What is yoga? Kest.

In my quest to catalogue what some of my favorite teachers have to say about the meaning of yoga, in a personal quest to figure it out for myself, I like what Bryan Kest of Santa Monica, CA has to say. I’ve only taken one class with him, but I loved it.

[Aside: My yoga crush further deepened when I found this AMAZING video. His hair is Kenny G incredible. His press to handstand is bad ass. His cut-off acid-wash denim pants make me giggle. The jilty editing is endearing. And the teaching is accessible. What I like about Mr Kest is that he speaks plainly, so as to allow a simpleton like me to understand what he says about the yoga.]

Anyway, from his website, this is what he has to say about yoga and asana:

There is no enlightenment at the end of a pose…It seems to me in a general sense we as a society are enamored with the mystical, mysterious, the unseen and Continue reading

Bryan Kest @ Santa Monica Power Yoga (LA, CA)

I love California, but I LOVE California yoga. Sigh.

I attended Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga while visiting Santa Monica last weekend, and the class was awesome: 1) it’s donation based (suggested amount is $14), 2) I worked hard, 3) I loved the mediation practice, 4) the studio was laid back and unpretentious, 5) Brian Kest (“BK”) is funny, and 6) the studio is spacious and bright with a nice big abstract painting on one wall.

I’ve been to other studios with a similar donation/laid-back ethos, but not one with this quality of instruction. And by quality of instruction I mean an equal mastery of both the philosophy and the asana. BK’s yoga philosophy isn’t academic, it seems to be the product of significant self study and compassion for himself and his students. He calls his style “power yoga” which should put me off (“yuck! that’s not authentic”), and I suspect BK would love to put people like me off, but you can’t deny great teaching. I crave a workout and need to CTFO* like anyone else, plus his accent is charming (it sounds Boston to me but apparently he is from Detroit). (BK has an interesting bio. He was one of Pattabhi Jois’s first Western students.) It’s vinyasa style, nothing fancy, but what sets BK apart is the way he communicates the philosophy of non-harming, of quieting the mind–it’s in plain English.

Bryan Kest

BK and his puppies

This yoga is no frills. By this I mean there was no music, no changing rooms, no liability waiver, no sign in sheet, no front desk, no props, no retail store, no shelves for belongings, no Sanskrit, no rule about taking off your shoes. What the studio did have was a bearded older dude who seemed to be helper at large, who took my money for the $2 (skanky-ass) mat rental and advised me on protocol; a large lovely room in which to practice; lots of students; and a teacher who emphasized the breath and being gentle (while having us hold a 15-breath dhanurasana/bow pose). Every now and then BK would say something like “and this pose is called holding your right leg up while bending over pose” (not Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana/standing split). Yoga humor. Har Har.

The gratefulness meditation at the end was the best part. We sat still for 5 minutes and thought of everything and everyone in our life we are grateful for. And I have so many things to list! It is wonderful to remember this. BK said, you do this everyday for 3 months and you’ll never have to do it again. Highly recommended. Yay for California.

Rusty Wells @ Urban Flow (SF, CA): Namastizzle you little yogizzle

Urban Flow is the San Francisco yoga studio that inspired this blog, but sadly I can’t do what I wanted to do, which was publish high resolution artsy photos of this beautiful space. See tiny photo stolen off of internet. The by-donation-only studio (I chose to pay $15) was started by wildly popular Rusty Wells. I attended a packed Saturday morning class, taught by Rusty, attended by approximately 120 people. Even in NYC I haven’t been to a class that big.

Urban Flow Yoga: How This Came To Be

When the Brit and I arrived a bit early, both Rusty and the dude checking us in gave us a warm welcome and were curious about who we were when they learned it was our first visit. The dude at the front desk even offered to lend the Brit some shorts when the Brit said he wasn’t going to stay for class because he didn’t have any clothes (the Brit’s English way of saying that he had no intention of staying to practice).

The studio is in an industrial part of of town, in a loft, and the front room feels like a gallery, with Sanskrit chants painted in black letters on white walls. The yoga practice space is huge, big windows all around and small stage up front decorated with white cala lillies and large pillar candles–it felt open, urban and minimalist rather than the standard pastel clutter. Music playing before class started included hip hop. People were encouraged to bring their bikes upstairs for safekeeping during class. Yay.

The style is bhakti flow: “Bhakti is the yoga of love and devotion to the god of one’s own unique understanding…The flow part refers to the flowing sequence known as vinyasa.” The room was heated, Rusty was shirtless, practitioners were all levels, and the class was tough but not crazy (focus on alignment, long holds). We did pushups. Rusty started us out with some singing/chanting, which I always dig, but what made it feel like a party was the drumming accompaniment and Rusty’s strong voice.

Rusty was joyous and serious but not cheesy. After class he apologized for making me late (before class he overheard me and the Brit making plans to meet at 11am), remembered my name, and complemented me on my beautiful practice. Flattery will get you everywhere, Mr Wells! And then when I returned to the east coast I received a postcard from the studio (the front says “namastizzle you little yogasizzle”) thanking me for my visit. What a great community–makes me yearn for the west coast a little bit.

See some intro videos from the studio here: http://vimeo.com/user4392840