood that day. Consider it a classic case of "It's not you, it's me": cambio. Yoga is expanding to a second floor with showers, evidence that most people have a good experience there. And I know they have quality teachers because I enjoyed a free Saturday morning class that cambio's Jonathan Neely taught at lululemon (115 N. Tejon St., #110, lululemon.com), the athletic-apparel store that regularly doubles as a studio.
Pachamama and dubstep
For someone directionally challenged, finding Marmalade at Smokebrush (219 W. Colorado Ave., #210, smokebrush.org), near the train tracks under Colorado Avenue, was a lot to ask.
Though I had left early, I wound up arriving a few minutes late, upset at myself at the prospect of missing yet another class. Fortunately, they let me in, and Kat Tudor became my first teacher in town.
When Marmalade changed its location, and mission, in late 2010, new director Don Goede explained to the Independent that his goal was to integrate the healing powers of art and yoga. Today, the site is home to numerous types of yoga classes, every day of the week. When flowing between poses, yogis look at paper cranes on the ceiling and the latest artwork on the walls.
At Tuesday night's candlelight yoga class, Tudor has her students envision the Earth's energy flowing through them. She loves the term Pachamama, the Incan word for Mother Earth, and just as my legs were shaking from holding a squat pose, she told us to think of the Earth's energy propping us up.
Weeks later, it's evolved into a grounding force for me — as I walk out, I try to remember Tudor saying, "Let om happen."
I've also tried Marmalade's dubstep yoga class. More dance club than meditation, this one draws a younger crowd. With electronica music going, teacher Emilie Rose had us dancing with Slinkies, a prop that takes the edge off of the intense leg workout in horse pose. In the middle of class, there's a laughter yoga break — with students asked to do laughing exercises that get the giggles going until they're naturally laughing. Best ab workout ever.
Continuing my exploration of slightly unusual yoga places, I woke up early on Thanksgiving Day to catch a class at Manitou Springs event center Venue 515. This has been one of the Manitou homes for donation-based, all-levels yoga, along with Manitou Springs City Hall (facebook.com/MYCommunity).
More than 50 people showed up to get their pre-turkey downward dog on. And the teacher, Patrick Campo, wasn't about to go easy on us, with plenty of side plank pose and some crunches. Campo trained throughout Central America and also completed a teacher training at CorePower here in town. He focuses on a vinyasa, or flowing style of yoga, and recently started classes at his own studio, Phoenix Yoga Lounge (124 Ruxton Ave. in Manitou Springs, 648-5737). The "lounge" part kicks in after 7 p.m., when tea and coffee become available.
Pick up the slack
For me, yoga is mostly an individual pursuit: Even in group classes, I keep my eyes closed so I'm not spying on the person who can actually touch his toes when he bends forward.
The acrobatics and yoga class on Thursday nights at CityRock (21 N. Nevada Ave., climbcityrock.com) tosses all that. Instead of doing traditional yoga poses, we helped our class partner stretch before we tackled two-person moves. That usually left one of us off the ground in some fashion.
I needed to ignore the music and activity around me, and pay attention to what my yoga partner was trying to communicate to me. Instead I sort of ignored him and just kept flying overhead, balanced on only the soles of his feet, forgetting that it might not be so comfortable for him. Oops.
For class teacher Jeremy Hasty, yoga provides the strength and flexibility that helps in climbing, while also adding a focus on the breath.
"It's developing that peaceful frame of mind and the fearlessness required to make those moves at those heights," Hasty says. "We can't climb alone, and acrobatics builds communication and trust with your partner."
I'm still figuring out which class or mix of classes fits best into my regular schedule, and at the same time, I'm still finding more I want to try. For instance, Hasty teaches a Tuesday night class at CityRock that takes the principles of yoga and applies them to learning how to walk on a sort of tightrope, known as a slackline. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I've heard good things about mental and spiritual Kundalini classes at Om and Garden (1323 N. Weber St., omandgarden.net).
