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PUERTO RICO HERALD
Shake that Sacred Sacrum: Yoga In Puerto Rico
By Natalia de Cuba Romero
June 20, 2003
It might have taken 5,000 years, but the spiritual science of yoga has finally caught on in a big way in Puerto Rico. Its not surprising that it would take so long. Between our natural gifts for merry-making of the high-octane variety and our deep devotion to the Roman Catholic (and increasingly Evangelical) Church, there wasnt a whole lot of room for Hindu austerity, strange monkey-and elephant-shaped gods and mind-bending contortions.
But these days were a lot more open-minded. Plus, well try any kind of exercise that promises to work off all those alcapurrías. So, yogas in as are ever more esoteric massages and healing practices.
And, since this very columnist is a trained yoga teacher herself, permit me to toot the divine flute of this ancient practice and tell you about a few of my preferred places as well as give you the heads up on an exciting yoga retreat thats coming up quickly in Utuado.
What you need to know about yoga as a beginner is that it is about uniting the mind, body and spirit. Yoga has different paths to the divine, including chanting, charitable and intellectual ways. Hatha yoga is the physical path, under which all those other names you hear like power yoga, ashtanga, Iyengar, Sivananda, etc. fall. So whatever yoga exercise you practice is some variation of Hatha yoga. The poses of yoga are called asanas. Asana means "steady, comfortable posture" so no, it is NOT supposed to hurt and NO, you are not supposed to be able to bring your feet behind your head after just three classes. After several years of practice, I STILL cant do it and it will probably take me several years more, if it ever happens at all. Hatha yoga is more about learning how to breathe, focusing your mind and helping your body become healthy than being a human pretzel. After a good class, a beginner should feel relaxed and refreshed, not beat up. Its all about going at your own pace.
All you need for a yoga class is comfortable clothes and preferably shirts that wont end up around your head when you bend over. Most centers supply mats and yoga is practiced in bare feet. You WILL wish you had a pedicure. Classes are usually 1.5 hours long, cost from $12-$15 per and involve warm-ups, stretching, some holding of poses and a final relaxation that is like a delicious coma. With so many styles around, youll have to shop around until you find the right one for you. Start out with gentle/beginner classes until you get the hang of the basic poses.
First up is The Centro de Yoga Ananda in Baldrich, Hato Rey (561 Calle Pedro A. Bigay #1; 787-765-8502/787-402-0375). Ive got a sweet spot for it, as it is based on the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Organization through which I got my certification. For the past five years, Sivananda-trained husband and wife team Javier López and Janice Falcón have been teaching not only hatha yoga, but meditation and ayurvedic (ancient Hindu) medicine, massage and cuisine. This is a real spiritual center, with prayers before and after each class and free sat-sangha (a meeting of like minds for meditation and chanting) every Friday evening at 7:30 pm. If you ever wanted to learn about the spiritual life of India, this is one of the better places to do it. Classes for children, adults, pregnancy -- are in Spanish, but Javier and Janice speak English as well. My buddy, Tamara Torres, who did teacher training with me, assists at many classes. Say hello to her for me! A Hatha yoga beginners series starts June 26 and call about their ayurvedic cooking workshop in Ponce on June 22.
Another center I love is Samadhi Yoga Institute in Santurce (Avenida RH Todd 800, Suite 203 above Western Auto; 787-721-8420; www.yogapr.com). In Hindu philosophy Samadhi means profound union with the divine, a state of complete calm, tranquility and joy, but where the mind continues to be alert and clear. Who wouldnt like a bit of that?
The founder and director is the dynamic Lizelle Arzuaga who has multiple yoga teaching certifications, including the Integral Yoga Institute, Baron Baptistes Power Yoga and Yoga Institute of Houston. Samadhis facilities include a massage studio and yoga studios, plus a lounge to hang out and drink herbal tea. In addition to basic yoga, power yoga (a lot more aerobic) and restorative yoga (turn your body into boneless contentment), there is tai chi, belly-dancing and mat Pilates offered.
And coming up June 27-29 is another edition of Samadhis Yoga Pal Campo a weekend yoga retreat at Hotel La Casa Grande (www.hotelcasagrande.com) in Utuado. For three days lucky participants will be treated to healthy meals, hatha yoga galore in a variety of styles for all levels including breathing techniques, meditation and posture work in the cool, beautiful, peaceful, isolated mountains of the Cordillera Central. La Casa Grandes rooms are like little rustic-but-charming cabins, the food is great and the yoga/meditation studio overlooks lush green jungle. Attendees walk out of a weekend like that utterly renewed. The cost is $275 pp double/$375 pp single and includes taxes, tips, meals and yoga program.
I havent been to her yoga classes yet, but Shanti Ragyi of Forever Young gives amongst the most relaxing massages I have ever experienced and her vibe is so great, I imagine she must be a wonderful yoga teacher. You can contact her at www.neoyoga.com or 787-725-5888.
For more information on yoga and alternative health options on the island, visit http://www.naturalawakenings-pr.com/
So, as we say in the business: Om Shanti Peace yall.
Natalia de Cuba Romero is a freelance travel, food and arts writer. Her column, "Sights, Sounds & Tastes of Puerto Rico", appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald. She can be reached at NataliaHerald@centennialpr.net.