September 16, 2010

I Heart Vinnie Marino’s Yoga Class.

Vinnie reminds me why he is so good at what he does. Like a yogic hawk, he sees everything in his classroom and pushes everyone to be their best.

On a recent trip to Santa Monica, I decided to take a class with former Grace Slick teacher and New York Times-featured Vinnie Marino. For about the same price as a discounted single day ticket to Disneyland (around $25), I received an unbelievable amount of personal attention… despite the fact that I shared the tightly packed studio space with 80 other practitioners.

First, I checked in.

5:30 p.m.

My friends tell me to arrive 30 minutes early, because Vinnie’s 6:00 p.m. class is popular.  There is one woman in front of me at the check-in area. As soon as her business is finished, I step toward the counter but am outmaneuvered by a middle-aged woman who is texting on her iPhone and waving her bar-coded fob at what I imagine to be a check-in attendant behind the tall counter. Not to be outdone again, I aggressively move toward the counter.

“Hi,” said the attractive yogini/counter attendant I didn’t see until I stepped closer to the tall reception desk.

“Hi. I would like to take Vinnie’s 6 o’clock class,” I said, pretending that I was on a first-name-basis with the Maestro.

“OK, our drop in fee is $22,” she purred.

“Um, okay,” I responded, as if money meant nothing to me.  “I’ll need a mat, too.”

“Mats are $2 extra,” she said.  “So, $24 total”.

I handed her my debit card. She handed me what looked like a giant roll of paper-thin nori. It was, in fact, a yoga mat that looked like it cost $1 to make, and its chief design objective was to be an undesirable object to steal.

“The changing area is behind me,” she said, gesturing with her hand to the area behind her.

Next, I changed.

5:37 p.m.

The changing area is extremely small and I find myself making fast friends with super friendly men that seem to be comfortable talking to me with their clothes off. I put on my yoga pants and stuff my street clothes into my messenger bag. Storage, I am told, is in the studio.

5:45 p.m.

I emerge from the changing area to find a sea of people waiting near the entrance to the studio. In addition to people, dozens of mats are carefully propped up against the walls and retail display areas. These mats were strategically placed by their owners to hold their places while they leisurely peruse $120 yoga pants made from hemp.

YogaWorks is serious about cell phones and how disruptive they can be.  Despite the prominent sign that hangs in the check-in area insisting on a “cell free zone,” most of the people I observed were either talking on their iPhone or texting someone.

Hold it: is that Heather Graham near the door?

I think it is Heather Graham.  OMG if that’s her, she is gorgeous!

The studio doors open.

5:50 p.m.

The doors to the studio open up with the same motion as the gates outside of Emerald City. As the sweaty minions emerge from a class that just ended, the crowd outside begins to frantically jockey for position.

By the time I got into the classroom, it’s nearly full and so tightly packed that it’s impossible not to walk on someone’s mat. I’m talking an inch between each mat. There is a spot at the very front near the music control system where Vinnie conducts most of the class.

Vinnie makes his entrance.

6:00 p.m.

Exactly on time, wearing a sleeveless t-shirt and baggy yoga pants, Vinnie makes a quiet entrance. The conversational din continues until he begins to speak in his soothing Brooklynese.

“Everyone into child’s pose” he says.

6:10 p.m.

The class goes from 60 miles per hour to 120 mph in a matter of minutes. What some call yoga (Navy Seal training by others like me,) is grueling and well above the advertised level two. There is little to no warm up compared to classes taught by my yogi hero on the other side of town, Bryan Kest.

Vinnie runs the class like a Swiss train. Within minutes of starting, we are holding Side Plank for an extended period. In an effort to open up my chest, I extend my arm a little too wide for Vinnie’s liking and he hops down from the stage, takes a firm hold of my fingertips and corrects my posture so my arm extends directly to the ceiling.

We are then walked through a fairly simple sequence that goes something like this:

Step or jump to the front of your mat, halfway lift then squat into Utkatasana, then rise up to Tadasana then fold to the floor, jump back to Plank and into Downward Dog. Lunge forward with your right leg and move into Warrior Two then Reverse Warrior then windmill down to the ground…and repeat this whole sequence on the left side.

“Okay. Repeat this series three times on each side and we’ll all meet in Down Dog,” instructs Vinnie.

