Instructor CM Brown leads his Integral Yoga class at the Louisville Recreation Center in Louisville. (Mark Leffingwell / Daily Camera)
Louisville Recreation and Senior Center, 900 Via Appia Way, Louisville, openspaceopenmind.net, 303-396-9023
Instructor: CM Brown, of Lafayette, of Open Space, Open Mind. Brown offers yoga, spiritual counseling, hypnotherapy and guided meditation. He teaches (slow) Integral Yoga, extra-gentle yoga in a chair, private lessons and intermediate yoga.
“It’s all based on the same premise of looking inward,” he says.
Brown was an actor in New York in 1974 when he discovered yoga to help calm his preshow jitters. He did yoga regularly as a student in 1996, when he became certified through the Integral Yoga Institute. He taught around the country before coming to Colorado six years ago.
He teaches at the Louisville, Erie and Lafayette rec centers, as well as the Boulder Valley School District’s Lifelong Learning Program.
What is the workout? Slow, very traditional yoga that harks back to the original lineage of yoga as a form of moving meditation. Integral Yoga is subtle, focused, noncompetitive and relaxing. Most of the class was done with our eyes closed in a dim room.
“Turn that energy you would put into competitiveness with yourself into an exploration of yourself,” Brown says.
Brown uses words and techniques to help you sink deeply into relaxation, until the class ends with a “Yoga Nidra,” or a nearly asleep sensation, during the lengthy shavasana.
What’s different? This class is slow. Very slow.
Many of the students are “people who are becoming disenchanted with the athletic forms of yoga and are looking for something more contemplative with a deeper approach to the yoga poses,” Brown says.
Brown discourages pushing and straining the body into postures because he sees yoga as a way to release the body from its everyday habits of struggle and stress. Unlike a yin yoga class, Integral Yoga does not teach you to “hold” a pose but, rather, to feel the pose. Focus on your breath and notice subtle body signals, then let go. It can take a while to really become aware of what is happening in your body, which is why it’s important for the class to move slowly, Brown says.
“It’s a relaxing physical experience but also an opening of those patterns of thought that we have that get so stuck, which can in turn be an emotional release,” Brown says.
My class moved from one posture to the next with everything hinging on the breath. The shavasana at the end was longer than most, typically lasting 10 minutes.
Cost: A one-time drop-in is $5.50.
Level: Ninety percent of students are older than 40, with a more even distribution of men and women than most classes. All levels. One of the students is about to turn 100. Yet the class was so individualized it resonated with me, too.
Every pose can be modified, but it is never competitive, which is why the class was a balanced five on a 10-point scale for me. Just the right amount of physical challenge (especially the lower-back strengthening exercises), soothed with introspection and breathing.
When: 10:45-11:45 a.m. Thursdays. Brown offers four other classes at the Louisville rec center every week, as well as classes at other locations. Check his website.
What to prepare: Comfortable clothes, no shoes. Yoga mats, blocks and straps provided, or bring your own. Bring water if you will want it.
Muscles worked: Whole body, including organs, glands, muscles, bones — the whole system. My class focused on opening the hips and lower back, but Brown believes the most essential part of the body in yoga is the spine. The class also causes your body to release oxytocin, Brown says, which leaves you feeling peaceful — “a bit different from the endorphin ‘high’ one experiences after a more strenuous kind of exercise routine or yoga practice,” he says.
What I loved: Doing yoga with my eyes closed. This is how I do yoga on my own at home. It was exciting to have a guided group class that was slow and safe enough to do with my attention completely directed inward. That helped me notice things inside my mind and body, let them go and move past them — to feel more externally aware later.
This class was unlike any other I’ve ever taken, and it’s no wonder the classroom was packed. Brown has a peaceful, honest energy that is immediately soothing, and even in a busy rec center, he manages to wrap his classroom in peace. This was truly one of the most relaxing experiences of my life.
What I didn’t like: Brown needs a bigger classroom or more classes. His following has exceeded capacity. And the spot has the loudest, squeakiest floors I’ve ever heard.
How I felt after the class: As soon as I got in my car, I started crying. Not sad tears, just release. I think my body was so relaxed that my mind and emotions decided to let go, too. After my unexpected short sob session, I felt incredibly relaxed and remained focused and peaceful throughout the day and beyond.
