By Varya Simpson
In many people’s minds, Berkeley is synonymous with alternative lifestyles. So it should not be surprising that Berkeley currently is home to 17 yoga studios with a wide array of classes to choose from.
Originally, hatha yoga was only one part of a complex system of self-discipline in India, which lead to union with the divine. Over the last 20 years, it has achieved mainstream world-wide popularity as a healthy and accessible form of exercise. Berkeley has, once again, kept up with the times.
The hatha yoga options available in Berkeley are as diverse as its population. As has always been the case on any spiritual path, differences of opinion and divergent methods of practice have developed over time, so that today there exists a wide range of yoga schools — from very traditional forms to new-age adaptations of the ancient discipline. Whether one is searching for the meaning of life, looking for support with meditation, exercising to losing weight or stay fit, or just trying to sleep better at night, it can all be found right here.
For a beginning student just entering the world of hatha yoga, the choices can be overwhelming. Studios themselves range from gymnasium-size rooms to small, intimate studios and are located all around town. Some studios have beautiful new changing rooms with showers while others have shared bathrooms down the hall.
Class length usually varies from one hour to an hour and a half. Cost ranges in general from $12-18 per class, with less expensive community classes also available by donation. Most studios offer a reduced fee for an introductory period, which allows new students to try out a few classes and test the experience. A class series or a month-long pass may also be available, which can make long-term practice considerably cheaper.
Some classes are conducted in near silence and some have energetic music with a beat. There are special “hot” classes with room temperature at about 95 degrees and “hotter” classes at about 105-108 degrees, an environment which some teachers believe should be approached with some caution, depending on the student’s physical condition.
Beginners considering hatha yoga should reflect on what they hope to get out of a yoga practice and gauge the present level of their physical ability and energy in order to chose an appropriate class. Some styles are slower, more intentional and alignment based, such as Iyengar and Anusara, while others are more vigorous, such as various forms of power yoga including Ashtanga. And the options go on.
“Forrest yoga puts particular emphasis on core strength, while Bikram yoga does not require weight bearing on the wrist so may be especially good for those with wrist issues,” said Mark Silva, a local yoga instructor who has trained with a variety of teachers. “All styles have both elementary and more advanced classes to explore but the vigorous forms, without alignment emphasis, may have more physical demands from the start.”
As in any learning environment, finding the right teacher is of paramount importance. General advice for new students: Go to a number of classes to try out different styles of practice and experience the teaching philosophy of the instructor. Remember to have patience with yourself at whatever level you are and no matter how little or how much you can do. Don’t compare yourself to the ballerina to the right of you or the gymnast to the left. Doing yoga is being satisfied with where you are now while stretching toward the future.
For those who want to begin to stretch their bodies, following is a list of 17 yoga studios in Berkeley along with their locations, contact information, and general styles of yoga (as indicated on their websites), in alphabetical order:
Varya Simpson is the founder of Varya Tours. She will be leading a tour to South India with daily yoga taught by Mark Silva in December. For information, visit the Varya Tours website.
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