We rate the yogis -- which famous Bay Area yoga teacher is right for you?
JANET STONE: FAST AND UNFETTERED
With barely two inches between mats on a Saturday morning, it's easy to see that Janet is a Bay Area favorite. She's no slave to typical maneuvers like the Sun Salutation, though, and while her fast flows kept class interesting, all the unfamiliar iterations seemed a bit frantic — and made the class more about momentum (and not getting lost) than about muscle and alignment.
But of course, that's the yoga. And though her students may love her because they come to learn her style, she might say the real work is in getting better at not knowing what's next. Or, in Janet's wording: "In this practice we pause and disarm our myriad of defenses, and experience the pure luminous light that is there."
Sweat Factor: 3
The Takeaway: Good if you like spontaneous Hare Krishna-themed dance fevers and Lulu-clad students eager to show off their handstands — even when that means toppling onto others' mats.
RUSTY WELLS: DEVOTED AND UNDONE
Only a few years after beginning his journey as a yogi in early 1990s Atlanta, Rusty started to sense something missing.
"A teacher of mine told me after class one day, 'it looks like you're praying when you practice,'" Rusty says, "and my reply was, 'What, am I not supposed to be?'"
Now he knows that something is bhakti, Sanskrit for "devotion to the wonder of life," and it's for sale (well, actually, for donation) at Rusty's vinyasa-inspired studio near the Mission, Urban Flow (www.urbanflowyoga.com).
Taking class with Rusty is a bit like having your own personal cheerleader, albeit an extremely calm one, urging you to "undo a lifetime of doing." His classes reflect the intention to be a beginner each time you return to the mat. But despite a slightly slower pace and emphasis on fundamentals, Bhakti Flow is by no means a soft option. In fact, everyone I saw there (including a smattering of other Bay Area teachers) was pretty much a hardbody.
Not that I should have noticed, my teacher told me.
"When I first started practicing," Rusty said, "I used to look around and admire the people who were really strong, really stretchy."
"After a while, I learned to look around and admire the people who were finding great joy in their practice. And a while after that," the yogi concluded "I learned to just stop looking."
Sweat Factor: 3
The Takeaway: Like Chicken Soup for the Ass(ana). Part workout, part therapy.
STEPH SNYDER: COMFY AND UNASSUMING
I was a little intimidated, walking into the crowd assembled for Steph's class on Super Bowl Sunday — my first with her, and her first upon returning to teaching after having a healthy baby boy. Excitement was as thick as the steam wafting through the air, streaking the windows with condensation. Friends squealed and greeted each other, mats moved over and over again to make more space, and shouts that had nothing to do with pigskin could be heard all around.
But once we started, it was like slipping into a favorite pair of old jeans. Her flows have great rhythm and plenty of variety. Plus something intuitive, as though my body knew what to do even before her cue. She's humble, and you can tell that she honestly loves what she's doing.
Part of her appeal is her belief in the practice, one she says has gotten her through dark times, and her commitment to making the same hold true for others.