My first Bali and Ubud yoga class was an Iyengar yoga class at the famous Yoga Barn. I say famous but I guess you wouldn’t have heard of it unless you come to Ubud. But it is clearly the largest, most well-established, and well-marketed yoga studio so I thought I’d check it out. It also has a cafe, therapy centre and many talks, workshops and teacher trainings as well as a jam packed daily yoga classes schedule over 3 studios.
I have found that most of the yoga classes in Ubud have been Vinyasa flow classes. These classes string together sequences of postures into a flow, often using the sun salutation as a core and building variations with every round. I have done a few vinyasa classes before and while every class is different as it depends on the teacher’s class plan, generally I have found them to be very fast, and quite hard work, especially on the legs.
For many people who use yoga as a cardio-vascular exercise, or to really build up strength, this type of class is fantastic. I personally prefer a slower pace to my yoga though, with more time to deepen the posture, and also focus on making minor adjustments to your stances and posture to improve alignment and work within a pose.
After my back injury returned in Balian, I knew there was no way I could manage a vinyasa class. It is good to try new styles and teachers, even if you find the class a challenge, but there is challenge and there is injury and you have to be so careful with the latter.
So having come from an Iyengar background from the very first yoga classes I attended back in the early 00s, and having done my teacher training with Sam Rao, who is also from an Iyengar heritage, I felt that an Iyengar class would be a great start.
I didn’t have a very good start by being stuck in Ubud traffic, then not being able to find the damn place (honestly for such a massive place, you think the sign would be bigger and not hidden behind foliage!), then no parking spaces, meant I got there by the skin of my teeth as the class began.
It was pretty full with around 30ish people in the room, and we all had blocks, bolsters, belts and blankets as props. Iyengar yoga is very much about correct alignment and yoga for health, and so often props are used to enable students to get good alignment without pushing themselves too much.
This was a very slow class. In 90 minutes we probably did around 6 postures but the teacher spent a great deal of time meticulously explaining exactly how each foot, leg, hips, – each part of the body should be positioned and how it should be stretched. To be honest the teacher was very pedantic and if a few people had it wrong, she didn’t continue until we all had it right!
It was just right for me though to be able to slowly move in and out of simple postures (like triangle, warrior, forward bend, bridge) and spend time focussing on being in the pose, making little adjustments and learning this teacher’s way to make these adjustments. It felt good when I thought: well now I should do X in this posture to improve my Y, and she would then say exactly that! Helped me feel that I know my stuff.
It was a huge class though and I felt a little bit nameless. I had an injury and I didn’t get a chance to discuss it with the teacher although that was my fault for being late. It was just a great level for my body, but I did have to come out of postures a few times (always listen to your body). I wanted to try new postures and teachers and styles and this was safe ground for me.
I loved the class, but when I walked out I was shocked at how busy the studio was full of yoga tourists. It is great that so many people are able to congregate to celebrate this amazing thing, and yet it all felt a bit too much like a yoga machine. Many of the people were clearly really into the “yoga vibe”, and to be honest I am not so much into this scene.
I think walking past someone who was eating a plate of plain brown rice in the cafe made me feel that yes yoga is more than just postures, and when you look at the teachings of Pantajali (the person who documented the tents of yoga), the way you eat and drink and conduct yourself is key to achieving meditative bliss, but just eating plain food, and wearing yoga t-shirts and putting your photo on instagram – yeah, look at me doing this crazy pose – is something I am happy to leave to the yoga tourists. This is why I don’t have a photo of yoga barn – I felt it wasn’t really the right place to pull out my phone, so I leave you a picture of my mat instead!
[Image credit: from Yoga Barn website]