Tag Archives: Ariel Karass

Advanced Vinyasa Yoga with Ariel Karass at Greenhouse Holistic

Ariel Karass
Ariel Karass

Yesterday was my third or fourth class with Ariel, one of the newer teachers at Greenhouse. He also teaches at Kula and David Barton. Such a sweet guy, but his classes are like boot camp! (Tasty, tasty boot camp.) A 90-minute class will be 85 minutes of standing poses, followed by a bit of relaxation / meditation. (He’s always running over, so I think they’re going to make the class an hour and 45 minutes instead.) But his sequencing is so interesting, and his demeanor so calming, that it never feels that long. He has reminded me of what I love about vinyasa, and inspired me to keep going with it.

A Laughing Lotus grad, Ariel teaches a textbook Lotus class: crazy variations you’ve never seen before, a charismatic soundtrack, and a dance-like flow. (Minus any chanting, however.) He’ll do three or four long sequences per class, repeating each one once or twice. Each sequence is like 20 poses, so I inevitably think he’s forgotten to do the other side I don’t know how he remembers them. The class is intermediate/advanced level (it was originally called advanced, but no one showed up), so it includes things like Crow with one leg extended, Peacock with the elbows by the sides, Standing Splits with the torso rotated sideways, or half-bound Half Moon. The great thing about new poses is that you return to beginner’s mind: listening with full attention and humility. There are so many new details to master that there’s less room for an internal narrative. Same thing for physical challenges: you get to ride the edge of awareness by pushing yourself. So for 90 minutes, this class lets you get outside your head and just act.

I also love how Ariel includes key pranayama and bandha exercises within the vinyasa flow. In Parsvottanasana (Forward Angle), or Down Dog, you’ll complete an exhale, then retain the breath as you lift the head or the hips, feeling the uddiyana bandha. Kapalabhati is similarly worked into surprising places.

There aren’t a million alignment details in his classes, so be sure you know where your knees and tail should be pointing before you go. But he’s great about encouraging patience and compassion, and the pace is moderate, so there’s plenty of time and space for modifications if you know them. A rubber mat would be a good idea, as I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so sweaty, and the standard blue mats tend to slide a bit.

Having Trouble Practicing? Yoga Goals.

I hit another dry spell, just four classes in two weeks. (I usually do a bit of stretching and meditating in the mornings, but my asanas were being neglected.) I did two home practices, but they petered into staring at the wall, and not in a meditative way. I’ve started the Yoga Anatomy and Application of Breath-Centered Yoga classes on Wednesdays, so I have all this great new information to explore, but I have just not been excited to move.

When I get out of my practice habit, all sorts of justifications and confused rationalizations arise. Like, isn’t walking a meditation anyways? I walk a lot! Aren’t asanas just intended to clear the mind for meditation? I meditate! Yoga is not just asanas, and I keep up the other parts, so aren’t I still practicing yoga? It’s like when I am so far past needing a haircut that I tell myself it’s actually a new, shaggy layered cut that looks really good. (Photos eventually advise me this is not the case.) Plus, I’m trying to stop doing things I think I should do, and start doing things I really want to do. (It’s my secret plan for growing up.) And yoga (asana practice) is in this weird place where I love doing it, but I don’t often want to do it. I used to practice very very athletically, and I think there’s all that memory of stress and strain that’s off-putting. Or I’m just laaaaaaaa-zyyyyyyyyyy. (And my boyfriend was living here for a week! It’s all his fault!)

Actually, I don’t have a regular lifestyle right now, and that’s probably the real root. Each day is different, each week is different, which means there’s a lot more decisions to make. And opportunities to skip. When I committed to Julianna’s Wednesday morning class, I went every week. The commitment got me out of bed when I didn’t want to get up, and gradually created positive associations for doing so.

But then I’ve had this whole other drama of wanting to practice on my own. I used to teach the morning classes at Om Factory, and it was usually just me and Fara (the owner), so I got to teach whatever I felt like each day, and practice too. It was the best. I had to show up, since I was teaching, but it ended up being this sweet buddy practice where I came up with a million new vinyasa routines. So obviously I do more when someone is watching me, but of course what matters is what you do when nobody is looking…

I got a good tip from Ariel (my new favorite teacher, why have I not blogged about him yet? Another Laughing Lotus expatriate, he and Julianna are the best and although this blog purports to be about good classes, I have not posted about either of them. Looks like I’m trying to hog them for myself). I told him I was having trouble practicing vinyasa at home, and I was wondering if I should keep trying to go with the flow, or go back to more of a set sequence. He said that when he started practicing at home, he would think of a pose he wanted to get into, and then think how he needed to prepare the body to get into it: open the hips, square the hips, etc., and then write that down.

So, I’m going to think a little bit further ahead. I get so “be here now” with all the present-moment focus of meditation, that I forget that it’s okay to be goal-oriented. I have been approaching my home practices one pose at a time, “how do I feel right now and which pose should come next,” instead of “which pose do I feel like doing, and how am i going to get there,” acknowledging the preparatory work that is needed. The stream-of-consciousness flow can come later, not in the difficult opening minutes.

And, I’m going to try to commit to a regular time. (Note that I can’t even commit to saying “I commit” yet.) 4pm has been good lately; it’s when I hit my afternoon work slump, and there are a lot of teacher-focused (or cheap/community) classes then if I decide to go out for class. Plus, I read that Vatas (and people with sleep disorders) do better practicing in the evening, since it clears their minds for sleep. Finally I can let go of my guilt at not doing the almighty morning practice!

I guess the biggest lesson for me here is that while it’s good to keep a sense of perspective, there’s help to be found if you look for it.