STRENGTH OVER FLEXIBILITY AT 889 YONGE YOGA + WELLNESS SPA
Story by Mara Munro
Image courtesy of 889 Yonge – Yoga + Wellness Spa
My thighs are on fire, my arms feel jelly, and my hair is plastered to my sweat-drenched face and neck. I am desperately trying to keep breathing through my nose like a good yogi, but instead I am gasping for breath, mouth gaping open like a fish out of water and class only started 15 minutes ago. Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to push the limits of your mental and physical strength at 889 Younge Yoga’s Athlete Flow class as you challenge yourself to one the toughest yoga classes in Toronto.
Taught by Michael DeCorte, founder of Jock Yoga, this class takes an athletic spin on yoga as it focuses on strength, over flexibility, “I was a marathon runner, and then a body builder”, explains DeCorte, “and then I fell in love with yoga, but I couldn’t put my foot behind my head or do lotus and it made me feel like I wasn’t good at yoga.” Yoga is intrinsically bound to this idea of gymnast-like flexibility, which can make it intimidating for people, like athletes, with tight and stiff bodies to get on the mat. When DeCorte went to study with yoga masters in L.A., he noticed that flexibility was not the be all and end all of yoga, “I realized that the advanced yoga classes I was taking don’t mean you have to do lotus pose, it means you are holding poses for along time and doing lots of vigorous movement before hand.”
Inspired and invigorated, DeCorte returned to Toronto and developed what is quickly becoming a popular new brand of yoga called, Jock Yoga, “When I came back, I decided to teach my truth, to teach yoga that honors the particular needs of athletes, who may never otherwise step onto a yoga mat because they aren’t ‘flexible’ enough.”
True enough, while this yoga class is incredibly challenging, it is very accessible. As we flowed from pose to pose, I realized that the challenge of the class was in the realm of strength and endurance, not flexibility. While those more bendable bodies were offered options for advanced binding, the majority of the poses we practiced, like warrior I and II, were easily accessible to even the tightest hips and hamstrings.
DeCorte’s grounded personality and honesty that pulls you through all the hard work without the need to pontificate Patanjali’s sutras. Yet despite the absence of meditation or mantra, the underlying philosophies of yoga like Tapas, which literally translates as ‘heat‘ and refers to the notion of austerity, discipline and practice shines through on it’s own. “There is something spiritual about working really hard,” says DeCorte, “I think people who can push through a really challenging yoga practice can push through challenging things in their life.”
Near the end of class, DeCorte encouraged us to try moving from the arm-balancing crow pose into a tripod headstand. Fearful and insecure about my ability to do this, I tried, and succeeded. I left the studio physically drained, but mentally nourished, reflecting on the challenges in my life that once scared me, which now seemed possible with my newfound strength.
Join Michael for one of his classes at 889 Yonge – Yoga + Wellness Spa every Tuesday and Friday from 5:45pm to 7:00pm, and Sundays from 10:15 to 11:30 am.