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Yoga Tree

Planting the seeds for your yoga growth

If you live in San Francisco long enough, there are two things that you most likely will do: use the phrase "to be honest" and take at least one yoga class. And to be honest, yoga isn't my chosen form of exercise. I'd rather ride my bike to work and walk my dog to keep in shape. I still find yoga a little on the "crunchy" side for me. That being said, I do enjoy yoga when I can drag myself there. But I'm just a dabbler in the ancient practice, having taken only just more than a handful of classes.

There are at least over 100 places to practice yoga throughout our city, including fitness centers and specialty yoga centers. So, how do you choose a class?

Having one in your neighborhood might make it easier. Fortunately, Yoga Tree has four locations throughout the city: Hayes Valley, the Mission, the Haight and the Castro. Their variety of classes, times, and teachers to choose from also make Yoga Tree a good place to start.

Waiting for my class to begin at the Valencia Street location, I was a little hesitant to go in since it had been a few years since my last yoga class. When I ran into a professional dancer I know who was going to the drop-in class while in town for a few days, I wanted to put my shoes back on and walk out the door. How could I take a class with a woman who was in the kind of shape that I have never been in, even when I was a teenager playing both local league and high-school sports? Could I still get my $16 drop-in fee back?

But I really shouldn't have been so apprehensive. Entering the studio that was a former church space offered an instant sense of tranquility. The dimmed overhead lights and a few candles near the front of the room provided the only illumination. The darkness put me at ease, knowing that it would be harder for anyone else to see how wobbly I was when trying to hold a pose. In addition, the instructor Dina Amsterdam asked for a show of hands at the beginning of class, gauging what kind of workout the whole class was looking for. Thankfully the consensus of this all-levels class was for a medium workout.

Suffice to say, I made it through the class. I never felt I had to push myself more than I wanted. When I knew I would feel pain in my lower back in one position, Dina came over and placed a pillow under my back so I could complete the pose. When the class was over, I was energized and relaxed at the same time. I walked taller for at least two days after this Hatha Flow class.

The focus at Yoga Tree is on Hatha, the practice of traditional postures held in accurate alignment. Hatha is one of the most popular forms of yoga in the United States, from which a lot of today's popular styles of yoga originated, including Power, Bikram and Ashtanga. Classes available at Yoga Tree include Gentle Hatha (good for beginners), Hatha Flow (a faster progression of poses), and Iyengar (often involving the use of props to assist the holding of positions).

Over thirty staff members bring a variety of experiences, backgrounds and love of yoga to make each class unique. Even the co-founders Tim and Tara Dale both have physical arts in their blood. Tim's parents were gymnasts and Tara's mother was a high school gymnastics teacher. After Tim and Tara met in June 1999, they opened the first Yoga Tree at the Stanyan location, with the other locations following a few years later, finishing with the Castro location in 2003. Tara continues to lead classes at Yoga Tree Hayes.

For those who might be interested in yoga but are hesitant about jumping in, Yoga Tree offers Yoga 101, a two-hour workshop held four times monthly at their various locations to teach the basics. The registration cost for Yoga 101 ($35) includes one week of unlimited yoga classes immediately following the workshop in any of their studios. And don't worry if you don't have a mat in one of those stylish carrying cases you may have seen strung across the backs of the well-toned practitioners of yoga. Yoga Tree will rent you a mat for a dollar when you sign in.

If you want to try something a little different, check out one of their many workshops. It's likely there will be one that suits your style. Some of the upcoming workshops include: "Dancing Your Bliss," a combination of meditation, dance, play and improv theater (February 4th, $15, Yoga Flow Castro); "The 3rd Annual Valentine's Day Partner Practice of the Year" (February 11th, $90 per couple, Yoga Tree Hayes); and "Building a Bridge Between Environmental Justice and Yoga Fundraiser," which is an example of the growing trend of Green Yoga, a movement to add the visions and values of yoga to the environmental crusade (February 5th, $50, Yoga Flow Castro).

All proceeds of the last workshop will benefit Literacy for Environmental Justice, an organization to educate young people in the principles of urban sustainability and environmental justice to promote the long-term health of communities.
Yoga Tree also offers off-site retreats, which are a good way to take time out to explore the discipline of yoga in a relaxed setting with Yoga Tree's instructors. Upcoming retreats are being held in Hawaii (starting at $1565, travel not included) and Glen Ellen ($295-$365, all-inclusive).

It's impossible for me to cover all of the services, staff, events, retreats, etc. that they offer in under a thousand words. You'll just have to give Yoga Tree a try if you're interested in yoga, no matter which one you visit. Just check their website or stop by one of the locations and pick up the schedule.

Yoga Tree
Open 7 days a week
Hours vary -- check schedule for details.

Valencia Street
1234 Valencia St at 23rd

Hayes Street
519 Hayes St. at Octavia

Stanyan Street
780 Stanyan St. at Waller

Yoga Flow Castro
97 Collingwood at 18th
415.701.YOGA (9642)