"Whatever you need, the practice is there for you. If you need to be saved, it will literally save you," she promises. Add to that a great workout, beautiful chanting, and some awesome harmonium playing (Steph says she accompanies herself every day) and you can't go wrong.
Sweat Factor: 4
The Takeaway: Delicious in every way.
PRADEEP TEOTI: SONGFUL AND BOLD
Born in a small village outside of New Delhi, Pradeep brings with him an international yoga certification in the Sivananda tradition, a deep personal practice that stretches way beyond asana, and an amazing unique voice that pitches and rolls all throughout class with nary an audible breath, making him sound something like a spiritual auctioneer trying to sell peace of mind and six-pack abs; the only pause in singsong accompaniment raising warrior ones to warrior twos is his distinctive intonation of exhaaayle, inhaaayle.
Pradeep's classes, including this one at Oakland's Flying Yoga Shala (www.flyingyogashala.com) are fast and packed with plenty of push-ups and core work, definitely best when you're feeling bold. But his compassion is also undeniable.
"Yoga is not saying you put your leg behind your head," he told me when I was feeling sick in class. "Yoga is just putting yourself in the moment, paying attention to right now. Maybe someone wants to come to my class and just do child pose for one whole hour. Then my job is to create that space for them."
Sweat Factor: 5
The Takeaway:Though he said I taught him yoga that day, it's better to leave the instruction up to Pradeep: he's one of the best.
DARREN MAIN: SPIRITUAL AND SINCERE
Though he's definitely made a student or two sweat, Darren truly shines when teaching restorative sessions — especially his donation-based Tuesday night practices in the cavernous Grace Cathedral, coupled with live music like Sam Jackson's exquisite chorus of a dozen Tibetan singing bowls.
The temptation may be not to take Darren seriously: sometimes he slips into that same ethereal quality of voice he uses to introduce his "Inquire Within" podcasts, and the flowing blond hair and bright blue eyes staring out from the back of his most popular book, Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic, are a bit Cherub-cum-movie-star, come to that.
But his teachings — in the studio and as an author, essayist, and international speaker on spirituality — come from a sincere place: a struggle with issues of sexuality, religion, and identity. Who couldn't use a teacher with that kind of experience on their quest for personal growth? Plus, his hair's short now.
Sweat Factor: 1
The Takeaway: Unique restorative classes with a dose of mysticism — and sometimes hot stones.
MARK MORFORD: CALM AND FOCUSED
Straight up: I have to respect a guy who starts class, no apologies, with core work. Mark is that guy. His classes are serious and to-the-point, but without the rush and ego I sometimes associate with other hardcore workout-focused yogis. Of course, he does teach, rather noticeably, with his shirt off. But we'll give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk that up to inspiration. Perhaps because his classes don't tend toward the super-crowded, they feel both peaceful and purposeful.