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.