A choice: hard or soft yoga

Photo: yogi folds forward over leg
At Bryan Kest's master class at Thrive Yoga

Last night I went to Thrive Yoga and had two choices: hatha yoga with Marylou McNamara or vinyasa flow 2/3 with Susan Bowen. I’ve been taking Susan’s advanced class on Saturday mornings, but mostly steering towards hatha class to work on the fundamentals. I took Marylou’s class on Sunday. Today, however, I was vacillating. I’ve been getting my evening yin yoga classes in regularly so I am covering the “soft” part of my practice, but I’ve been shying way from more upbeat classes. I know I need to work more on my conditioning, stretch my limits and build up strength.

My friend, Glenn, came into the studio reception, and he resolved my dilemma: “I’m going to class with Glenn to night.” Glenn is a former gymnast who is the kind of yogi that I want to be when I grow up. Hes been practicing about as long as I have, and has been at Thrive Yoga since it opened.

Susan led up through a sequence of poses that were meant to build towards getting one of our legs behind our head: compass pose (Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana).  I could follow as far as Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana) but I tried to get my shoulder under my leg, I was pretty much lost my way. Even getting blocks under my hands so that I had a higher start, I could not raise the leg up, much less balance on my arms, as Glenn did. I basically had to improvise some modifications as we went along.

I started feeling my lower back start to stiffen and ache. Then, the sensation settled into the space between my hips. I could tell that I no longer had any control there (not that I ever had conscious control) and all the muscles and ligaments began firing away simultaneously. For the past few months, I’ve been trying to “negotiate  new relationship” with my hips, with my slow-burn yin practice in the evenings. I know I’ve been making progress. But in a class like the one that Susan had us go through, I was making a whole new set of muscles try to get the job done. At one point, I had to stop and go into downward facing dog and child’s pose to loosen up my back.

Another issue might be that I still have some aftereffects of a back issue from 10 days ago. I was in Susan’s Saturday class and went up into headstand. I have rarely tried to get in and out of the pose with my legs straight and spread wide; rather I  tend to have bent legs coming up from crow pose. Well, trying to innovate meant that I felt uncomfortable coming down, I fell over, and felt a twitch in my back on my right latissmus dorsi, right where it latches on to the hip bone, I think. In any case, it took a week to get over it, but under the strain of the practice last night, the injury may have been reminding me that I need to be gentle.

But I had made my choice: I was taking “hard” yoga. I walked out into the chill of the night, and decided that I would not stop by the gym for a bit of aerobic exercise. I had already gotten that in. I went home and did 45 minutes of yin yoga before going to bed.