It’s interesting how opinions and perspectives can change as we continue down the path of Life. Several years ago a friend of mine was in training to become a yoga teacher. As she described various aspects of her education program to me, I tried to remain open and be supportive – but a rather significant part of my mind was generating thoughts like, “That sounds pretty crazy,” and “Um, that doesn’t seem particularly healthy,” and “Holy crap, that’s just friggin’ nuts!” The blessing is that at the time I was able to see that these thoughts (that seemed to generate spontaneously and against my will – as my heart sincerely wanted to be open and supportive [but my mind just wouldn’t quite go along…]) were actually biases, not ‘truths’ – so I was able to bite my tongue, refrain from sharing this mental ‘wisdom’ (opinions), and allow my friend the space to have her own experiences, arrive at her own conclusions, and ultimately make her own decisions.
I find it amusing that several years after my friend completed her yoga training program (which also included attending a multi-day meditation retreat), my life path led me to complete a 10-day meditation boot camp (talk about crazy!), and then a year later enter (and successfully finish) a yoga teacher training program of my own. Just goes to show the truth about refraining from judging others (or oneself).
These days, when people find out that I have completed the requirements to be an RYT 200 yoga teacher, most individuals ask me the same series of questions, usually in this order:
- Where do you teach? (Answer: I don’t teach right now. I have a limited number of hours each week that I can dedicate to yoga, and I love the practice so much that I prefer to be selfish and take classes in order to continue to grow my own skills versus spend time instructing others on their practice.)
- Where do you take classes? (Answer: My main studio is a fantastic place called Yoga Center Minneapolis; my secondary studio is a joyful little space called yogastudio.)
- Do you do that type of yoga where the room is at, like, 1000 degrees? (Answer: That style of yoga is called Bikram yoga, the room temperature is actually ‘only’ 105 degrees [F], and while I have done that type of class before, I don’t particularly enjoy it.)
- Have you ever been to Core Power?
Core Power is a yoga studio chain (franchise?) that has a pretty big presence in this metro area. They have an aggressive yoga teacher training program (meaning that they pump out groups of hundreds of new yoga teachers every 8 weeks), a robust calendar (meaning that they offer classes nearly every hour starting at 6 or 7 am, going until 8 or 9 pm, every day of the week), and offer “fitness”-style yoga classes (meaning that their primary focus is more on getting your body in shape than grounding your mind or liberating your spirit).
Conversely, my primary yoga studio focuses heavily on all eight limbs of the traditional yoga path – which means that they emphasize meditation and ethics as much as the physical poses. Neither approach is “superior” – they just come from different intentions, and therefore likely achieve different results. These days, I care more about growing my heart than shrinking my ass – so I’m willing to spend a good portion of a yoga class chanting and meditating versus integrating free weights into a pose for an extra physical challenge.
Still, I have never actively participated in a Core Power class, so I can’t speak from experience about their approach, style, offerings, level of difficulty, etc. When people ask me the question, “Have you ever been to Core Power?”, I’d like to be able to say “yes”, and have meaningful and informed conversation about various studios in the area if that is something the person wants to do.
The yoga class I usually attend every Sunday morning was canceled this week, and my original afternoon plans (to attend the city’s May Day parade and festival) also fell through (intense rain/thunder/lightening storms were forecasted to occur all day long). I decided to take advantage of the now-open time on my calendar, and make my way to Core Power.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the studio was that it was a very sleek, modern, upscale space. Black shoe cubbies lined one wall; colorful-yet-understated art prints offset by dark wood trim adorned an adjacent wall; a fireplace encircled by several white leather chairs sat on the far side of the room… It felt like I had entered the lobby of a very trendy hotel. It was lovely.
After I signed in at the main desk, I was directed to the locker room – which was just as beautiful as the lobby. Brushed nickel faucets sat atop white porcelain sinks that were surrounded by black granite counter top. Spacious restrooms featured individual stalls/changing areas with floor-to-ceiling doors, and more brushed nickel/gleaming porcelain/black accents. Multiple full-size showers were stocked with high-end bath products. The whole studio space was definitely a class act; it looked, felt, and behaved much more like an upscale gym than a traditional yoga studio. The energy/vibe of the space (from the people to the physical surroundings) felt very organized, up-scale, and professional – but not terribly authentic.
I took off my jacket and socks, removed my yoga mat from its bag, and set those items in an empty locker. I then headed in to the sole studio, where the previous class had just finished. As my foot hit the floor, I noticed that I wasn’t stepping on wood (which is a traditional flooring option in many studios), but a wood-colored laminate of some sort. The surface felt a tiny bit springy, like it had a bit of give to it. It also felt somewhat smooth, like linoleum. It was kind of strange. However, as I took a few steps into the studio, I quickly understood why this flooring was chosen for this space: puddles of sweat marked where each student in the previous class had practiced. Gross.
Fortunately a staff person came in at that time, and began pushing a squeegee/mop/swiffer-type device around the floor, soaking up the fluids that the previous students had left behind. Once the floor was dry, I headed to the back of the room to find a place to roll out my mat. As I took a few more steps into the studio, I was almost knocked over by the smell. The entire room reeked of body odor; it was comparable to a male locker room after a long, grueling sporting event. It was horrific. As in, I almost considered walking out of the class right then and there.
Just before I started to gag (literally), another staff person began spraying an air freshener/neutralizer around the room; and immediately the air changed from B.O. to lemons. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a massive improvement. I was at least able to breathe normally.
