Tag Archives: Susan Bowen

Daily practice anchors yoga training

Photo: yoga class in Warrior I pose
Virabhadrasana I at Thrive Yoga

One of the perks of yoga teacher training (YTT) is that you do a lot of yoga (duh!), in the case of an intensive program like Thrive Yoga‘s, everyday. We take a class first thing each morning. Right now, I’ve had 10 days in a row of classes (really 13 since I started my consecutive streak on July 5, but I get my first full day off this coming weekend). These can be grueling classes, such as the one Monday when we had a hot vinyasa class with the room’s street door open to the DC area’s humid heat wave. I ended up drenched, my sweat soaking my clothes and yoga towel, and pooling on the mat. Other times, mercy is shown by offering a yin class (long holds of mainly passive poses using props) or a change of pace predominantly focused on the legs (today). But don’t think that even these less intense classes don’t leave their mark on tissues and mind.

The morning class at Thrive has a roster of top-notch teachers (Susan Bowen, the owner herself and two high-energy instructors, contrarian Sarah Winsatt and Jivamukti-trained Kirsta Block) who put together challenging classes. Some sessions may be extensively thought-out while other times the instructor improvises as she reads the class, adjusts to the needs and skills of inexperienced students, or cues modifications for more advanced students. Continue reading Daily practice anchors yoga training

Breath, vinyasa and restoration on a Saturday morning.

Today I went back to yoga class for the first time in a month. I had done yoga, pranayama and meditation practically everyday in my home practice and interspersed yogic moments during my work day. But I could not gird myself up to go to a class. I felt as if I was going to walk into the class naked, stripped of disguises, handicapped by a body that seems to  rebel against the abuses of work routine and the slow slog of a winter cold. I felt as if my personal melodramas were branded on my forehead, biceps and thighs, a yogic version of Scarlet Letter.

But today I attended Susan Bowen’s morning vinyasa class at Thrive Yoga. She was all bronzed and refreshed from her yoga retreat (and vacation) in Hawaii. She started out really simple, focusing on the breath, which was fine with me because I knew I did not qualify for a 2/3 level class. I was the perennial beginner, coming back to do remedial exercises, make-up work for all the time I missed.Photo: yoga class in Wwarrior II pose

But a curious thing happened. I laid on the mat and let the breath wash over me in small, delicate waves, that were contained withing the external sheaf of my skin, which was still  porous enough to absorb the prana bubbling up from the wellspring of life. I did the asanas sequenced together in vinyasas, that all seemed as familiar as a walk through a favorite park but different because the sun,clouds, wind, trees, grass and path shift experience into an immediacy of perception. I tested my legs in the warrior poses, I wobbled in the one-legged balancing poses, I skipped to the flying crow poses because my knees and hips have not loosened enough to make it feasible, much less comfortable.

I discovered an unexpected strength in crow pose, shift into three-point headstand, eased myself into the L-shaped transitional dismount and then stuck the drop down to chatarunga, followed by upward-facing dog and back to downward-facing  dog. I had never attempted that particular sequence before (indeed, I have avoided inversions so far this year), but I did not need to think about its novelty at the time; I did not even listened to Susan’s cues. It was just the natural flow of the poses unfolding on the mate.

The decompression phase of the class included supported frog and fish poses, which allowed for a grace-filled easing into stillness. It was a deceptively simple class that allowed me to participate at my own pace and with my own menu of discoveries.

A soft landing on the mat

First class of yoga in weeks!

At Thrive Yoga, a hot vinyasa flow 2/3 with Susan Bowen, it was good to get back into the swing of things. Strength, stamina and balance are nowhere near what they should be.  Because my job hours have made me cut back and eventually out my time in yoga class and gym, that’s not surprising, but my daily practice and once-a-week therapy sessions have maintained my flexibility and range of movement. Of more concern, I had a couple of bouts of vertigo when coming up from a long, standing forward fold, a rush of blood to my head that made me do a double-take, and slip down into child’s pose until I had recovered.

Susan Bowen has been sick over the past two weeks so she took it easy on the class, less heat and less pace, so that her voice would hold up the whole class. I might have gotten off lightly, but it was a soft landing on the mat. I’m giving myself until the end of the year to improve conditioning and strength gradually so that I don’t overextend myself.

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.

Continue reading A choice: hard or soft yoga

Playing catchup, listening to my pulse

I had not commented about this last week, but I had an interesting experience during a session with Susan Bowen at Thrive Yoga. She made us do much of the practice with our eyes closed. It made some poses a bit precarious for me because I am challenged in terms of balance, and need my visual drishti. But I could get through most of my vinyasas without any trouble. However, when I was seated in Easy Pose with my eyes closed, I became conscious of my heart beat, and was surprised at how clearly it was coming through. It was not because my heart rate was up from aerobic exercise, throbbing at my temples. What I noticed most was that each subtle beat was like a ripple that expanded from my chest and washed over my torso and out through my limbs. It was almost as if I could feel the blood flowing from my chest throughout the circulatory system. Instead of focusing on my breath, I focused on my pulse.

Back in stride


Proof that I was actually in Spain (Segovia in this case), not at a meditation retreat in Nepal. My wife can take credit for this photograph.

This weekend I went to Susan Bowen’s vinyasa class on Saturday and Sunday. I also put in an hour on the elliptical trainer and the treadmill at the gym so I feel that I have gotten back up to speed on my yoga and conditioning after my vacation break. It may be a while before I am up to full strength because I still feel the fatigue in my shoulders from lots of planks, Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana), and Upward-Facing Dogs (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). On Saturday, it was a student’s birthday so Susan made us do 40 vinyasas to honor her.

