What on Earth is a “Soul Pose”?
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Imagine The Color Run–self-identified as the happiest 5k on the planet–and a yoga studio had a baby. What do you get? Poof! Black light yoga with freebies and confetti! What The Color Run did for the 5k, Soul Pose yoga (a project of the people that brought you The Color Run) does for yoga. Since I had a good time at The Color Run (see the review linked near the top of this post), I figured I'd try Soul Pose, “the happiest yoga on the planet.” Even though I know I'm an over-educated, slightly anal-retentive yoga teacher, who could resist black light yoga with body paint? After all, it's good to mix it up every now and then. (Note that some of the events are NOT black light yoga, but are held during the day–see the website for more information.)
Oh hey, a disclaimer here: if you're a yoga purist, if you get upset that people call a class that is nothing but poses a “yoga” class, if you object to posture practice without meditation and pranayama, if you want to have a dialogue about the Yoga Sutras or the Pradipika, if you want to use every class to debate whether American yoga is cultural appropriation or a new creature, this isn't for you. You'll be miserable. If you can let go of your expectations and think of this as a black light party where you do some physical practice stuff, you could potentially have a good time.
Step One: Get On The List. I can't remember where I first heard of Soul Pose yoga, but I added myself to the mailing list and started following them on Twitter so I could be the first to hear about when there would be a Soul Pose near me. I read the website, which promises that Soul Pose is for everyone, even if you “have never set foot on a mat.” Once the date for the Portland session was published, I waited for registration to open.
Step Two: Register! Registration for a Soul Pose event includes a yoga mat, a sweat towel embroidered with the Soul Pose logo, a “namaste” bracelet, a confetti pack, and access to paints before the session. (More on these perks later.) During the first week of registration (September for a December event) there were also extra gifts, depending on which day you registered. I'm a bit of a sucker for hoodies, so I registered the day the gift was a zip-up Soul Pose hoodie. My co-worker T wanted a mat bag, so she registered on a different day. We had a choice of four different sessions in Portland (8:30, 11:30, 2:30, 5:30), which is something of a yoga mecca–seriously, there are as many places to do yoga here as there are in San Francisco, which is ground zero for yoga in the United States. Registration was around $20 plus a registration fee from Active.com (but since I am an Active Advantage member, those fees were waived as a perk of Active Advantage membership). Pro Tip: If you run any races that use the Active.com platform, it's probably going to work out in your favor to join Active Advantage. The annual membership is like $70, but includes a refund of registration processing fees for events that use the Active platform (up to $10 per event), a refund of the cost of your fifth event of the year, a free pair of Pro Compression socks (value $50), the opportunity to win free race entries and monthly gear giveaways, and more.
Step Three: Hurry Up And Wait. Then, the wait. In between registration and the event, Soul Pose sent out a couple of offers, like a Black Friday/Cyber Monday special. In addition to the events, you can also purchase Soul Pose gear, from my hoodie to yoga blocks to water bottles and other clothing and props. I think I got a reminder email, and just before the event there was an email with an event guide, basically laying out what to expect, when and where to arrive, etc.
The Happy Day! While lots of event guides advise you to arrive early, and it seemed a little extreme to arrive an hour early to check-in for a yoga class, I managed to get my butt (and a minimal amount of stuff–the Event Guide told participants to bring a water bottle and not much else, due to space limitations) on MAX early enough to arrive about an hour early. There was a HUGE line, stretching well outside the venue and it was cold. (Portland-cold, not Midwest-winter-cold, but still.) Given the space they rented, they could have arranged the line so more of it was inside if they had shifted the footprint of various booths. While waiting I checked out the line. It was largely composed of stereotypical American yoginis–thin, female, white, well-dressed–including a higher-than-average number of containers of kombucha. I saw exactly zero men. I did see some not-thin yoginis which made me feel better (I think yoga is for every body, not just waifs), and some moms who had brought their kids. The line did keep moving, and once I got to the front it was one quick scan of my ticket (scanner = iPad mini, ticket = email on my iPhone) and I was handed my hoodie, towel, and bracelet; with a quick “your mat will be waiting inside” and a welcome, it was off to find the paint.
