From restorative yoga to dream astrology, classes to expand your mind
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.
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
You may not have heard of the San Francisco Astrological Society, but as far as Bay Area star sign enthusiasts are concerned, it's a big deal. This year it will be hosting astrology-focused lectures on topics like "The Cycle of Saturn," "2012 and Beyond." If you're interested in what your dreams can tell you about the future, you'll have to check out this upcoming talk. It promises to teach about the basic techniques needed to unlock your dreams for clues on what's to come using ancient Greek dream interpretation methods and horary astrology, a sect of astrology based on creating a horoscope for the exact moment in which a question is asked.
May 26, 7:30 p.m., $7 for members, $12 for nonmembers. Building C, Fort Mason Center, SF., www.sfastrologicalsociety.com
If you're not big on touching people, then this class is probably not for you — although it might have the power to change your mind on the subject. This one-time workshop with somatic therapist and intimacy coach Shara Ogin teaches you how to take physical contact to the next level. From intimacy to sex to sensual massage, Ogin plans to show students how to make each experience more intimate and cosmically close.
April 19, 6–8 p.m., $40/pair advance, $45 at door. Good Vibrations, 1620 Polk, SF. www.goodvibes.com 
Medical herbalist, new age crusader, and self-proclaimed member of the herbal renaissance, David Hoffman teaches this class focusing on the history of herbalism in the United States and the world. The workshop ranges from discussions about herbs in science and medicine to ways herbs are used in the our country and the changing role of botanical medicine in a modern global context. Rolling papers not included.
Aug. 23, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., $100. Charlotte Maxwell Complimentary Clinic, 2601 Mission, SF. www.ohlonecenter.org