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, thatAdrian 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 mayaever 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.


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, http://billburg.com/goyoga. 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 www.bigheartyoga.com (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.

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.

Krugman explains that the pleasure of dancing freely (but not strenuously) to music is a key part of the system: It helps quiet the mind. Enjoyment and relaxation are closely related. Rippling movements through the spine and rhythmic breathing trigger deeply relaxing physiological changes.

As I interlace my fingers and move them delicately with my breath, I begin to feel as relaxed as during a good massage. I yawn. I lay my hands down for a moment, and then I'm fast asleep. The music laces through my dreams, and my breath feels fresh in my spacious chest.

He teaches daytime exercises that can be done unobtrusively on the subway, in a meeting, or at your desk. Breaking up your day with very brief periods of tiny, relaxing movements and dreamy rest, you'll feel smarter, and more discerning. And you'll sleep better. —Jae Gruenke

For a schedule of Michael Krugman's classes and information about his book and audiotape, go to www.soundersleep.com or call 874-6123. Individual sleep training available by appointment. Gruenke, a recent graduate of Krugman's training program, teaches group classes and offers private appointments: Call 673-1142 or visit www.intelligentexercise.com.


Divine Detritus

Concrete with spiritually restorative powers? Well, yes. In one area of the new, pristine Stuyvesant Cove Park, on the East River at 20th Street, you can listen to waves lapping onto the strange accrual of concrete, sand, wood pieces, old tires, and rusted pipe that emerges from the river, just beyond a fence. This outcropping has evolved from the illegal dumping of cement, but nature has made it its own. You can get lost in the contemplation of the moss and rubbery seaweed covering the hard slabs and wood pilings, which are also favored by seagulls and mourning doves. Corroded metal fittings look like aquatic mushrooms; a group of mottled, curving pipes resembles a speckled sea serpent; and one concrete mound appears to be an erupting giant cauliflower. I thought I saw a leprechaun traversing a bridge-like structure obviously formed by human hands, but perhaps I was under a spell, mesmerized by a piece of broken green glass tossed playfully by demure little waves.

Get your concrete comfort soon. The state intends to remove this sui generis bit of art on the beach, though the neighborhood is fighting to keep it. —Mary Lyn Maiscott


A Good Fit

Late in 2000, writer and former graduate student Sarah Wenk got laid off from a dotcom job she hated. "After the shock wore off, I decided to make the situation into an opportunity rather than a crisis," she says. "I started thinking about what I really cared about, and kept coming back to exercise and nutrition."

She explored the possibilities at several academic nutrition programs, then found her way to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which takes a holistic approach to health that traditional programs don't offer. At the same time, she received a certification in personal training. She's now seeing nutrition clients in private practice, focusing on the whole person, explaining how to "make small, sustainable changes—a new food, a new exercise" and helping people integrate their emotional, physical, and dietary health. Her full program involves six months of biweekly meetings, and includes books, audiotapes, food samples, cooking classes, and health food store tours; it can also include personal training. "It's about making people healthier through better nourishment in every sense of the word." —Elizabeth Zimmer

Sarah Wenk, 917-202-8897, sarah@healthwithsarah.com. By appointment only. Initial consultation is free.


Pilates Paradise

Choreographer Jordana Toback, recently of Fischerspooner and mounting her own show, Poon, this weekend in Williamsburg, underwrites her dance projects by teaching yoga and Pilates mat classes at various locations around town. Perhaps the most elegant is the Away Spa at the W hotel in midtown, a coolly elegant facility where the purchase of any spa service (massage therapy, alternative healing modalities, body treatments, facials) allows you a full day's use of the gym, including, if it's a Tuesday or a Saturday, Toback's hour-long Pilates class (she also offers private sessions on the Pilates "reformer"). My dream day would begin with the class, proceed to the $100 Citrus Firming Body Polish, and conclude with a sit in the eucalyptus steam room, a scrub-down in the four-headed shower stall (you practically need an engineering degree to run it, but it's worth the effort), and a squat on the state-of-the-art bidet. Absolutely everything you need—robes, towels, T-shirts, shorts, socks, flip-flops—is provided, along with tea in china cups at the Anti-Oxidant Tea Bar, fresh fruit, and cool water marinating in citrus slices. Just bring your underwear. Private memberships, day packages, and weekend deals including overnight accommodations are available. The best argument for capitalism I've come across in a long time. —E.Z.

