Hip & Healthy: Spa Yoga

Yoga is readily available in New York City, though it can be difficult to know where to find the best classes within your budget.

Options include going to a gym, a fancy celeb-studded yoga studio or a donation-based practice.

The answer to all of these questions comes down to quality and cost. Is it worth paying $25 a class when you can get in for free?

I had the opportunity to find out last week when Exhale Spa hosted Namas Day -- a day of free yoga. 

Although I had heard about Exhale Yoga, the higher-than-average price tag per class prevented me from going.

Namas Day was the perfect way for me to experience Exhale Yoga. I registered for Music Flow Yoga, which excited me because there would be music – a big plus.

The Location:

The Gramercy Exhale location is on the third floor of the Gansevoort Park. The Exhale studio locations are posh, upscale and immaculately maintained. 

There are no distinct locker rooms as you will find at the larger locations, but there are free locks and large bathrooms. The studio has large glass windows overlooking Park Avenue. I love the deep mahogany wood floors and the mirrors, which help me keep an eye on my form.

The Workout:

As the six Music Flow Yoga participants laid down our mats, the instructor took the time to meet us and learn our names  – a luxury often not afforded in larger classes.

We started with a relaxing moment in child’s pose and then warmed up with cat-cow stretches.

Our flow began with standard sun salutations. Then, we lowered in chaturunga while we held ourselves suspended above the ground for several beats. I felt my arms working after a few rounds.

Soon we added warriors and triangles. The heat really started to increase.  Our last intense workout sequence started in extended plank pose from which we moved through three rapid sets of half pushups while coordinating leg extensions. 

This set combined cardio and strength, pushing me to the limit. I considered resting in child’s pose, but managed to push through. We ended with a few stretches, a brief shavasana and one Om.  I’m not a fan of chanting, so one Om was perfect to me.

The Music:

At the front of our class there was a DJ who provided a soundtrack to the class; a special treat for Namas Day.

I consider music a crucial element of my workouts, so I was happy that the DJ could select music that matched our workout in real time.

Some of the first few pop songs were too quick for the pace our poses, but as the workout accelerated the Kanye and Jay-Z tracks worked perfectly. I really enjoy having modern music during yoga classes and I was happy to learn that this is the case for most Exhale Yoga. 

Final Reflections:

I found the class mentally nourishing and physically exhilarating. The beauty of the studio lends to the relaxing feeling and the upbeat music keeps the yoga from feeling formal.  This is very important to a casual yogi like me -- I didn’t feel like I had to meditate daily and practice yoga twice a day to belong.

Although the instructions were easy to follow, I was surprised that the instructor never corrected my position or gave modifications, given the small class size.

The greater range of amenities, small class sizes and knowledgeable instructors come at a cost -- $25 a session. Exhale welcomes yogis and cardio junkies alike.

Whether you find it worth the investment depends mainly on your personality and your budget.  For me, Exhale Yoga is a nice treat but not the venue for my regular practice.  

Melissa is a New York City resident and workout junkie. She keeps motivated to stay fit and active by trying out new workout classes, signing up for races, and keeping an eye out for a fun fitness challenge. She hopes to complete the New York City Marathon for the second time in 2011. Read more about her healthy adventures in New York City at her blog fitnessnyc.wordpress.com.

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