Post#1 in Series of Where to Yoga, Where not to! – The Experience, perspective, and reflections on 12 Yoga Studios in North Carolina.
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Even though I still continue to work hard to build a disciplined home yoga practice, there is sometimes nothing like the energy of your fellow yoginis in class next to you, and the motivation of a knowledgeable and favorite instructor pushing us through the poses and inspiring us to be our very best in that moment, in that class, on that day. Starting in 2009, I have been regularly attending a studio and loving the practice in that space, nonetheless, I am always exploring the variety of studios around my home town. Here is an account of all those studios, and my impressions of the yoga instructors, techniques, styles, and even the intangibles of the ambiance.
1. Namaste Yoga Center (Cary, NC): Highly recommended, hands down a place full of love and challenge to all levels. This is my own hometown studio. This is where I truly fell in love with yoga, within these four walls of faux-finish light color paint, the skylights, candles, silence, warmth, love, challenge, and growth.I loved Miche Federico’s Power Vinyasa and was first introduced to Ashtanga by Carrington. The vibe from this studio is particularly welcoming and powerful in dark and cold winter evenings. It is situated at the heart of Cary, and has a variety of classes and teachers, although cancelations are likely at times. At $15 for drop-in, I think the rate is just average and pass-cards make it more affordable.
Time spent @ Namaste: Regularly 2002-2006 and sporadically 2007. I have now returned to the studio for regular sessions in 2009.
2. Cat Tilt Yoga Studios (Raleigh, NC) Love the owner Marc Guilarte as we do Ashtanga yoga together in another studio, and I had the pleasure of visiting his studio on a Saturday for Mysore practice. Cat Tilt Studio offers yoga from an educational, results-oriented foundation. They offer you tools to help navigate life’s challenges on an emotional, mental, and physical level. Yoga teaches its practitioners an art of focus which leads to meditation which in turn teaches us to reign in our emotions and turbulent inner-conversations. Cat Tilt Studio offers classes with a wide range of levels, meeting you where you are, then opening you to new levels of possibilities and Marc is a caring, attentinve and loving teacher.
Time spent @ Cat Tilt Studios: Visited in 2014.
2. Triangle Yoga (ChapelHill, NC): Highly recommended. This is a lovely studio in the heart of Chapel Hill, with its excellent variety of classes. The space for the beautiful 3-room studio is decorated with colorful drapes, heaps of lighting, light hardwoods and tall ceilings. They offer many yoga workshops, none of which I have yet attended, and they manage to recruit some nationally well-known instructors. The staff is very nice. My favorite instructor here is Mike Lyons. There have been some one-off mediocre classes but I feel confident saying the caliber of instructors here combined with variety of yoga classes and schedule makes it one of the best studios in all of NC.
Time spent @ Triangle Yoga: Random classes taken 1x or 2x / yr since 2004.
3. Carrboro Yoga Company (Carrboro, NC): I am thrilled to report that Stephanie Keach workshop was delicious and fabulous. Carrboro Yoga Company did a very organized job of setting up the workshop, and even though the studio space for the attendance was quite tight, we managed beautifully. A full day of vinyasa flow with 6 hours of yoga, music, breathing, and releasing. I loved her style, her voice, her energy, her adjustments and her approach to yoga. She challenged without hesitation, she expected you to do your best, not more but not less. I was in nirvana after the 6-hour workshop. The inspiration stayed with me for days afterward. I look forward to visiting her studio in Asheville, NC.
Time spent @ Stephanie Keach workshop: All day workshop, June 17th, 2006
4. Gateway Yoga (Raleigh, NC): I finally made it down for a soothing and challenging Anusara class taught my dear friend Cristina. This studio is located off Oberlin Road in the old Raleigh area, next to established neighborhoods and shops. The studio has new bamboo hardwood floors exactly like my house, and I immediately felt at home. The studio size is small and for larger classes, it could be tight. The staff is incredibly warm, the studio has a very warm and inviting space, the drop-in rate of $15 is average. Classes are 90 minutes which is the right length. Cristina’s class was extremely well-taught. Studio focus is on Anusara style of yoga, taught widely by John Friend.
