We rate the yogis -- which famous Bay Area yoga teacher is right for you?
YOGA For a sizeable sector of our population, yoga is as much a part of the culture as burritos and biking to work. With more than 50 studios in San Francisco's 49 square miles alone — and even a brand-new yoga room in SFO, which claims to be an airport first — the Bay Area isn't short on options for a Saturday morning sweat sesh or Sunday night candlelight.
But which teacher is best for you? For three exhaustive weeks I pretzeled it up from Berkeley to Bernal, sampling classes with some of our most famous and intriguing yogis. Below are my experiences with each, along with a one-to-five "sweat factor" intensity rating . Hopefully, this will help you choose the right teacher to help you lighten up, ground down, or just plain bliss out. (Perhaps you might be inspired to follow one of our dozens of other local yogis' paths.)
Me? I'll be soaking in a hot bath. Can you hand me that ice pack?
PETE GUINOSSO: GOOFY AND LOOSE
If you're the kind of person who thinks the Black Eyed Peas and Beyoncé — let alone House of Pain — don't belong in the yoga studio, then Pete's Friday night Happy Hour Yoga at Yoga Tree on Valencia (www.yogatreesf.com) isn't for you.
Guinosso breaks it down, both musically and with frequent stops to explain a new inversion or variation on an arm balance. With plenty of "play time" to work at your own pace, plus friendly gossip and occasionally flirty energy in the female-heavy room, the class can sometimes feel more like a very sweaty cocktail party. But it's a great way to stay loose, learn new tricks, and cultivate what Pete calls the "inner teacher." The smiley, Forrest-trained yogi also guides more traditional vinyasa and candlelight flow classes — no Top 40 here — but his liberating sense of humor remains.
Sweat Factor: 3
The Takeaway: Fun and funky, but probably not best if verses from "Afternoon Delight" aren't among your favored mantras.
LES LEVENTHAL: FRESH AND AFFIRMING
Imagine taking a rubber band ball and chucking it down some hard wooden stairs: that's what Les was like, bouncing around during Saturday morning vinyasa while his students were still waking up.
But that's all right. As my neighbor one mat over put it, Les is "really good at letting you know that where you are is fine, while at the same time pushing you to move forward."
Leventhal's quirky style, coupled with live beats by Sac-town sacred sound messenger Nate Spross (Les has also brought the likes of Buddha Bar's Daniel Masson from Paris to spin), kept class sparkling; even when he got down among the mats to demonstrate a Foot-Behind-Head pose which morphed into a series of arm balances that had students' eyes bulging, his sense of humor soothed the spirits of those of us who were in pain just watching — let alone trying to replicate the seamless flow.
"Why do we let our heads tell us what's good enough?" he asked, putting a hand at neck level to show a separation between head and body. "Even if you're in the simplest expression of this pose, it feels good from here down!"
Sweat Factor: 4
The Takeaway: Down-to-earth, despite chanting in a reverberating baritone that brings me shuddering back to the rabbis of my Sunday school days.