Vinnie cranks up some Rolling Stones at a speaker-bursting level, and we are on our own for this portion of the class while he makes his rounds.

6:30 p.m.

“You’re doing fine,” cries the little voice in my head. My paper-thin mat is moving around in the area that is slightly larger than my mat’s footprint. With every move I make, the mat makes a low decibel sound that could be misunderstood as flatulence. I’m doing fine, despite the fact the classroom has gotten verrry warm and I am starting to sweat like it’s a mid-August day in the sub-tropics of central New Jersey.

I am moving well, copying the woman to my right’s flow so I don’t have to think too much. Moving well except, I soon learn, for the part where I move into a lunge from Downward Dog. I am used to lifting my leg high in the air to begin this sequence and, like washing a piece of fruit from the farmer’s market before I eat it, it is a difficult habit for me to stop.

“Don’t lift your leg!” I hear from across the room.

He can’t possibly be talking to me. I finish the right side lunge sequence and begin the left side sequence with the same habitual leg lift.

“Don’t lift your leg!”

Again, I hear this admonishment and am sure it is a coincidence that it is timed exactly with my leg lift.

“Don’t lift your leg.”

Oh, my, God. He is standing next to me and talking directly to me.

“You use different muscles when you lunge without a leg lift.”

“Okay,” I whisper.

“What’s your name?” Vinnie asks at a conversational decibel level.

“Mark,” I embarrassingly whisper.

“Where are you from?” Vinnie continues the conversation.

“Colorado,” I reply, still in a whisper.

“Okay Mark, don’t lift your leg, there isn’t a lot of room in the class for that.”

“Okay,” I say, knowing that Vinnie has ruined any chance of me getting Heather Graham’s number after class.

In fact, there isn’t a lot of room in this classroom for a lot of the free range, big sky yoga I am used to practicing. I can’t swan dive into Uttanasana, I can’t extend my arms too much to the left or right in Side Plank and I can’t lift my leg because it will hit the movie star lady behind me in the face.

But hey, these are small prices to pay to be in a class with people that look really, really beautiful.

Is that Jeremy Piven?

No, it’s Sandy Goldstein, a kid that I used to go to Hebrew School with in New Jersey.  I wonder why he is in L.A. Did he move here from New Jersey?

Wow, he looks a lot like Jeremy Piven, I think to myself.

6:50 p.m.

After some ab exercises, we are flowing again.  Vinnie is standing directly in front of me when he announces his next instruction.

“Okay, we’re going to work on tripod headstand and coming out into Crow pose,” he explains.

Finally, a sequence that will demonstrate my yoga prowess to Heather Graham…or the woman who looks a lot like her.

I begin my tripod by interlacing my fingers and cupping my head. Gently, effortlessly, I rise into the most beautiful tri-pod headstand ever.

“You can’t get into Crow with your head cupped like that!” Vinnie complains.  “I said ‘tripod’ headstand.”

I pop out of my headstand and point to my temple with my index finger.

“I wasn’t thinking,” I said.  “Sorry.”

7:10 p.m.

Class is winding down and I can almost taste the much-deserved Savasana that Vinnie will soon allow us to have. Then, just as I had envisioned this moment so many times before this one, we get the long-awaited verbal cue from our teacher.

Savasana,”  Vinnie announces.

I move into a comfortable splayed out pose on my paper-thin mat. It is my moment to savor all of the hard work that I have put into this class…and relax.

As I ready myself for five minutes of sweaty opulence, my eyes are drawn to the skylight directly above me and specifically the metal security grate that covers it.

“Would someone really try to break in through the skylight and lower themselves into the studio late at night?” I think to myself. “What would they want to steal? Surely not the yoga mats that they rent out for $2 a piece. I guess the yoga clothes and DVDs they sell in the retail area have a pretty big street value in Beverly Hills.”

Relieved that I have solved this perplexing mystery, Vinnie appears over me.

Never satisfied, he gives me one more personal instruction by pantomiming the correct posture for Savasana. He places his palms together and puts them on the side of his tilted head.  He closes his eyes slowly.

With this final gesture, Vinnie reminds me why he is so good at what he does. Like a yogic hawk, he sees everything in his classroom and pushes everyone to be their best. Neurotic? Yes, definitely. But Vinnie Marino is a pro, whose class is worth the price of admission.

And his devoted students? As soon as class was over, there was a mad dash for their iPhones.

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