I returned to Gateway for a second visit on a cold spring morning in April to take advantage of the kind Free Yoga week. It was Lydia’s class on Tuesday, April 7th. She was extremely kind and welcoming towards me. I was in the mood for a strong practice today. We started 5 minutes late, and ended 10 minutes over, and the office phone kept ringing throughout the class. The practice of Anusara feels different to me now that I have been going back to stronger, power yoga, flow and Ashtanga-type classes. It felt incredibly slow while meticulous and precise. I more than appreciated Lydia’s instructions and adjustments, and realized during this class that it is during Anusara where my mind wanders and is least focused on yoga because I tend to get bored. While this was a strange awareness for me, I am going to respect it. Lydia is a great instructor with a sense of humor. Anusara at the slow pace is, however, not what my body needs in its most fit and strong stage in my life. With that in mind, I will be focusing on other styles of yoga.
Time spent @ Gateway Yoga: August 2008 and April 7th, 2009.
5. Blue Point Yoga (Durham, NC): This studio is near Duke University, and upon entrance, my first instic was its heavenly aroma. It was serene, with plenty of space made for 2 rooms for yoga. I arrived Saturday morning for Ashtanga full primary series by Vera. As no one else showed up, Vera proceeded to do a class just for the two of us. The studio was around 71 degrees and felt nice, the rooms were clean and the hardwood and colors diffused such calm energy. We had an informal and fun session where she practiced with me and also adjusted and watched me. The adjustments were very nice. I found myself being rather nervous in a private session with the teacher and oddly enough, did not push myself as much as I would have in a class full of students. I’d love to try the studio again, perhaps along with other fellow yoginis!
Time spent @ Blue Point Yoga: Saturday, Oct 25th, 2008
6. Franklin Street Yoga Center (Chapel Hill, NC): On a cold freezing winter day, I finally made it out to downtown Chapel Hill to try out the Franklin Street Yoga studio, and participate in Matthew’s Chakra Vinyasa flow. The studio is behind a set of shops and faces apartment complexes across the parking lot. The studio welcomes all the light possible through the large windows, and the warmth and welcome by studio owner Lori immediatelymade me at ease. She welcomed me, had me sign in, and told me about the first free class, and let me to settle in. The layout of the lounge is perfect – serene, soft colors, warm furniture – just perfect. I settled into a spot inside the large studio. The heaters were going, and students slowly filing in. Matthew was early. I love when teachers are early. We started with meditation, Om, and setting intention. His voice carried confidence and humility. I immediately liked him. He started class in inversions – to remove all anticipations of a standard vinyasa. I went right into sirsasana, so relaxed I was after the meditation. The flow was one of the best sequences, at the most perfect pace. I appreciated the kundalini segments, to clean the breath and the throat and the lungs – and was pleasantly surprised for the advanced poses. A perfect 90 minutes, followed by a compliment – “You have a beautiful practice”. I can’t wait to go back.
After Kathryn Budig’s phenomenal workshops, I did return to Franklin Street yoga who hosted her, first to take Lori’s class and then to enjoy a free 9:15am Monday class by Elizabeth. The flow was smooth and rhythmic and the studio packed with over 40 students. I thoroughly enjoyed the classes, would have liked more adjustments, and possibly a more challenging flow, nonetheless, I was very happy to be doing yoga.
