From restorative yoga to dream astrology, classes to expand your mind

Support group: restorative yoga classes feature asanas that nurture


CAREERS AND ED "Just to let you know, this class is different than other yoga classes," warns the receptionist at the San Francisco Integral Yoga Institute. It's Monday night and I've just shown up at the institute to try my first restorative yoga class. "You roll around on pillows ..." he continues.

I get it — restorative yoga is not your typical barrage of sun salutations and yogic pretzel bends — so I nod reassuringly and head up the flights of stairs to the top floor of the institute's Victorian-style mansion-cum-yoga-palace, emerging in the dark, candle-lit room where the class will be held. There are high wood ceilings and plenty of space on the carpeted floor, where a pile of pillows wait for each student.

Our instructor will be Divya Nanda, a guest teacher who has been affiliated with the institute for more than 40 years. Wearing silky orange garments from head to toe, she radiates a calming, peaceful presence.

Here we go. Let's just get it out there. I'm not a yoga person. If I happen to take a break from Internet-beer time long enough to exercise, I prefer to do it alone with my iPod rather than in a room full of strangers.

But I'm a stressed-out soul, generally speaking, and restorative yoga's smooth, centering movements sound appealing. This form of yoga is geared toward relaxation and uses slow-moving techniques to give students a sense of peacefulness, spiritual fulfillment, and mind-body connection — all things yours truly is 100 percent lacking. Most yoga studios in the city offer some form of restorative class, which can be perfect for those suffering from injuries or just in need of a little slow-paced nurturing.

"Restorative yoga is based in the philosophy of the whole yoga practice, which is to be peaceful," Nanda says. "Peace is within you, so we go within."

Within we go, starting with "oms," "hari oms," and simple warm-ups — downward dog pose interspersed with concentrated breathing exercises and stretches. All the while, Nanda circulates throughout the room, adjusting our positions and making sure that we're completely relaxed and comfortable.

During one warm-up that involved sitting with our knees tucked under us, Nanda looked over at me and said, "Hannah, you might want to do this one in the cross-legged position, I don't want you to hurt your ankles." I was shocked. How did she know my ankles were aching — x-ray yogi vision?

After the deep breathing, we move on to poses that entailed lying in super-comfortable, unconventional asanas. They make me feel like a sleepy baby. Designed to place minimal pressure on joints, they include splaying out our legs and arms, every part of our bodies supported by soft pillows.

Along the way, Nanda shares soothing thoughts: "The future is a mystery. The past is history. What we have is now, the golden present." "Beyond the thinking mind there is a great peacefulness," and so on. We end the class with guided meditation and this Sanskrit chant: "From the unreal to the real, from the darkness to the light, from our fears to the knowledge of our immortal natures."

Leaving Nanda's world was bittersweet: I'm sad to go, realizing I've never given myself a sanctioned stretch of time to nurture my reflective side. But emerging from the institute, walking back out into the gentle buzz of Dolores Street, I feel so centered that I can almost hear my body whispering to me. Was that an "om shanti," relaxed core of mine? I can't be sure — but I know it won't be my last time in restorative yoga. Below, a brief list of ways to learn to nurture yourself in the Bay.

Restorative yoga

Mondays 7:30 p.m. –9 p.m., $9 for first class, $12 for subsequent classes, Integral Yoga Institute, 770 Dolores, SF. www.integralyogasf.org


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