Opening to Yoga

Going to the Mat

Indeed, you emerge from the best Bikram sessions feeling both powerful and serene, a combination that may explain why eight hot-yoga studios have cropped up here in the past few years. Though all of the classes, which range in cost from $16 to $20 (depending on how many you purchase at one time), involve the same series of 26 poses, and all the teachers have trained with Bikram Choudhury—the founding yogi, who now lives in Los Angeles—not all heated yoga studios are created equal.

Some of the variation depends on the setting. At the Soho branch of Bikram College of India (150 Spring Street, 245-2458), the small room gets more humid than most, which seems at least partly due to the frequently packed classes, and can push classes in a torturous direction. The Brooklyn Bikram studio (106 Montague Street, 718-797-2100) is similarly jammed, though the narrow layout of the room allows most students a good view of themselves in the mirror. Bikram Yoga Chelsea (250 West 26th Street, 929-9052) has a little more space, but a lack of ventilation leaves the practice room particularly smelly. (A little funkiness is to be expected when you pack dozens of sweaty adults into a small, warm space.)

My personal favorite, the Yoga Connection (145 Chambers Street, 945-YOGA), has a relatively spacious changing room and studio, but its best feature is a roster of teachers who exude calm attentiveness as they lead the budding yogis through the poses. Focusing on their instruction, you somehow forget that you're crammed into a sweaty room with a bunch of New Yorkers. —Sharon Lerner

For Yoga Connection information, visit www.yogaconnectionnyc.com. For locations and schedules elsewhere in the city, call the numbers above or check out www.bikramyoganyc.com or www.bikramyoga.com/schools.htm.


Lighten Up

Life got more jagged after September 11, and many New Yorkers suddenly needed a little cosmic reassurance. Acting on both physical and spiritual levels, a good yoga workout leaves you feeling healthier, wiser, and light as a helium balloon. The Carmine Street Recreation Center offers both hatha and Iyengar yoga classes (at varying levels of difficulty, including beginner) in which you can work on everything from breathing, muscle tone, and balance to healing, stamina, and willpower. In the fairer seasons you can attend class on the roof, where, lying on a mat and gazing at the sky as you flex and breathe, you'll learn to reintegrate the sounds of sirens with the slow, graceful swoop of the occasional seagull. —Laura Bell

Carmine Recreation Center, 1 Clarkson Street, 242-5228. Yoga classes $55 to $110 for a 10-week session, plus $25 yearly membership (seniors $10, youth 13 to 17 $10, children free).


Yuppie Yoga

Based in the heart of Hell's Kitchen, Sonic Yoga has trendy aspirations. Swooping plastic scrims divide the modern, squeaky-clean space; Noguchi-like light fixtures bathe the walls with gentle incandescence. You feel you've achieved a low-level state of nirvana by simply walking in the door.

Geared toward a young, no-nonsense professional set, Sonic keeps the om-ing to a bare minimum while emphasizing the "fun" of yoga practice; one instructor ribbed a class for posturing without smiles on their faces. The spécialité de la maison, the "Sonic Flow" class (Fridays at 6), offers a powerful vinyasa workout to a pounding club soundtrack. This may appeal to those who desire the physical benefits of a good yoga class without spooky spiritual stuff getting in the way, but if you view yoga as a deeply integrative and holistic activity, you might be a little put off by the flouting of tradition. Both the "Slo Flow" and "Power Flow" classes are based in vinyasa, but "Power Flow" moves at a rapid rate for maximum aerobic punch."Slo Flow" works for those with at least basic knowledge of the postures, and people at all levels of skill are encouraged to participate—the pressure to outbend one's neighbor is palpably absent here.

With a new four-week series for beginners, and a Life Enhancement Center expected to offer courses like "Yo-Life!" (an eight-week mixture of modern vinyasa, nutritional guidance, and "motivational mentoring") and "Yo-Trex!" (excursions that marry yoga with outdoor adventure), Sonic Yoga fills the void between Crunch and MTV. —Adrienne Day

Sonic Yoga, 754 Ninth Avenue, 397-6344. Unlimited practice membership $100 per month while they last. Drop-in $16 per class.


Coping With Change

Sleep Now

Michael Krugman's Sounder Sleep System, he says, "helps you learn what good sleepers already know: how to relax and clear your mind and allow yourself to fall asleep. You can't try to go to sleep. The minute there's effort involved, you're doomed." Designed to evoke a state of profound relaxation through gentle, expressive movement, pleasure, and self-awareness, the system is a re-education in the art of relaxation, and a set of tools you can use on your own.

A group class begins with seated movements coordinated with breathing. Krugman is both teacher and DJ. We follow his lead, repeatedly bowing forward and rising, our legs crossed in front of us on the floor. After a while, he invites us to close our eyes and move our hands, arms, and torsos to the music. It feels a little silly, but no one's watching; it's really satisfying to shape the air like a sculptor or move sinuously like a belly dancer.

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