IAm Yoga cured my broken practice

Recently, I was telling a friend that I thought that 75 to 80% of what is wrong with me right now (which includes, but is not limited to, an IT band that got so tight last year that it started yanking my kneecap to the side and required three months of physiotherapy, a shoulder permanently scrunched up to my ear and an overall mental condition that is constantly threatening to tip over into full-blown anxiety attack) can be traced to quitting yoga, when he suddenly remembered he had purchased a Groupon for ten classes at IAm Yoga that he wasn’t going to be able to use due to his travel schedule. Ta da! It was mine.

But there was some question as to whether or not I would be able to use the Groupon because it was for new customers only and, alas, I had taken a class at IAm Yoga in 2011. I did not continue to practice there because it was a hot only studio at the time and, as I wrote then, I thought I was going to die during the class. The studio manager looked into my account and had mercy. Because it was just one class, the studio had since moved to a new location and now offers regular temperature classes that didn’t exist in 2011 – essentially it is a completely different studio now – she made an exception. That was just the beginning of a very positive experience at IAm Yoga.

I tried to hit a variety of classes to get a true sense of what this studio is all about. I had to really ramp it up near the end of my month long trial because, counter intuitively, I began in the midst of more writing deadlines than I have ever dealt with before and time was a little crunched. This turned out to be a good decision. I am positive that getting myself to yoga increased my productivity. I became generally more calm, the noise in my head got a little quieter and I spent less time spinning my wheels in panic and just got down to business. But I also went to Montreal for a long weekend and then last weekend I got lazy. It’s not my fault Netflix released season four of House of Cards and I had to binge watch the entire thing immediately, okay?! I just started running out of time. In the end, I went to 9 out of 10 classes, which seems like a decent return on an investment I didn’t actually make. Here is how and what I did:

Yin Yang (February 11)
In retrospect, since I hadn’t practiced in so long, it was not a smart idea to start with yin. This style of yoga requires you to hold poses for an extra long time, allowing the stretch to get deep into the connective tissues that rarely get worked. The tight parts of my lower body got mightily stretched out in this class and they were not happy about it. That same evening, I was already starting to seize up and the next night I actually woke up in the middle of the night to slather myself with Voltaren and pound back some Advil. Embarrassingly, it took me four days to fully recover from this class. None of this is a reflection on the class, of course, but was a wake up call about my general lack of physical activity. In terms of the class itself, I loved it. We spent the first half doing sun salutations and getting really warm to prepare for the second half of deep, slow stretches. Mentally, I felt amazing at the end of this class. Unfortunately, it takes place at 4pm when I am typically at work, so I could not make this class part of a regular practice.

Chakra Flow (February 17)
This is a gentle flow class dedicated to balancing the chakras. I hoped the class I attended would focus on any of the chakras that deal with getting my brain to chill the hell out but luck of the draw gave me one focused on the solar plexus chakra, which apparently governs self-esteem, willpower, and self-discipline. SO MUCH CORE WORK. I liked this class but, even though my core, self-esteem, willpower, and self-discipline could all use some work, I would have liked it more if it hadn’t been all about my core.

Classic Yoga (February 20)
About this class, IAm Yoga says, “you will learn a little more about Pranayama (breath work) and yoga philosophy without feeling like you’re being preached to,” and that it is somewhat flow based but not a “power” class. Good. Generally, I think that this is what I am looking for in a yoga class. Basically this is the kind of yoga that used to exist fifteen years ago before it started getting really popular, Westernized, and workout-y, before the advent of what my friend Diana calls, “McYoga.” After I took this third class, I noticed a marked improvement in my overall well-being. My mind felt better and the stupid cough I have had since before Christmas went away. I started thinking about cancelling my underused gym membership and putting the money towards yoga instead.

Detox Flow (February 22)
In yoga, twists are commonly held to be detoxifying so it wasn’t a surprise that this class featured lots of twists. Twists are my very favourite thing to do in yoga so needless to say I loved everything about this class. It was also pretty sweaty, which was great.