Body Paint Was Limited: Bummer. I wish I had known that there wouldn't be very many paint markers, and that many of them would already have run dry or dry-ish after the first session. The white should have really popped under the black lights, but it was so dry that I had to kinda stab myself with the marker to make it paint, and the color was washed out. The green one worked pretty well, but two of the markers I grabbed were so dry that they didn't produce any paint at all–and there had only been one session before the one I attended. Pro Tip: Plan ahead, especially if you are in a later session. Buy a set of day-glo poster paints and some brushes, and bring them with you. (Poster paint is non-toxic and washes off with soap and water. The day-glo colors super pop under black light. You could paint yourself at home, but you run the risk of smearing it, or having it dry and flake off before you arrive.)
Venue: Adequate, Not Great. Soul Pose took place at the Portland Expo Center. Initially I was pretty excited, as I was thinking about all of the external bits: plenty of parking, easy access to public transit, big indoor space. I hadn't thought about the yoga practice itself. While the room was big enough–our “sold out” session had room for at least another 50-75 people in it–it wasn't a great space for yoga. The biggest issue for me is that the floors are the kind of polished concrete that you find in every convention center and were not at all compatible with the “yoga mats.” I had to put that in quotes because yoga mats ordinarily have a slight component of padding, and a somewhat serious component of traction. This is why yoga mats used to be called “sticky mats,” and why many modern yoga mats are made of, or surfaced with, rubber. Unfortunately, the Soul Pose mats are very lightweight, stiff, thin foam. They have no traction at all and slid on the polished floor. During the practice my mat also puckered up when I stepped my foot from place to place. Pro Tip: Skip the Soul Pose mat entirely. Bring your own mat. If you're afraid your body paint will mess up your mat–and it might–or you want to paint your Soul Pose mat, bring a regular yoga mat to put under your Soul Pose mat. It's likely going to make the balancing poses harder due to the squishiness of the Soul Pose mat, but it will keep your mat from sliding around.
Another thing that bears mentioning: the temperature. It was cold inside that expo room, and the room had a polished cement floor (which you touched during parts of the practice). Cold! The organizers should have warmed the room up better, whether by space heaters or the heating system, as even a “warm-up” doesn't keep the body warm when the ambient temperature is cold. I get that it is hard to manage temperatures in rooms filled with people, as I've been to a million and one conferences and convention centers, but I hadn't expected the bare room and the cold floor. Oops. Pro Tip: wear long tights/pants and light layers. If I had known the room in advance, I would have brought toe-less socks and arm warmers to start class. I probably would have done the entire class in long sleeves if I'd had the option.
The Rig: Festive and Theatrical. While I found it a little weird to make a human tunnel to “run in” the instructor (like a football team running a cheerleader gauntlet on the way into the stadium), but whatever, okay. There was a small, round elevated stage for the instructor; when we entered the room the mats were arranged in circles around the stage. There were white party lights strung from the stage to several points outside the circle of yoga mats, and multiple black light sources that hit most of the yoga mats with almost full coverage. Honestly, it was kind of a fun set-up for the instructor (versus rows of mats with the instructor in the front) and the black lights did their job. Pro Tip: wanna glow? Wear white or day-glo colored clothing. Make sure your body paint is solidly colored-in, too. Other good options are things that have lights, or those snap bracelet glow-sticks. Need extra help or an example of the poses? Get as close to the stage in the center as you can.
Instruction: NOT For Beginners. I only went to one of the four sessions, and each had a different instructor. I'm likely biased because I'm an instructor myself. I don't know how many people were in the room, but it was definitely over 100. There was one instructor, and one assistant. This was inadequate coverage for the number of people in the room who needed help. When I say “needed help,” I don't mean “man, their poses were lame.” What I mean is that I observed several things that were potentially catastrophically unsafe (like “do it this way, and you're 80% likely to sprain that joint”) and that a tiny bit of assistance could have made much safer–and much more comfortable!–for the participants and their knees and ankles. (Especially since the mats were all sliding on the floor.)
