Santa Monica Yoga & The Gift of Community
I’ve had a fantastically inspiring week that has left me reflecting on the gift of community in the most wonderful way. Last Thursday I jumped a plane to LA for a weekend of yoga in Santa Monica with Certified Anusara teachers Noah Maze and Darren Rhodes. I had met and practiced with Noah before- both here in Tofino and in Vancouver this last July- and had a tonne of fun with him. This would be the first time I ever met Darren Rhodes. The two of them are fabulous teachers that encourage you to transcend your limits in a playful and supportive way, and as a team they bounce off each other perfectly to create an atmosphere both challenging and fun.
My weekend workshop was kickstarted with a sweaty practice at Yoga Works with Vinnie Marino. I arrived 45 minutes early for class, as I was getting oriented with the area I was staying in, and there were already about a dozen people waiting! I was informed that if I hadn’t arrived so early I probably would have been turned away as it is an extremely popular class. Talking to folks before class I discovered this class attracted many serious yoga students and teachers and some people even drove over an hour to get to class- so I was pretty excited to see what Vinnie had to offer. I lay down my mat, and two towels (they made me buy an extra towel as this was apparently “the sweatiest class in America”) and got ready to practice with about 60 other students. Vinnie had me laughing in the first minute of class with his deadpan humour and New York accent which was great as his class was definitely high intensity and the humour kept it light. I quickly realized that LA was a serious town in regards to yoga and that I was going to have to step up my handstand practice and core work to keep up. I left class energized, excited, and starving! I had to wring out my two towels and my yoga clothes before I could pack them in my bag as they weighed a tonne soaking wet. So much fun.
The first day of the workshop with Noah and Darren started with a “talkshop” on advanced practice. Why to do it, how to go about it, and the deeper energetic qualities of the advanced poses. It gave me lots of food for thought. I think one of my favourite parts about the talkshop was hearing Darren talk so honestly about how working with the asanas has radically shifted his mental/emotional outlook and in effect led to him having a very different life then he may have been leading had he not found yoga. I have thought about this often. Who would I be today if I hadn’t tried my first yoga class all those years ago? How would I see the world if I hadn’t made a commitment to this practice and all the work that it entails? How would I be experiencing the world today if I didn’t have this practice to help me challenge myself to continual growth and expansion?….
The afternoon of the first day was a rockin vinyasa practice led by both Noah and Darren. Vinyasa is my first love so I was in heaven as we flowed from pose to pose pausing only long enough for a few deep breaths before we continued on. Nothing helps me shift my mood more than a strong, sweaty, fluid class. There is simply no time to fuss or dwell on things. Always my first choice when my head is full or my body is feeling heavy. I left feeling deeply satisfied and pleasantly exhausted, drank about a gallon of water, and slept for 9 hours straight.
Today we did a standing pose practice. I had it in my head it would be fairly easy- after all I’ve never met a standing pose I don’t like- but Noah and Darren being the intense team that they are made sure that nothing was easy all weekend. We did a relentless standing pose practice that included EVERY standing pose from Syllabus 1-3. It was hard work for sure. But fantastic work. I felt so strong and grounded afterwards I decided right there and then that I am going to do that same practice every month. If felt that good.
Afternoon of day two was the most challenging class for me as we moved into arm balances and all of LA’s finest yoga teachers came out to play. I gave it my best effort and had loads of fun trying all kinds of new stuff, but definitely found a lot of it beyond me at this point in time. This was probably the most inspiring class though as I got to see so many fantastic practitioners doing things I had never imagined possible. And not just the men- we expect them to be strong after all- but the women too. I have come home with some clear goals in regards to my arm balance practice inspired by the powerful women I saw flying from pose to pose that afternoon. Absolutely awe inspiring.
Today was back bend day, always my favourite. We worked towards Natarajasana with forays into headstand drop overs and some great work on the wall in Urdhva Danurasana. The sequencing was fantastic and allowed me to get deeper into backbends I already enjoy and see the possibility for even greater expansion.
We finished the afternoon, and the weekend, with some delightful hip opening peaking in Yoga Nidrasana and related poses. So much of the weekend was based on how Noah and Darren had practiced with each other and inspired each other in their years living in Tuscon together. So we spent a lot of time watching one of them, or a student from class- and then moving into the poses ourselves, and then sitting and reflecting before trying it again. And it is so true that we learn not only from doing but from watching each other do things we may not be able to do yet. In this way the entire community supports our individual growth in our practice and we as individuals inspire others. And as I’ve said before this is especially important when you don’t live in an area that has a large yoga community such as the one in LA, or you don’t have a senior teacher near you- then the learning you take from these potent moments of group practice keep you going when you need to attend to the daily work of continued practice without the benefit of good company. So much of the time you will be practicing on your own, doing the inner work of transformation on your own-but never totally alone- the support of the greater yoga community is always there to inspire you and keep you rolling out your mat or sitting on your cushion even when you are wondering if there is a point to all this hard work…..
I left LA the next day after a final afternoon of sightseeing around the Venice Beach area. I really loved every minute of my time in Santa Monica and will definitely be going back to take more yoga classes with some of the amazing yogis that I met and simply enjoy the vibrant energy of that area. When I got home I felt inspired to not only step up my own personal practice but to also make effort to get together with the other teachers here in Tofino for group practice more often- and I was met with the most lovely gift! Certified Anusara Yoga teacher Zhenja la Rosa was visiting Tofino for a personal retreat and heard that I was in the area and so looked me up for a shared practice. She was working her way through the entire Syllabus (Basics to Radical Expansion) and wanted to know if I felt up to doing 3rd Syllabus backbends with her. Obviously my answer was YES! and so the next morning we met at Coastal Bliss for a practice together. I followed her lead, watched her move into poses I had never seen before, and then tried them all myself with her help and had so much fun doing it. With her assistance and observation I got leverage into poses I had only ever seen in photos and now have a knowledge base of them in my body. And I got to share the joy of yoga with another like minded person. Such a gift.
So as I sit here today after a couple solid hours on my own mat, a great Sunday morning yoga class at the Studio, and a lovely meditation with Tracy I am feeling incredibly blessed by the abundance of support and encouragement that is available to myself and to all of us on this path of yoga. I know when I first moved back to Tofino in 2003 after a few years of being immersed in the Vancouver yoga scene I felt I had dropped off the face of the planet and despaired over keeping up my personal practice without the benefit of good company- but every morning I rolled out my mat anyway thinking of my friends at the shala in Vancouver rolling out their mats for practice and I was inspired to stick with it.
And I am so glad I did.