By Martina Sheehan. Photograph by Martha Williams.|
Catering to the introspective, the injured, the elderly and the just plain out of shape, mindful yoga emphasizes breathing and tension release. For me, the classes offer a refreshing—and relaxing—antidote to those increasingly common yoga sessions led by barking, headset-wearing instructors. Just how calming are these classes? I try out four and assess how chill I feel afterward.
Dream Yoga at Fit Lincoln Park Chill factor FOCUSED Combining kundalini, hatha, tao and gyrokinesis practices, the class moves at a steady clip through breathing techniques and poses, while ultra-fit instructor Arnold Prosperos explains how each move activates the body’s chakras or energy centers. The repertoire brings leg lifts that pull my abs into what feels like a searing knot, but Prosperos mercifully eases back into a cross-legged seated position for the “aura builder”: We raise our hands on either side of our heads as we start Breath of Fire, drawing quick shallow breaths through the nose. Soon we’re in savasana, or the relaxing corpse pose that marks the end of class, and my body and mind are ready to dream away.
Gentle Yoga at Bloom Yoga Chill factor DAYDREAMY Filing into class at this Ravenswood studio are a few yogis in their fifties, some beginners and some with injuries. Lithe instructor Corey Terzo (subbing for regular Gentle leader, Abby Factor) eases us in with a pleasurable stretch: We bind our feet with blankets, lean back on our bolsters and let our knees fall outward. I feel a slight pull in my hamstring but no burn. That sets the tone for what’s to come—a series of sun salutations, warrior poses and other yoga 101 maneuvers. The session feels almost effortless, and when it comes time for savasana, I hardly feel I deserve it. The next day, I’m surprised to feel a bit sore, proving there are no small poses, only small posers.
Mental Agility at Lincoln Park Athletic Club Chill factor NEARLY COMATOSE Yoga instructor Lynn Pigott’s soothing voice keeps body and mind focused as she directs us: “Think of your inhaling and exhaling as ocean waves washing onto shore, and then receding.” I’m already feeling some tension melt away as a beach scene springs to mind, washing away thoughts of the gray cloud cover outside. We shift poses a few more times—always sitting or lying down—as Lynn explains concepts such as the parasympathetic nervous system (“The part of the brain responsible for rest and relaxation”). I narrowly avert falling asleep in the warm room, but by the end, I feel refreshed, as if I’d taken a lunchtime nap.
Conscious Relaxation: Serenity Now with Karen Klutznick at YogaHouse Chill factor OUT COLD This monthly workshop is so mellow you’re encouraged to bring a pillow and blanket. Nidra, or “sleep yoga,” means you’ll be spending most of class on your back, in a meditative sleep. As the lights dim, our instructor has us count silently backward from ten, breathing in one nostril and out the other. Notice but don’t let your mind rest on the roar of the Brown Line, she says. She then notes that as a cleansing meditation, some dark memories could surface (yikes). As my body comes to rest, my mind quiets, too, and the visualizations she conjures come easily: a thousand-leafed violet lotus, a radiating golden flame in my abdomen. I half-dream of friends and family until some light snoring nearby shakes me awake. Still, I feel completely rested.
BEGINNER TIP If it’s difficult to stay focused and in the present during mindful yoga practice, that’s okay, says Fit Lincoln Park’s Prosperos. If that’s your natural state at the moment, you shouldn’t force it.