Restorative Yin (March 1)
If you are looking to burn calories, this is not the class for you; if you are looking for support with insomnia, anxiety and/or the general neuroses of being a writer, it is. This is a healing class so think passive postures supported by props. This happened to be the inaugural class in IAm Yoga’s new third room. It was too cold for such a slow practice but I assume they will get that worked out. You will sleep very well after this class. Recommend.

Restorative Flow, Hot (March 7)
I decided to face my fears and venture into a hot class. It is no coincidence that I picked one with the word “restorative” in the name. To be honest, this class was a little light on the “restorative” and I found the guy a bit over the top in his yoga talk, but he seemed genuine, his class was great and I was able to do everything despite the temperature. The heat didn’t feel as awful to me as it has in the past, which I am guessing is probably due to the fondness for steam rooms and saunas that I have developed over the last few years. After this class, I also noticed that my shoulder was finally beginning to release and head toward its proper location albeit very grudgingly.

Flow with Music (March 8)
Not much to explain here. It’s a flow class … with music. This was a good sweaty class.

Candlelit Flow, Hot (March 9)
Okay, the room was a LOT hotter this time. The class was also more energetic. I got a little lightheaded and took a down dog instead of a flow a couple of times. Just as I was marveling at how people could keep trucking through this class, the instructor opened the door because the room was legitimately too hot. I guess I wasn’t the only one who was struggling. Despite this, I still did not find the heat as terrible as I had in the past and overall feel like I will attend more hot classes in the future.

Restorative Yin (March 10)
I tried this class again with a different instructor, and it was fine. The new room was indeed warmer, however, the extent of the noise (people talking) coming from the lobby for the duration of the class was incredibly distracting. Staff are going to need to step in to lower the volume when classes, especially quiet ones like yin, are in progress in the new room – the cute chalkboard sign that says, “Please be mindful of noise” is insufficient. 1 out of 5 stars.

Verdict: I will continue to practice at IAm Yoga. Although it is pretty far off my daily flight path, it is not inconvenient enough that I wouldn’t try to get there a couple of times a week. It would, frankly, be a good idea for me to spend at least one evening a week doing something other than studying or writing (or worrying about studying and writing). Thinking about it this way, the slight inconvenience of the studio’s proximity to my home becomes a plus because then I need to spend the whole evening in support of going to practice, which includes not just the travel aspect but also eating something proper (I know that eating better also helps me get through all that work but it is so hard). Hence, I take an actual break and look after myself.

The studio has three practice rooms, two regular temperature and one hot. This means that there are lots of class options at a wide variety of times. Unlike at some studios, the design of the women’s locker room was clearly not an afterthought. It is actually big enough to accommodate the number of people attending a given class, no need to worry about elbowing anybody in the face when you’re trying to get your sports bra off. The instructors make adjustments which makes me feel fairly confident that they actually know what they’re doing. Nice touch: at the end of most of the classes I took, the teacher left the room during savasana allowing you to stay in the pose until you feel ready to get up, rather than dictating when your practice is over.

I’d suggest that because of its location at Yonge & Bloor, students here represent a wider cross-section of socio-economic backgrounds than at other studios, which is a major contributing factor in IAm Yoga’s overall excellent vibe. The studio also has a robust energy exchange program, where people work in exchange for free yoga classes, and everyone seems happy to be there. In other words, it does not feel clique-y, and I never felt like an outsider the way I have at some other studios. I am sure that this feeling of inclusiveness and positivity explains the diversity of body shapes and sizes practicing at IAm Yoga.

The only complaint I have about this studio, aside from lobby noise affecting practice in the new room, is that the coat rack was hung by and for giants. Seriously, why is this thing situated so high on the wall? At 5’3″, I acknowledge that am on the short side, but I have to stand on my tiptoes and stretch my arm waaaaay up until I’m practically throwing it out of its socket just to get my coat onto the lowest hook. An otherwise perfect studio.

Note: I did not get paid to write this post, but I am not above being paid or compensated with free classes to write about yoga. I’m looking at you Moksha St. Clair West.

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