Yesterday, I traveled north to Austin to participate in a yoga practice being presented by Lifetime Fitness’s master yogi, Jonny Kest. Kest runs a yoga studio in Birmingham, Michigan called Center for Yoga, but has vastly expanded his influence by guiding the yoga programs at Lifetime Fitness clubs, with 129 locations nationwide.
I have been practicing yoga at Lifetime Fitness since 2009, and I was interested in seeing how a Kest practice differed from the practices I have been receiving from Kest-trained/guided teachers. Even though the Kest practice was 90 minutes instead of the Lifetime 60, there was surprisingly little difference –
- After getting our focus, Kest led us though three Sun Salutations – A, B, and C – followed by some logs and yin and savasana.
A couple of friends were especially interested if knowing if Kest’s Sun C sequence had any particularly interesting sequences. Not really –
- Started with a chaturanga and right lunge and then quickly turned to the left side of our mat, deep squats to the left/right/left, dragonfly to the front, side angle to the left, fingers locked behind our heads and then three elbow crunches to right knee, archer’s pose, triangle, turn to the back of the mat into pyramid, three balancing poses (Tree, Dancer’s, Warrior 3?), and finally some hopping handstands.
The entire Sun C consisted of standard stuff at Lifetime San Antonio. So, what was different about this practice?
- Due to Kest’s popularity and fame, the practice was conducted in a gymnasium instead of a studio. Inexplicably, Kest conducted the practice without a microphone, so his cues and side-bar joking were often lost on half the class, especially until we became acclimated to his soft voice.
- Although the practice was in a large, sterile gymnasium, the mood leading up to the practice was actually better than a studio because of the dimmed lights, sideline candles, and auspicious music. Plus the excitement in waiting for the star’s performance.
- Speaking of the music, Kest seemed to prefer power ballads instead of the hip hop that my San Antonio’s Lifetime yogis favor. Advantage Kest 😉
- Before practice started, Kest asked everyone to squeeze toward the front and center to make room for others. Later we realized that there was still empty space in the back, but Kest wanted us close together so that we better connected (physically and spiritually) with our neighbors.
- Kest had an extra 30 minutes for his practice, and he seemed to devote them to getting our focus at the beginning and taking us down at the end. The Sun A, B, and C seemed to have the same duration as the 60-minute practices at Lifetime San Antonio.
- Kest started the practice with a long, simple inversion of standing and bending at our hips. That was interesting. And nice.
- I was lost during the lead-up to Sun A because I couldn’t hear the cues and couldn’t copy my neighbors because they couldn’t hear either.
- Probably the most unique aspect of the practice was the number of times that we did a group pose, gaining support by holding our neighbors’ hands. Probably five or six times between sequences. Warrior Three, Chair, Boat, etc. We do this occasionally in San Antonio, but probably once a month, not six times in one practice. I’ve always hated holding hands with Boat/Canoe because your neighbor’s hand usually hurts more than helps. Kest took it one step further and had us go from Boat to Canoe to Plow before coming forward to Standing. Imagine doing that while holding the hands of two different neighbors. Yeah, right.
- I don’t have much recollection of the logs (holding a series of challenging poses for a minute or two each) or the closing yin poses on our mats. Suffice to say that the logs were not nearly as challenging as I am used to in San Antonio. Guess Kest wanted us to leave with good thoughts of him instead of the stink eye that our San Antonio yogis sometimes get.
- And finally, a Kest idiosyncrasy – whenever he cued us into a chaturanga, he reminded us to cleanly lift our trailing foot so that it didn’t scrap our mat. He said this technique strengthened our calves.
I have noticed that the best yogis have gained control of their egos. Despite Kest’s fame, he came across as someone without huge ego problems. Because of this ego control, I suspect he would be happy to know that his yoga teachers in San Antonio can teach a practice alongside him any day.