Away Spa and Gym, W New York, 541 Lexington Avenue, fourth floor, 407-2970; Jordana Toback, 917-553-7321.


Losing It

Although I'm not experiencing a physical loss, I am grieving the death of a romantic relationship. Sorrow's Company, edited by DeWitt Henry (Beacon Press, $15 paper), reveals how 15 writers dealt with personal loss. All five accounts in the first section focus on cancer-related deaths; the middle section deals with different types of illness. Jamaica Kincaid's "My Brother" presents a fresh look at her sibling's struggle with AIDS. Gordon Livingston's "Journey" illuminates his pain as he accepts his only son's death from leukemia, demonstrating that humans can heal. Livingston realizes "that my grief, perhaps all grief, is essentially self-pity," and that he may be able to find his way past it.

At points these writers drown in their own grief. Mark Doty's languid piece on losing his lover Wally spends too much time searching for Wally's spirit through strange symbolic associations, like seals. But the majority of the writers give hope to those left behind. Ann Hood's inspiring "In Search of Miracles" recounts her hope that Santa Fe's "miracle dirt" will heal her dying father. Although he dies, she says, "What I gained there was a peace of mind." And Andre Dubus's "Sacraments" teaches us to take even the mundane tasks of everyday life, like making lunch for his daughters, as an "outward sign of God's love."

Reading Henry's anthology, I learned what anyone grieving does: Somehow, you must go on. This book turns both a critical and spiritual gaze on loss. If you're dealing with sorrow, it's one useful book. —Celeste Doaks


The Love Diet

What do oysters, pumpkins, sunflower seeds, and lean beef have in common? They all contain zinc, scientifically proven to increase testosterone levels and maintain vaginal lubrication. Forget Viagra—bone up on a few of nature's secret love potions that "cooking couple" Michael and Ellen Albertson reveal in their new Temptations: Igniting the Pleasure and Power of Aphrodisiacs (Simon & Schuster, $14). As with their prior books, Food as Foreplay: Recipes for Romance, Love, and Lust and He's a Fork, She's a Spoon: Recipes for a Long Loving Life Together, this chef-comedian-dietitian duo promises readers more dynamic sex lives and even longer-lasting relationships by bringing together two of the most basic human instincts—eating and sex. But Temptations is more than just a culinary sex manual. It provides medical, historical, and cultural background on well-known aphrodisiacs such as oysters, chocolate, and garlic, while introducing some lesser-known items such as the saviña habaneropepper, which should be consumed with caution lest it disintegrate your tongue, and swiftlet bird's nest soup—made from seaweed and fish spawn pasted together with the saliva of the swiftlet bird itself. Yummy! The book's most entertaining facet is its aphro-revisionist global history. Who would have thought oysters—nature's little hermaphrodites—might be the culprits behind China's overpopulation, 19th-century America's population boom and westward expansion, and the high divorce rate here today? Indeed, there might be something else in the food the Albertsons are eating besides a few aphrodisiacs, especially in their closing chapters when they recommend "edible orgy" scenarios, such as the geisha-samurai sushi orgy. While Temptations may be pumped with a little too much aphrodisiology, its value lies in the connections the authors make between the health, sex, and relationship problems of many Americans and our ignorance of and detachment from our own bodies. —Josephine Lee


Talk the Talk

Actions speak louder than words. People roll their eyes when annoyed and shrug their shoulders when confused. They also respond to the common query "What's wrong?" by saying, "Nothing," when they really want to throw every indiscretion, bad decision, and faux pas of the last 10 years in your face for the crime of failing to pick up your underwear.