One thing I have found: You can feel at home on both ends of the spectrum. I've figured out that when the world is challenging me, I like a slower, more mental class, and when I'm taking on the world, I crave an intense, physical class. In the Springs, there are options for both scenarios, complete with candlelight or carabiners.
New and approved
You don't have to go crazy and get your yoga by way of partners, slacklines or dubstep. There are plenty of other options, some more basic than others, and perhaps a studio tucked right in your neighborhood.
Here's the lowdown on some other places I've run across as well as some new additions or updates to the community. (Note that the smaller and newer studios may be cash or check only.) I did my best to get to know the yoga landscape here, but my search is by no means comprehensive. I welcome any suggestions via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by comment online.
• PlaYoga has added five new teachers to its home in the basement of the Korean United Presbyterian Church (1626 S. Tejon St., teamstretchyoga.com). While several yoga classes in the area started in similar quarters, PlaYoga has turned into a true studio, complete with wood floors and two-tone green walls. Classes range from beginner to the more physically challenging, spiritually focused Jivamukti and alignment-based Anusara styles.
• Teacher John Duprey is adding to his classes at the Movement Arts Community Studio (525 E. Fountain Blvd., #150, movementartscs.com) with some at the new Heart of Art Studio (2502 W. Colorado Ave., #301, tinyurl.com/the-heart-of-art). His focus on yoga's eight limbs brings breath work, meditation and poses to his focus on unique spaces. The hardwood floors and brick walls are lovely, but when the weather allows, he prefers hiking up Red Mountain for classes.
• On the recommendation of a fellow hiker, I headed to the Briargate Fire Station Community Hall, where the Soul Research Institute, a local nonprofit dedicated to awakening the soul, holds a donation-based class on Sunday mornings (2490 Research Pkwy., soulresearchinstitute.org). The back-to-back classes include meditation, breathing techniques and poses, with a short discussion afterward on yoga philosophy.
• Another yoga teacher told me I might find a place for more advanced practice at Pranava Yoga Center (718 N. Weber St., pranavayogacenter.com). I hadn't had so much chanting and focus on the ancient texts since I studied in Asia. The class pushed me and got me into some poses I'd never tried. We laughed when we tumbled out of something crazy and cheered each other on.
• The Kripalu style (focused on observing the body either in vigorous or calming classes) drew me to a restorative class at Yoga Journeys (709 N. Nevada Ave., yoga-journeys.net). Teryl Lundquist, who opened the first designated yoga studio in the Springs in 1996, offers general classes, but also classes for bodies that may be less forgiving. As her body has matured, she has altered her teaching focus to accommodate people who are not only less flexible, but have disabilities or injuries.
— Sonja Bjelland
Yoga-related injuries have long been discussed by practitioners, but a book excerpt that appeared recently in the New York Times Magazine has made it water-cooler conversation. William J. Broad's piece highlighted a growing trend in yoga-related traumas, some exceptional examples even resulting in strokes.
Of course, a physical yoga practice is, in fact, physical. So just like hiking, it can cause an injury.
When I studied in India, tradition seemed more important in yoga teachings than what modern science has taught us about anatomy. For example, men historically did the poses we see today, and subsequently, women may need a different alignment because of hip structure.
I've had one friend screw up a shoulder and another dislocate a rib trying to complete certain poses. Fortunately, my hamstrings are so tight they create an internal warning system that stops me from going too far in a pose.
Teryl Lundquist, whose Yoga Journeys studio offers special classes for populations with physical restrictions, tells students they have an "internal 'or not' clause." One problem is that the fast pace of some classes can distract the mind, allowing students to accomplish a certain a number of poses without paying attention to how the body feels in each position.
"I'm always telling students to have authority over their own bodies — I'm not the authority," she says. "If I recommend an adjustment, they have to know if that works, because they're the only one who knows that."
That goes the same for being in a doctor's care or in a sport, she says.
A lot of the responses to the article have focused blame on students' egos, but Lundquist says it's beyond that. Yoga mirrors the individual.
"If we're competitive, we will be in yoga," she says. "If we're not aware of ourselves, we're not going to be aware of ourselves in yoga class."
— Sonja Bjelland