Yoga, commonly known as only a practice here in the USA, was contentiously debated in ancient Indian philosophy. In Buddhism and Hinduism logic, it is used (but not essential to) to prepare the body and mind for higher forms of meditation. A divergent strand of Buddhism, Yogacara, calls day-to-day practice as essential for getting enlightened. A believer of Yogacara, instead of worshiping deities, works on purifying his or her mind through the eight “limbs” or “steps” of the system. The famous Sanskrit description of Yogacara’s goal is “citta-vritti-nirodhah”, or to cultivate a stillness of the mind. FYI: Memorization of that will impress any teacher.
Surprisingly, only one of these arms of Yogacara refers to the physical poses, known as the asanas. This is what yoga teachers mean when they talk about transitioning to the asana practice (as opposed to the other seven “limbs” of yoga). The other parts? One can find breath control (pranayama) and control of the senses (pratyhahara) in some more traditional yoga classes. The other five limbs probably won’t make it into your typical class: morality, personal morality, inner perceptual awareness, devotion, and ultimate meditation. However, the stress-reducing and physical preparation yoga practice gives aren’t limited to the true believers (according to every study). Whether an approach to reality, or a rich part of being present in your body, the practice can make you a little more in sync. Below is a guide to Providence-based yoga centers and styles ranging from workout classes to more meditative group-work.
Eyes of the World Yoga
Park Row, Downtown
A more intense studio with very concrete philosophical foundations. Generally populated by a few students, a few yuppies and some dedicated yogis. Strict policy against lateness. $14 for drop-ins, $2 mat rental, no credit cards.
The Motion Center
111 Chestnut Street, Downtown
A massage, dance and yoga center located downtown. Dance classes offered to RISD students at discounted price. $14 for drop-ins.
Held at Brown/RISD Hillel (80 Brown Street), TF Green (7 Young Orchard Avenue) and the Granoff Center (154 Angell Street)
Daily, free classes taught by students, open to all students. All levels welcome!
911 Pontiac Avenue, 2nd Floor, Cranston, RI
Intensive, heated Bikram yoga worth the trek for a workout.
A GUIDE: FROM PHYSICAL TO SPIRITUAL, FROM NOVICE TO INTERMEDIARY::
There are many obstacles facing the novice yogi: demanding and unfamiliar workouts, body-exposing spandex, Western guilt, etc. For someone who wants to ease into a simple physical practice, I’d suggest “Basics Flow” at Eyes of the World Studio. One can also try downtown: the owner of the Motion Center downtown characterizes her Iyengar Yoga classes as simple and alignment-focused. One can definitely also walk into any Hatha class, which is closest to the stereotype of yoga: the practice holds stretching poses for long periods of time, giving a deep stretch without a ton of sweat.
For those looking for a more intense session, Vinyasa or “flow” types of yoga are a good bet. The most popular classes generally pack lots of sun salutations, up and down movements and shoulder, arm and length strengthening. One can find them on YAM’s schedule Tuesday-Friday. Montana Feiger, a Brown student trained as a yoga teacher in Nepal, describes her class: “I run through the typical Vinyasa styles, focusing on going through all of the warriors, and try to also incorporate different Bikram balances and stretches.” YAM classes generally are an informal style, but definitely can satisfy a need for a workout. A similarly faster-pace yoga is Ashtanga, offered at almost every yoga studio. Lastly, for the advanced or cardio-obsessed, Bikram yoga is one of the most intense styles for any body (offered only in Cranston). If doing rapid-fire poses in a 105 °F room pique one’s curiosity, there are still a couple concerns to keep in mind. First, Bikram is often extremely commercialized into a simple workout class. And second, the heat often causes a false sense of flexibility, causing one to overstretch and injure themselves. Bring an empty stomach and a gallon of water.
Yoga originally derived from the Indo-European root yug, meaning to yolk or to join. Joining the breath, the body and the mind gives the physical practice even more of a purpose. Many East Asian traditions practice with the goal to fine-tune the mind to see clearly. See what clearly, you might ask? See through the cloudy, temporary preoccupations and attachments to the body to a more permanent Truth (which some schools refer to as “original nature”). While a couple classes won’t make anyone the next incarnation of Buddha, more spiritually bent classes might be appropriate for those seeking stress reduction and spiritual inquiry.
For the new Yogi, I would recommend YAM’s Back to the Basics classes. Riyad Seervai, the Brown student who teaches it, describes the classes’ threefold aims: “The first is to provide people with non-commercialized yoga – no music or candles, no props, no special temperature/atmosphere, etc…The second, The class is an opportunity for me to present people with yoga as something beyond just a form of exercise. The key to “getting better” at the postures and exercises is through constant practice. My emphasis is on form within each pose as opposed to flow, so that students can develop mental as well as muscle memory.” Other options include any class with the words “yin” or “mudra” in the description. Such classes involve long stretches for the connective tissue (rather than muscle), to improve conditions for meditation. Skeptical but still want to try some philosophy in your downward-dog? At the Motion Center, Vinyasa and Anusara Yoga classes offer unobtrusive words of wisdom without being too New Age-y.
Any non-basics class with the head teacher of Eyes of the World, Tom Gilette, will definitely challenge and inspire for their 90-minute duration. Every class begins with an intention (yoga-speak meaning goal), and launches into a deep, sweaty investigation into the body’s movements. Jivamukti-style Yoga also takes inspiration from Vinyasa with a more liberal understanding of mixing chants, breath control and musical elements. These classes take place during YAM’s Lunch Power-Hour.
BY Alexandra Corrigan B’12