Boulder County Workout: Integral Yoga
Boulder Daily Camera
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.
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.