Time spent @ Franklin Street Yoga: Sunday, Jan 17th, Sat Dec 5th & Mon, Dec 7th, 2009
7. Yoga Practice Center (PC) (Durham, NC): On March 29th, Sunday morning, I jumped from Bakasana to Chaturanga Dandasana for the first time. Then I did it twice more for good measure. This was only my second class with Vickie, whom my good tango friend Daniel recommended as the best yoga instructor he has known. The studio is very small and cozy located behind some offices in Durham. The drop-in rate is $14. The website is not regularly updated to indicate correct class time which is from 10:30am to noon every Sunday. Vickie is a warm, friendly, and most attentive instructor – but I come to her class because I find here something I rarely find in all the other fabulous yoga studios and classes: I see myself advancing deeper and further into the poses I have loved and admired. I see myself breaking mental and physical barriers for lack of knowledge in technique rather than strength and flexibility. These were the reasons that I chose to make Sunday class with Vickie a regular part of my schedule. She has a strong following and follows pretty much the same sequence for class every time, power yoga style with Ashtanga influence, in a warm room. Her adjustments are precise, and she understands the levels of her students – be it complete beginner or intermediate to advanced – and she assists each accordingly. She allows a 15min free style towards the end to let us work on favorite arm-balances and inversions. She incorporates hardly any spiritual aspects of practice, so this is a purely asana practice – and it seems that it is the most perfect find for what I was seeking.
Time spent @ Yoga PC: Every Thursday and Sunday classes when not traveling, starting in March 22nd, 2009
8. Triangle Pilates & Cary Yoga Center (Cary, NC): I have known about this studio for a while now. It has several locations around the Triangle (Cary, Chapel Hill, Raleigh area), and is very popular. I decided to run over and try a Hatha class by Susan on Monday early evening. The class was only for 75min and no matter what, I think a studio class should be a full 90min session. The studio is in a new and nice shopping center, with a large real estate dedicated mainly to Pilates. Yoga is in the back room. I noticed they carry my favorite lines of yoga clothing to boot: Lululemon Athletica and Be Present too. I went in and settled down. The room is bright with yellow paint, large window panels, and Enya playing on the stereo. Susan led a Hatha class, she had soft voice, clear instructions, and walked around the room and demonstrated the poses now and again. She only adjusted me once in Balasana. Her adjustments were too soft; I would have liked a firmer adjustment.
Time spent @ Triangle Pilates & Cary Yoga: One class on June 8th, 2009
9. Bikram Yoga Raleigh (Raleigh, NC): When I first heard about Bikram yoga, or otherwise known as “hot yoga”, I was instantly curious. Doing yoga in a room where temperatures start at around 105 and go up to about 108 seemed like the type of borderline crazy idea that I can get on board with. For years though, the warnings from my friends and yoga teachers alike combined with worries about fainting and the preconceived notions about the “military style” of Bikram yoga kept me at bay. The lovers of Bikram yoga are devoted to it, similar to lovers of Ashtanga yoga. Yesterday, I decided to go take my first Bikram yoga class, with caution but without hesitation. Bikram Yoga Raleigh gave me the warmest welcome. Cindy explained the expectations from class, gave me permission to drink water but only at times instructed by her, and to take it easy if I needed to but try to stay in the room for entire session to get my body used to the heat. Lucky for me, I had my friend Daniel trying out the studio with me. We went into the room and for a few minutes before class, settled slowly into the 105 degree sauna! Then we started class, with clear yet mildly commanding pose sequence call-outs by Cindy.
I dig discipline and love a strong instruction so it suited me fine. The 26 pose series, each done twice, slowly build up the heat, but you start sweating profusely right away. I learned that there are no downward facing dogs and no binds in asanas of Bikram yoga, and the breathing is very different. I kept my body at a good pace, and caution was my best friend – I did not push my limits and I felt extremely balanced. Following class, I left Savasana rather quickly and went into the bathroom to literally splash handfuls of water to my red face. I changed out of my drenched top into something dry and left the studio feeling elated, strangely happy, with a quiet mind but unfortunately a headache that lasted much of the evening. Hydration and caution were my allies as I made it to my first, but certainly not my last, Bikram yoga class in a beautiful, warm, and welcoming studio in North Raleigh.
Time spent @ Bikram Yoga Raleigh: June 9th and June 13th, 2009 – and many subsequent classes.