There was no instruction as to how to get from one pose to the next, which concerns me as an instructor because most yoga injuries that are not catastrophic (think falling on your head), or long-term-misuse injuries happen during transitions. For example, to safely transition from a right-sided Warrior I to a Warrior II (and avoid tweaking a knee, etc.) you not only turn your hips to the left, but also step your left foot towards the right long-side of the mat (which gives your pelvis the room to move). It's important to keep your right knee over your right ankle (as if you let it slide further forward and you lose your balance while moving that back/left foot, you could mess up that knee). Yet the instructor just said “Open up to Warrior II.” There was no instruction on the things that tend to bother beginners the most, such as what to do if your wrists are sore from so many downward-facing dogs. There was no instruction on where to point your toes, which is one of the most basic points for any pose. (For example, I saw a dozen people doing a right-foot-forward Warrior I pose where the right foot was turned in such that the right toes were pointing to the left corner of the mat or rotated even further.) I was also confused when the instructor talked us into what she called “Pyramid Pose” because that's what I did–following her instructions to face both feet towards the front of the mat–and everyone around me was doing a wide-legged forward bend!
My guess is that the instructors (all of whom were drawn from the local CorePower studio chain) had only done the CorePower 200-hour training, had no specific teacher training on how to teach basic yoga to beginners (honestly, this topic is almost completely ignored in most 200-hour teacher training programs), and lacked extensive experience teaching to raw beginners. I'd love to see Soul Pose run a continuing education class for teachers who want to teach for Soul Pose, focused exclusively on clear instruction for those who have “never set foot on a mat” as their advertising said this would be a great experience for them, yet didn't cater to that level of inexperience at all.
Pro Tip: don't expect to be taught how to do yoga at Soul Pose. Ask a more experienced friend to come with you, or at least to review some of the basic yoga poses before you go: downward-facing dog, cat-cow breathing, warrior I and II.
Instructor Positives! The instructor did a good job creating a chill atmosphere. She reminded everyone to have fun and enjoy the practice, which was definitely keeping with the “happiest yoga on Earth” vibe. Everyone was reminded to take child's pose whenever they wanted to, and there were a significant number of breaks where we stood in mountain pose (tadasana) to breathe, which is kinda refreshing. Also, unlike the “spiritual sandwich” model of yoga class–you know, something heart-felt and mushy at the beginning and the end without much besides posing in between–our instructor did a good job of weaving positive messages throughout the class. She had a great personality for teaching, and seemed genuinely grateful for the opportunity to teach with Soul Pose. Pro Tip: show up with an open heart and an attitude of gratitude!
If you're an experienced yoga practitioner, and don't need much in the way of alignment instruction, you're going to be fine. I can't say you'll be challenged or get an “intensely physical class” as promised by the website, but you'll likely get your sweat on and have a good time.
The “Block Party.” The Event Guide and the emails mentioned a Block Party, which I figured was going to be like a typical “yoga mall” with vendors trying to sell everything under the sun that might be tangentially related to a (western) yoga (posing only) practice. Instead, it was a curious mix of sponsors and other vendors. There was a Soul Pose boutique (selling the same things that are on the website), a vendor selling what I think were Christmas ornaments, and one with yoga-themed headbands. The Bakery on Main had gluten-free granola to sample. La Croix handed out ice-cold cans of La Croix (and I'm a huge fan!). White Claw hard seltzer (yes, that does mean alcoholic) was there sampling their three current flavors. Overall it was very low-key.
If Soul Pose asked me for tips: I'd advise them to (1) pick a venue where the floor had carpeting (like a hotel ballroom) or a texture to keep the mats from slipping; (2) bring in another 10 assistants per session who have experience working with first-time-yoga-class-attendees; and (3) select a teacher who is skilled in teaching to beginners and not just in keeping the vibe. Also, why are you calling the bracelet a “namaste” bracelet when it's like a Pura Vida style bracelet that says “Soul Pose” (not “namaste”) on it? Oh, and a coat rack would have been really helpful too–December in Portland is chilly!
Would I do it again? Sure! Who doesn't want to drop a squat into malasana and then throw confetti?? (Okay, so it was a wee bit annoying to be picking confetti out of my bra after class, but hey–the risk-reward analysis says when in doubt, throw the confetti.) I'm pretty sure this was the first Soul Pose yoga event in Portland, so just like an inaugural race there are some kinks to work out. Next time, I'm taking my own pro-tips (see above) and especially my own body paint.
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