Spotlight on Meditation and Yoga Instructor, CM Brown
We recently spoke with CM Brown, who teaches Deep Relaxation: An Intro to Nidra Meditation beginning April 9 and Yoga for Your Hips and Lower Back beginning April 11.
CM, you’ve been teaching yoga and meditation full time since the late 1990s. What first drew you to these practices?
Before becoming a yoga teacher I was pursuing an acting career in New York. I discovered yoga when it was recommended to me by a friend as way to help me focus and relax before a performance. I spent many years as a yoga student at the Integral Yoga Institute and found that the practice of the postures naturally led into the practice of meditation. This, in turn, led me to study Zen for several years at New York Zendo Shobi-Ji. Eventually the actor’s life became less important and my spiritual explorations became a more important life path. In 1996 I took my training at Integral Yoga to become a Yoga and Meditation Instructor, and in 2004 I was formally accepted as a lay Rinzai Zen practitioner.
Yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices have become very popular in recent years. Why do you think there is so much interest in these practices now?
In our busy culture – where phrases like “multitasking,” “power nap,” and “pump it up” have become almost second nature – many people find that their lives have become much too hectic. We feel that there is a lack of connection to the deeper, quieter places within ourselves. We have an inherent sense that we need to slow down. More and more of us are finding that the “something” that we are looking for can be found through the practice of yoga and meditation. And, as a result, those who are exploring these practices are finding a deeper sense of fulfillment in their lives.
Have you seen changes in the past 20 years in how these kinds of practices are taught or the expectations that students have?
Over the past two decades, as yoga has become more popular it has divided up into two separate camps. One camp has folded yoga into the realm of an exercise modality, becoming a new kind of aerobic exercise routine. The other camp has adhered to the original forms of yoga as a slower practice which uses the yoga postures as a pathway to discovering the quiet place of peace within oneself. Likewise with meditation. Since science has proven the calming effects of meditation, more people are looking to engage in the practice as a means of reducing stress. Others engage in meditation as a way to develop a deeper insight into knowing themselves. There are lots of ways to do a yoga posture and lots of approaches to meditation. Each student simply needs to find what form works best for their needs.
What is Nidra Meditation?
Nidra Meditation is a traditional form of guided meditation focusing on each section of the body to release tension. It is a very accessible way for everyone to go beyond all of the worries and concerns of everyday life and touch a deeply quiet space of peace within themselves. It is practiced while lying down rather than sitting. The entire body becomes more relaxed, especially the nervous system and the busy mind. Many people report having a deeper understanding of themselves and their relationship to other people in their lives. It is also very helpful for those experiencing insomnia because it helps promote a deep, restful sleep.
You’re also teaching Yoga for Your Hips and Lower Back. Why focus on these two areas?
The center of the body is prone to much tension and physical stress. The lower vertebrae become compressed and the hips can get pushed out of their natural alignment. Over time, as we get older, the hips and lower back become more vulnerable to injury and pain. Yoga, when approached in a gentle, non-invasive way, can return the hips and lower back to a more comfortable relationship with the rest of the body. Many people have told me that after practicing yoga for the hips and lower back they feel better than they have in years.
How does Integral Yoga differ from some of the other styles taught in this area?
My teacher, Swami Satchidananda, taught that Integral Yoga is a path to “a calm mind, an easeful body, and a useful life.” I take his words as my inspiration as I walk into every yoga and meditation class I teach. Many of the other styles of yoga we see today are focused on a physical fitness approach. This inevitably involves competing with oneself to do more and push harder. There is a sense that yoga, like exercise, has to be difficult in order for it to be beneficial. I believe the opposite. Integral Yoga is completely non-competitive. It is more about letting go than pushing and holding. There is no need to struggle in yoga postures. For me yoga and meditation are a way home to oneself.
The best of 2014
Boulder Daily Camera
Boulder County workouts that amazed
Best yoga: Integral Yoga
Props to the Louisville Rec Center for snagging CM Brown, my favorite yoga instructor for 2014. Lucky students get to take this class for just $5.50.
Brown’s yoga class is very slow, traditional yoga that harks back to its lineage as a form of moving meditation. Not athleticism. Most postures are done with your eyes closed, so there’s less competitiveness or judgment. Just a deep, peaceful sinking, physical relaxing and emotional and mental release.
This class is great for anyone of any fitness level or age. Feeling stressed out? Try this. But come early; this class is so popular that it’s hard to find a space.