At the American Studies Association national conference, yoga--and fitness more generally--are not really on the agenda. I did attend a few panels and roundtables that took up discussions about health, but these discussions are not the same as those about fitness. Fitness asks us to think about more than health; it means considering the whole person and the bigger picture. I certainly would not propose an Organic Dance workshop at this conference! (For the important exception to this lack of fitness at ASA, please see my related blog about fitness at the ASA.)
Instead of finding fitness on the formal conference agenda, I found it down the street at The Studio DC. The yoga class I took was refreshingly different from the yoga I usually teach, and different from other yoga classes I have taken. Of course, all yoga classes have their common elements, but the instructor, the space, the style, and the location can make a big difference. The participants and the instructors I met were warm and welcoming. The class was almost evenly split between men and women, and the vast majority were young and attractive. The instructor, Christine, was amazing.
This heated vinyasa class was just what I needed. Where I teach, the temperatures vary, but it is usually cold. Sometimes it is very cold. (We have jokingly referred to our yoga as a new "cold yoga" trend.) Sometimes it is very warm, but it is never "heated." The studio was very small, and even though it felt full to me, I imagine that it is often packed much tighter. (When I went back the next morning, it was very hot and very full of people.) While I was familiar with almost all of the poses (except the most advanced forearm balances that I will probably never be able to do), it was a different experience to be guided through this class and the warmth (from temperature and people) allowed me to really sink into the experience.
The class was fast-paced, even as we were doing one breath per movement. The second class I attended, with Jane on Saturday, was even faster paced. I was surprised that I was able to keep up since I teach a slow flow yoga. I was also surprised at my ability to push myself beyond my usual limits in several poses that I rarely do in my group fitness space: forearm balance against the wall, a headstand off the wall, half moon balance with ease. When it came time for savasana, I felt like I had earned it.
But this was more than a class; I was visiting a community. The instructor greeted and engaged in conversation with each of us, identifying most everyone by name. She even remembered my name. Before class we turned 360º and introduced ourselves, and even before this, the woman next to me engaged me in conversation. (The next day, the woman next to me remembered me from the day before and also engaged me in conversation before class.) As class started we were reminded of the ongoing theme of ahisma (non-violence) and Christine reminded us that this yoga principle is, among other things, about self-care. Since self-care is something I have been trying to work on, it was nice to have this reminder. Some might even say the universe was aligning in my favor!
At the end of class, the instructor made announcements, which included one for the "Stretch for a Cause" class the following day--a class being held to raise money to help teens impacted by domestic violence. This is only one such event that The Studio DC offers. Others include "Have-a-Heart" a class held on Thanksgiving morning as a fundraiser for turkey rescue. And once a month, the studio is open to the community for free classes all day. These are the types of yoga activities that yoga studios should be offering, and being a part of this experience was a refreshing reminder that opening up space--in our hearts, in our minds, and in our communities--is ultimately what yoga is about.