This 10-day process to get back into my exercise routine drives home a simple lesson: the mature adult’s body takes a long time to adapt to more rigorous and skilled endeavors. I started running nine months ago, but seriously only less than six months ago. I should lower my own expectations about what I can achieve, both in the short and the long term. Instead of thinking about having lost training time due to my break, I should look at the two weeks as an opportunity for my body to relax and chill out. Although I can run three miles, it does not mean that I need to do it, especially given the wear and tear on my muscles after years of inactivity. I need to incorporate ample recovery time so that I don’t stress my body too much. Hints of shin splits are a clear warning in that respect. It’s not like I’m on a training schedule for a half-marathon (or any competition, for that matter).

I think it’s been providential that I got into yoga before running. My gradual learning of yoga allowed me to ramp up the physical demands on my body gradually while enhancing my body awareness. Yoga’s emphasis on breathing gives me a value instrument for measuring exertion while jogging. I’ve been using the ChiRunning technique of Danny Dyer to give me a training method in keeping with my yoga approach. I’ve actually had to teach my legs and core how to run, and that’s included some minor pain as muscle groups have found new uses.

A new blog on the Internet

The Thrive Yoga website has undergone an incremental revamping to make it a better resource. The biggest change is that Susan Bowen has decided to start blogging. [MLS: Susan has stopped blogging to devote herself to her Facebook page.] Her opening salvos have been riffs on the Yogi Sutras of Patanjali. That’s a pretty tall order, to turn those sometimes cryptic, frequently insightful refrains into meaningful nuggets for modern-day yogis. She says that other Thrive teachers will be chipping in with blog entries. The blog will also be open to comments, so hopefully it will become a sounding board for the community. There are not many studios that have blogs so this initiative is breaking new ground. Kudos to Susan for being open. Elsewhere on the site, feedback from Thrive students tell how yoga has changed their lives.

Web repairs, teachers and practice


The separation of ownership at Thrive Yoga has altered my yoga routine, as I mentioned two months ago, in unexpected way. I studied under both owners and maintain the studio website, which gives me no-costs yoga sessions at Thrive. I have just gotten through working with the site designer to purge the site of pictures of Kim Groark (at her request) and bring the graphic design into alignment with the current status at the studio. So much work that I missed two class this week, and I probably missed a few the previous week.

Over the past couple of months, Susan Bowen has brought in several new teachers, which required me to adjust to different voices, paces and sequencing. And there’s been a swell of new people taking classes, many of them just getting their feet wet with yoga. Combined with my frequent travels, I seem to be practicing in a different environment even though the physical facilities remain the same.

Kim Groark, the renegade owner, as she likes to call herself, has started teaching elsewhere, and uses the facilities at the American Dance Institute for three classes a week. Her schedule has not fit mine so I have yet to take one of her classes, and not because I am taking sides in the split. She has a newsletter (PDF and a whopping 2.6 mb) that conveys her love for yoga and unique approach to the practice. She does not have website yet, but I would probably offer her the same deal as I have with Thrive — hosting for classes.

My first reaction was that yoga and meditation should have prevented this breakup that was due to bad vibs between two friends. If yoga is going to bring harmony to the world, why can’t it heal a business partnership? But then, I realized that yoga does not keep people from being human. I am sure that both Kim and Susan struggled with this contradiction and decided that the split was the best way to restore their own personal and separate balances. All these changes have meant I have become more detached from my instructors and listen more to my inner teacher about how and where my practice should be headed. They can lead me skillfully in a vinyasa, but they are not going to give me wisdom necessarily.

Yoga — or rather life — gets messy

Rodney Yee used to have a blog at Yahoo Health. I checked it out a couple of times a while back, and then forgot about it. Yee has moved up in the online world. His new on-line home is at Lime.com’s Yoga section [MLS: Lime.com has apparently gone bust and disappeared from the web, and Yee moved on to Gaiam Yoga Club]. He has a TV show, as part of Lime’s ambitious project to bring healthy living to the big time, and has been doing short video blogs [no longer available].

Of course, Yee has been in the news a lot recently because of his marriage to NYC yoga studio owner, Colleen Saidman, which got covered in the NY Times (sorry, but the story has already been archived). But you can get a bitchier version of it at New York Magazine. Souljerky has another take on the mess. Yee divorced his wife of 24 years. A few years ago, he had an affair with a student, which became an example of how to betray the student-teacher relationship.

I bought Yee’s most recent book, Moving Toward Balance: 8 Weeks of Yoga, because it’s beautifully illustrated and laid out. And I still take classes at Thrive Yoga.

Studio politics

In my own home yoga studio, Thrive Yoga, we’ve gone through a stretch that calls into question of incarnating the yogic ideal : the two owners of Thrive Yoga have parted ways. Kim Groark was the more advanced teacher while Susan Bowen had the good business mind. Over the past two years, they lost their shared vision of what they wanted to make of the studio. I don’t know any of the details, just that at the end the tension hung like incense in the air of the studio. Susan bought out Kim’s share of the business, and Kim “decided to leave Thrive Yoga to pursue a different path,” as the announcement stated. More experienced yoga entrepreneurs have told me that studio partnerships rarely work out. Yoga teachers who strike out on their own, setting up their own shops, want to have full control over their business and practice so there’s going to be an innate contradiction in a joint venture.

I felt disconcerted by the whole shift: I had gone to Kim’s classes more frequently because I was drawn to her flair for teaching (influences of Kundalini, Shiva Rea) and the classes fit my schedule in the evenings. I was also concerned about the long-term viability of the studio because I get classes (2-5 times a week) at no charge, in exchange for hosting, maintaining and updating the website. I would find it had to pay for a year unlimited pass, which is what I would need for the same privilege. The split took me out of my comfort zone on the mat.