10. Moving Mantra Yoga (Raleigh NC): Today, I needed a mellow class after 4 days of intense yoga. I had heard about Moving Mantro through 2 friends, neither of whom do yoga or have tried the place, funny enough. The 5:45 class put me in the height of traffic going into Raleigh. I had been bitterly sore all day and it seemed like a sign that I should turn around and soak in the bath. I made it in class a minute before start. The studio is located behind some office complexes with large windows, hard carpet, a beautiful drape over several bamboo sticks hanging from the ceiling, giving the impression of a zen temple more than a yoga studio. Cyndi welcomed me and asked my name. Everyone was warm towards me. We started in a relaxed meditation. For the first 15 minutes, we were first in Savasana, and then in seated poses moving very slowly. She then led us through several other easy poses, all in basic asana forms, taught very precisely and correctly. The class make-up was mostly beginners but dedicated regulars. The 90-min session was spent mainly in slow motion. I think the name fits the studio perfectly. This happened to be exactly what I needed tonight. On other occasions though, I would have been confused and disappointed if I had come to this class which is identified as a Level 2-3 (with flow). Overall, this seems best suited for those seeking yoga for relaxation and meditation.
Time spent @ Moving Mantra: June 10th, 2009.
11. Bikram Yoga Asheville (Asheville, NC): After the Toastmasters conference in Asheville, on Sunday November 8th, I drove to the 8am yoga at the Bikram yoga studio of Asheville with my new friend who has never done yoga. I had of course (#9 above) done Bikram twice and was willing to try again. It was the only Asheville yoga class that fit our tight schedule. Unfortunately, the first instructor had an emergency and the new instructor started class 40 minutes past 8am, so we had an Express Bikram for 65 minutes. The instructor was welcoming, the studio was set up in the usual Bikram style as the Raleigh location, and it really seemed nearly identical to my Raleigh Bikram experience from style of instruction, type of students and the spirit in which the class was taught. I even noticed that in both classes, they like to call out students’ names either to correct a pose or add a “good job, so and so”. As I went through my 3rd Bikram yoga class, I made a realization that I really do not like Bikram. I have taken 3 classes, two different studios, and even though the sweat and work from previous class was more pronounced, I simply do not care for the flow. I do not like the fact that the same yoga poses are done entirely differently here, and any variation is breaking the code of Bikram. While I firmly believe in magical flows from just the right sequence of poses, I just do not believe there is anything special about the chosen 26 pose series. In fact, the variations to the poses are so drastic from my experience with yoga that I am afraid they could be causing injury. While I am glad I went, I can say with confidence that this is most probably my very last Bikram yoga class.
Time spent @ Bikram Asheville Yoga: November 8th, 2009.
12. Yoga Garden (Apex, NC): On Thanksgiving Day this year, 2009, I came along with my best friend to try the gratitude flow taught by both Margaret and Davis, the couple who owns the newly opened studio in downtown Apex. The drive from the back roads that Cristina knows well took only 12 minutes and I had high hopes I could make this a regular routine, because location is ideal. The space is very small yet beautifully down with a narrow long room, tall ceiling, purple color walls with a blue color ceiling, and dark hardwoods. Margaret started class with breathing and a short meditation, followed with a very gentle flow. I hardly broke a sweat. She was doing the poses on the mat along with us, and every now and then walked from front to back of the room and then back to her mat. I liked her instantly and I think she has a great style. I did not care for the slow pace and low challenge in the flow, and the instructions were more spiritual than technical. I like to have the techniques repeated so that I focus on the right muscle groups and breathing during movement. Then David led us into 3 very advanced arm balances. My surprise here was the unprepared transition. I was one of the only people in class that actually did all 3 balance poses, however, I don’t think that we properly opened our hips or prepared for them. The instructions from David were poor and he never focused on the one thing that you absolutely must do: Lift your core and engage your abs. Class closed with floor poses. I also wished that they were more hands on, there were hardly any adjustments done during the class. While it is a beautiful space, taught by very kind people, the challenge and level of knowledge imparted in class left me wishing for me. Perhaps I will keep looking for the right level of challenge in another studio.
Time spent @ Yoga Garden: November 26th, 2009.
Wherever you are, let yoga find and embrace you!