Opening to Yoga

Going to the Mat

On page 36 of Valerie Jeremijenko's wonderful new anthology, How We Live Our Yoga, begins an essay by Adrian M.S. Piper. Yes, that Adrian Piper, who teaches philosophy at Wellesley and whose conceptual art projects you've contemplated at the Whitney and other museums and galleries worldwide. Who sometimes inadvertently passes for white, though she identifies as African American. Who has practiced brahmacharya—yogic celibacy—since 1985.

In "The Meaning of Brahmacharya," Piper relates the various stages she passed through on the way to this decision, and the things that have happened to her since. It's a riveting story. She writes with bracing energy, and is utterly lucid and contemporary in subject and style. "I remember what it was like to have effectively forgotten what reality is really like, to have lost the immanent presence of that world in a fog of personal and social preoccupations, desires, and ambitions; to have operated on the practical assumption that those mundane and worldly concerns were all there were, and to have effectively lost all clue about what lay beyond the surface appearance of things. I remember what it was like to give lip service to the existence and importance of that deeper reality without concretely experiencing it. I don't want to get lost in the world of maya ever again."

My inclination is to simply keep typing, to give you the rest of her clarity and eloquence, but space and the doctrine of fair use dictate that I urge you to buy this book (Beacon Press, $14 paperback) and read the whole essay, as well as the 13 other chapters by writers whose lives have been irretrievably altered by their practice of yoga. Jeremijenko, who teaches in the dance department of Virginia Commonwealth University, has done a great service in assembling this collection. Whether yoga is already part of your life or you merely feel it beckoning, How We Live Our Yoga is the perfect companion for what may well become a life-changing journey.

Light on yoga: J. Brown with students at Williamsburg's Go
photo: Shulamit
Light on yoga: J. Brown with students at Williamsburg's Go

Yo! Go!

These days, it's hard to sneeze in Williamsburg without spraying someone's yoga mat. The most visible of the neighborhood's many yoga centers is friendly, intimate Go Yoga, where classes integrate hatha styles including Ashtanga, Iyengar, and Viniyoga.

"It's my favorite place to teach," says J. Brown, currently at four Manhattan schools in addition to Go. You might call Brown, Go founder Lilia Mead, and other instructors "Jivamukti refugees." In the early '90s, Brown says, Jivamukti Yoga Center, then on Second Avenue, "was the cool place for people with tattoos who live in the East Village to practice and not hear bullshit from the teachers." After some good press and blessings from notable yogis Sting, Willem Dafoe, and Madonna, the Jivamukti buzz became deafening, and the inevitable cycle of overcrowding, expansion, standardization, and loss of the original spirit ensued. Though many practitioners bemoan the atmosphere at the new Lafayette Street center, the more experienced yogis give Jivamukti props as an essential influence on the scene.

Go's newly expanded studio, at the rear of an independent mini-mall in a converted girdle factory, recaptures the intimacy of the early Jivamukti, but not all its teachings. In particular, Go swaps the struggle to "achieve" an asana for self-compassionate ease within rigor. Prepare to bliss out at one of the 35 90-minute classes scheduled weekly. And don't worry about hauling a mat; at Go, they're clean, dry, and provided free. —Joshua Fried

Go Yoga, 218 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-486-5602, Classes: $14 single, $60 for five, $110 for 10, $150 one-month unlimited, $65 private session.

In the Bag

Ever navigate a crowded sidewalk juggling a sweaty yoga mat and a water bottle while digging for your cell phone? That'll bust your bliss bubble! Yoga mats are annoyingly unwieldy—too fat to tuck under an arm, too long to cram into a backpack. But most mat sacks look like they were cut from a batik bedspread, and are disturbingly airless. Enter BigHeart's ingeniously designed Warrior Series. Each stylin' bag—available in punk-rock black vinyl; white, light blue, or lavender vinyl; and indigo denim—clicks closed across the wearer's chest with a quick-release clasp, has a roomy pocket wrapped around the left side, and holds the mat across the back like arrows in a quiver, exposed to what passes for air here. When you get home, just hang your BigHeart from a hook, mat and all. —Debra De Salvo

BigHeart bags are $89 at Jivamukti Yoga Center (404 Lafayette Street, third floor, 353-0214), Urban Escape (113 Washington Street, Hoboken, New Jersey, 201-459-8811), and (888-506-YOGA). Jivamukti recommends its $40 thick-textured mat, and suggests tossing it in a washing machine with Cascade or baking soda and water before the first use, for the perfect "grip."

Feel the Heat

There's a thin line between torture and pleasure, and in its contorted, sweaty way Bikram yoga straddles it. The "hot yoga" practice involves striking a 90-minute series of poses in a studio heated to around 106 degrees. In this tropical setting (the occasional classroom can climb to more than 110), muscles are more flexible than in cooler climes, which makes stretching far easier. With the heat pressing down, balancing on one leg while pointing the other toward the ceiling can become oddly transcendent.

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