Harriet Lerner's The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You're Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed or Desperate (HarperCollins, $25) shows you how to verbally "dance" your way through some of life's most combustible situations (such as confronting a spouse about an alleged affair or telling a parent how he or she has emotionally scarred you) without all of the huffing, puffing, and posturing that make such confrontations so difficult.

Lerner acknowledges the difficulty in achieving such evolved verbal communication when all you want to do is cry, curse, and beat someone about the head with a blunt object. However, the book goes beyond simple "I statements" and "feeling words," offering real-world advice on sharing one's fears, voicing concerns and requests, and (most importantly) making clear just how much one is willing to take from another. It's one thing to talk the talk. Lerner, to her credit, teaches people how to walk the walk as well, making clear to her readers that they can leave any relationship if it fails to meet their needs. Action gets no louder than that. —Chanel Lee


Loisaida Drill

You are stiff and can't touch your toes anymore. Time to start exercising, but public gyms—crowded, intimidating, and confusing—are not the answer. Join Sweating With Supervision and enhance your mind-body connection. At this private fitness studio, in a basement near Delancey Street, you can enjoy, for only $30, a one-hour, one-on-one calisthenic workout, and feel the exhilaration of body-fat reduction, weight management, body shaping, and toning (discount packages available). Improve your strength and flexibility with the aid of Diana Perez or one of her qualified female trainers, who can help you set realistic goals and determine safe strategies, all while providing the encouragement you need. To learn how to master and manipulate the fundamental elements of weight control, call for a free session. —Ioana Veleanu

Sweating With Supervision, 112 Suffolk Street, 780-0156.


Wake Up and Smell the Kona

Kahuna O'Kana'iaupuni Iwi'ula (a/k/a Aupuni) introduced the Ho'ala (literally, wake up) Series last May at the American Indian Community House at 404 Lafayette Street. Ho'ala is the initial phase of a series of workshops in Ho'omana, a broad term for native Hawaiian spirituality—the real deal, as it was before Western and Christian contact. Similar to the spiritual practices of other indigenous cultures, this tradition incorporates advanced energetic processes that can be utilized for protection, self-correction, and healing. With the abolition of the kapu (taboo) system and destruction of the Hawaiian temples in 1819, the religion went underground and was practiced in secret until the Hawaiian cultural renaissance of the 1970s. (Incredibly, as recently as 1970 it was technically against the law for Hawaiians to publicly teach their native religion.)

Born on Oahu, Kahuna Iwi'ula descends from a formidable line of teachers and healers on the island of Kauai. Although he was given permission by his elders in 1972 to teach, it took 20 years for him to create the Kalama Foundation and decide to share the knowledge. He points out that these classes challenge preconceived ideas of reality and are not for everyone (latte drinkers need not apply). Ongoing workshops present a rare and unique opportunity for New Yorkers to learn about native Hawaiian culture and spirituality—and hula! —Rory Russell

Attend an introduction to Aupuni's work at the AICH on May 3 at 7 p.m. ($15). Hawaii Cultural Foundation, 966-3378, hawaiiculturalfoundation@hotmail.com, www.kalama.org.


Join the Fray

It's Saturday morning at the Red Cross near Lincoln Center: The wise and witty emergency-training instructor at our one-day, $60 class presses the play button on a VCR. Secretaries fasten tourniquets in green fields. Fishermen lift the legs of injured mates above their hearts, offer sips of water. "Don't drink! Just sip!" they admonish in clear tones. A construction worker feigns one bloody mistake, and the man beside me shifts. He winks and winces, "I know what that's like."

Later he puts my limp arm in a sling. A long-haired lady tilts my chin, gives me her short breaths. By the end of the session, I feel ready to check for pulses, respiration, and downed power lines. Emergency training is invigorating at the very least, lifesaving at best. You can join Red Cross classes, where destiny and random strangers meet, at six locations in the five boroughs. Get going! —Alexis Sottile

To register for lifesaving classes, call 800-514-5103, or visit www.nyredcross.org To volunteer at Red Cross headquarters or at emergency sites, call 877-REDCROSS, ext. 2067.

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