Having regained somewhat decent oxygen intake, the next thing I noticed was the temperature of the studio. Apparently the class before the one I was about to take was a heated session, and the room was easily at 95 degrees. The class I had registered for was supposed to occur in an 80-degree room; as I sat on my yoga mat I could feel the ventilation system working hard to remove the old, hot air and replace it with new, cooler air – but it wasn’t quite keeping up.
At this point I just sat, breathed, and took in the rest of the physical space while people continued to file into the room. Instead of resting in silence, though, I was surrounded with loud club-type music. It was similar to what I have heard outside of group fitness classes at a health club – a consistent bass beat, a techno-type melody, a rhythmic boom-boom-boom encouraging people to keep stepping/punching/lifting/kicking… it was really bizarre to hear that type of sound in the context of a yoga studio.
While my ears were distracted by the music, my eyes were distracted by my own reflection. Floor-to-ceiling mirrors lined two full walls of the room; I could see myself from both the front and the side. The main studio where I practice does not have any mirrors in any of their studios; the focus of the practice is on how the asanas feel instead of how they look. Eliminating visual feedback from one’s yoga practice has several benefits, but two of the most notable are: 1) allowing a person to practice yoga anywhere, instead of being limited to a space where lots of mirrors are present; and 2) allowing a person to connect deeply with his/her own internal energy, instead of focusing exclusively on external (superficial) appearances. The mirrors were very distracting to me; while it was kind of fun to see my body move through a flowing sequence of poses for a few minutes, I found that I quickly became more consumed with how I looked than with how I was doing. So about three minutes after arriving in the class space, I “numbed” my eyes to the mirrors, and focused my ‘gaze’ on my internal feelings and sensations (like I do in my usual yoga classes). However, I will admit that it was kind of rewarding to see that I actually do look quite good when I do yoga. :)
Along the lines of visual stimuli, another thing that struck me about Core Power was how the overall vibe of the studio space itself was very reminiscent of a discotheque. The two walls that weren’t full-length mirrors were painted black, the ceiling was also painted black, the lighting was a strange black-light/not-quite-fluorescent-type of hue, and the room had zero windows – so we didn’t know if it was daytime or nighttime, sunny or rainy. It was almost as if the room was designed to be isolating – it was just super-strange. I know I won’t be able to describe the overall feeling of the space sufficiently – it’s one of those things that just needs to be experienced. The best I can do is to say that I felt like I was at a club-party, but instead of consuming alcohol and dancing, everyone was sipping water and doing yoga.
After waiting a few more minutes, the instructor made her way into the room. I had signed up to take a standard “beginner” class, and made this decision for a few different reasons:
- I wanted to experience what most people who ask me about yoga would likely experience if they chose to try this studio;
- the beginner classes are the only ones that are taught in a non-heated studio (and as I said earlier, I don’t enjoy hot yoga); and
- paradoxically, an average teacher can sufficiently lead a more advanced yoga class (because most of the students know what they are doing: the students know how to modify poses appropriately, they know what the proper alignment and weight distribution of a pose should be, etc.), but it takes a skilled teacher to successfully (safely, thoughtfully, appropriately) lead a beginner class.
As the teacher started the session, I was pleased to see that she didn’t lead the class by demonstrating every pose, but instead relied on verbal cuing to tell us what she wanted us to do. Facilitating a class by doing the poses with the students is an easier way to teach (it’s much easier to show someone how to do something than to verbally talk them through the step-by-step process of what you want them to do), but if a teacher is in a pose herself, she can’t see what her students are doing – which prevents her from being able to offer corrections, adjustments, etc. That is one key reason why I go to class – to have the teacher tell me where my body position is off, where my weight isn’t appropriately distributed, when my gaze is in the incorrect spot, etc.
I was also happy with the various poses that were included in the class sequence. All of the chosen poses were very appropriate for beginning students – but the teacher also made sure to offer a variety of modifications that could make each pose more or less challenging, so that every pose could meet the needs of every individual in the class. Even though I am a semi-advanced yoga practitioner, I was still moderately challenged in the class – which was really nice.
However, one element of the class that wasn’t so desirable to me was when the instructor stopped our nice vinyasa flow in the middle of class to announce that we would now do “core work” for a few minutes. Instead of integrating yoga poses into our sequence that would strengthen our abdominals (which there are MANY to chose from), the instructor had us do bicycles and sit-ups. These five minutes of the class definitely felt like a gym session versus a yoga experience, and it kind of killed the mood for me.
The other thing I didn’t really care for was that the class didn’t have a yogic theme or focus to it. The teacher didn’t talk about yamas or niyamas (yoga ethics), she didn’t stress engaging bandhas (energy locks), she didn’t encourage us to meditate during savasana (the final resting pose); she didn’t instruct us to do anything really ‘yogic’ except move through the asanas (poses). Asanas alone are just a fancy physical workout; it’s the combination of the asanas with the other elements that make a practice yoga.
Which is kind of what I suspected I would find at this yoga gym. Granted, I experienced one class, from one instructor, at one location; I know that every session/teacher/space combination will produce a unique result, some of which will be a lot more ‘yogic’ than this encounter. Yet my hunch is that yogic experiences from this franchise are more the exception than the rule – which, as I said at the top of this post, is fine if that is what a person wants. Me, I’ll stick with my current studio practice for now. At this point in my life journey, I’ll forgo six-pack abs in favor of an eight-fold path. :)