Friday, October 31, 2008

New York: Downward Dog Days at a Buddha's price

YESTERDAY I mentioned the donate-what-you-will daily yoga class at Laughing Lotus.

I did my second session this week, as one can, when a class is affordable and you're paid a Northwest salary in NYC.

The studio is on the third floor of an old building with an old lift and a big, cheerful orange and pink banner out front.

The 1 1/4 hour 'community class', offered at 2.30pm each week day, is taught by student or "blossoming" teachers, as they are called. The suggested donation on the website is $5.50, yet I understand attendees donate between $0 and the standard class price of $11, depending on their capacity. The donations are directed each month to a charity of the school's choosing - it was the Obama campaign at one time, the Tsunami another.

It's heated - great in winter - who needs Bikrim? It walls are painted with soft yet vibrant colors, depicting deities like Ganesha, "Lord of success and destroyer of evil and obstacles ... an elephantine countenance with a curved trunk and big ears, and a huge pot-bellied body of a human being."

It has ample change areas and mats to borrow. And the student teachers are, so far, excellent. I notice they teach with the kind of studied repetition and consistency you'd expect from students fresh from under a textbook, but this has huge advantages. For the first time in my life, I feel I am actually starting to remember the names of some of the poses or asanas. And I feel I can actually take home some sequences and start a home practice. Update: I have since become a certified Vinyasa teacher as of 2009

I like to use two mats because my cyclist's knees and shins demand it - or I'm gettin' old. If you're a hygiene freak, you might want to bring your own as you can be unlucky and grab a sweaty one, although the idea is to hang them up. Lately I've been bringing my a wafer-thin, foldable Gaiam Travel mat and placing it over a borrowed one.

Lotus sell some pretty fancy nice mats too, ranging from $40-50+ in  the usual polarfleecy colors like purple and green. Some, like that Prana model, are strangely rubbery but pleasantly earthy, resembling a dirt floor.

My favorite teacher, Randi, a willowy Katherine Heiglesque blonde, introduced us to three poses I had never come across in 30 years of doing fairly straightforward Hatha yoga.

First, the Airplane: This is like a hovering forward splits in thin air - balanced only on your hands. It is remiscent of Circ du Soleil's "Dralion", where a Chinese pre-teen mimics a Swiss army knife with her body - balanced entirely on one hand. Except we got to use two (whew).

Second, the Bird of Paradise, where you (somehow) bring your your leg up from behind and hook it over your shoulder as effortlessly as a double-jointed egret.

And third, the Compass, which I can't quite remember but it got my problematic right shoulder out of hibernation.

Sprinkling a good, solid class with a couple of advanced poses gives even nervous students a bit of a thrill, in the hands of a teacher who knows how to be welcoming and non-intimidating.

In a departure from most Yoga Classes I've experienced, the teachers do use music in their routines. This is more the norm in A.D.D. NYC, and only once did I have a hard time hearing because a particular teacher chose some jazz numbers and had it turned up way high. You might hear anything from reggae to Gregorian chanting to Alanis Morrisette. Strangely, after a while it seems like the way it should be.

Got flexibility - i.e. your schedule? I love this class - a gift of health and wellbeing to the working class of  NYC who don't report to Wall Street each day. Thank you Laughing Lotus.

Laughing Lotus
Community Class Mon-Fri, 2.30 - 3.45pm
By Donation

Pictured: Colin Freestone, a cyclist with a serious yoga practice. Read more about him in this trip report.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New York: Chowderhounds, rejoice - $3.50

Welcome Skintsters, to Cheap 'n' Choosy.

This blog was originally inspired by an article I wrote for the Eugene Weekly's Back to Campus Guide in 2005. Eugene is the land of the sliding scale, bartering for babysitting and 1001 different ways to make tofu palatable. It abounds with sub-5-10 dollar options to make you forget you're stuck in Eugene, like the amazing Pizza Research Institute's Vegan Chef Special slice, $4, or the Keystone Cafe's famous sesame oat pancake.

Even $10 is a big night out there, so the hunt for the superlative yet sub-$5 life experience has become my own private Idaho, ever since leaving Australia in 1997 to travel the world on a folding bicycle. Since then I've been sharing my finds for the discerning yet frugal fashionista, foodie and funseeker in my general Galfromdownunder blog.

But today, while partaking of a $3.50 cup of the dangerously addictive New England Chowder at the Lobster Place in Manhattan's Chelsea Market, I happened to share a table with a Barbara Morris of BakeOff Productions a la

Barbara turns out to be a business writer, a foodie, a TV show producer, a yoga enthusiast, and educator - all the things that wag my waffle iron!

We got to comparing our lunch choices - her somewhat spendy lobster sushi which "didn't taste of lobster at all" and my scrumptuous chowder, probably 90% double cream - talk about telling your cholesterol to go take a hike! You know when you're hooked - you have a fridge full of food as I do at the moment, ample leftovers, a rotting banana, yet you make a resolute bee-line for an establishment, solemnly point out/dish out the object of addiction, mindfully pay then refuse a bag and lid because you know you're going to get stuck into it before you even locate a decent table. The Lobster Place's New England Clam Chowder does it every time. It's like eating pure velvet, with clams and potatoes chopped small and tender in a luscious creamy base. You'd never make it this way yourself because you'd n doubt blanch at the vat of cream in it. Best to skip that as a home recipe and eat it where the prep is out of sight and out of mind.

Barbara and I talked about food, books, tv, and why many businesses are so wrapped up in their own ideas about what makes good business they aren't clued in to what enables them to be paid. I usually reserved that kind of opinionated ranting for my FastCompany blog that I secretly hope no one reads if I ever want to work in this town.

Meeting Barbara inspired me to skip the absolute bargain donate-what-you-will daily yoga class at Laughing Lotus and kick start this blog.

The picture at the top of this blog is of the excellent $2.50 Magnum-knock off offered by the Euphoria Chocolate Company, Eugene. Right off the bike path, they dip a paddle of ice cream into a vat of hot chocolate then a vat of crushed almonds, hazelnuts or both. And remember - you can tell if an ice cream bar is real ice cream or just whipped up trans fat - real ice cream is heavy, fake ice cream, like those traffic cone shaped ice creams, are as light as a snowflake ...

I welcome your Cheap'n'Choosy suggestions. Together, we'll make affordable abundance a daily indulgence.