Like any San Francisco local, I often have a tough time balancing all the activities in a given day. There’s work, play and then you’re supposed to find time and motivation to try and stay Pao Fit and work out? Between the limited free-time in a 24 hour period and the infamous SF cold that is currently gracing us (I think this week’s 40 degree chill has made Indian Summer a thing of the past), motivating for a workout often times falls to the end of the list for me.
The Power of Power Yoga or Vinyasa Flow
I enjoy adrenaline sports. Heart-pumping, cardio-inducing, get-your-body-movin’ sports. Ones that push me to new limits, often times result in pep talks to muster through, or even the occasional grimace. Yup. That’s me. Call me determined, a glutton for punishment, or even the cliché of “A-Type.” I’m not going to fight you. When I’m not working, you can usually find me trail running, hiking, biking, doing races, attempting to play ball sports, and even taking the occasional hip hop class. But just like I crave firing into an anaerobic zone, I have come to really enjoy and appreciate the meditative, focused workout you get from yoga. And not just any yoga; Power Yoga or Vinyasa Flow, in particular.
I missed the initial yoga trend a few years ago, but then again I have come to realize I generally am a few beats late to trends (example – despite the huge MP3 craze in college I never once downloaded an illegal song from Napster. Yes, I was the one.)
When everyone was involving themselves in meditation, quitting their jobs in Finance or Biotech to pursue a private yoga practice, or purchasing Madonna kabala bracelets? Yeah, I was still trying to figure out what chavasana meant and why I had to take a 10 minute nap at the end of every class.
I remember the first time I came out of a Vinyasa Flow yoga class and felt so balanced. So relaxed. Like nothing could upset me, nothing could throw off my good vibes. I went into the class stressed, tight, unfocused, and came out serene and clear. My senses were heightened, but instead of feeling pumped to go climb a mountain like I often do after a long, hard run, I felt calm, grounded, like I could fall into a blissful sleep. It was a different sort of workout effect…and one I wanted more of. I went into the parking lot of the place I took yoga that day. I backed my car out of the spot. WHAM! I ran my car into a huge concrete pole on my right. One huge dent later I realized, okay, maybe I was a bit TOO relaxed for my own good. Clearly I had to get this “yoga effect” down. I did not have an insurance clause in my contract for “yoga-induced brain vacation.” But despite that rather brutal awakening back to reality in the parking lot, I was hooked.
I’ve been to a number of different yoga places in the city. My old gym, the San Francisco Bay Club. Yoga Tree in the Castro. Yogic Motion in Pacific Heights. Yet I never felt motivated enough by the classes to purchase a set from a single studio. Call me a non-committal yoga participant. I just could not do it. That is…until I stumbled upon The Pad Studios on Union Street in the Cow Hollow. The Pad caught my eye, not just because it was a neighborhood spot, but because of its décor. It has large glass windows that let passerbyers peek inside to see the open, clean, place with moss green and white colors complementing the smooth hardwood floors.
Creation and Inspiration
The Pad Studios was started by Leila Burrows and Lily Riesenfeld Horowitz back in January 2009. The young women grew up as childhood friends in the Bay area, then both spent time down in LA after college (Leila is a fellow UCLA grad – Go BRUINS!). Leila worked in luxury hotel management and also completed Yoga Works training on the side. Lily has a dance background which she incorporated into her Malibu pilates practice, The Lily Pad. The pair reconnected to open the Pad Studios, wanting to introduce a different sort of yoga experience to San Francisco. When you walk into the Pad, you are immediately struck by the chic design aspects. Crisp, white floor-to-ceiling curtains flank the right side of the room, and plush white and green chaise lounges and benches invite you to step in, relax, and take a seat. The combination of moss green and white continues through to the Jonathan Adler wallpaper that serves as a backdrop to the space. Unlike many different yoga spots I’ve been to, the Pad does not feel stuffy, sweaty or dirty, and there is a specific reason for that absence: Leila and Lily are committed to providing a studio that offers its patrons cleanliness without feeling cold or stale (even the yoga studio itself has a fireplace heater in the back to keep the room warm!). To say the Pad is inviting is an understatement. You honestly don’t want to leave! From the friendly staff (Leila greets most yoga participants by first name), to the comfortable, coordinated décor, to small, important details like fresh cold water and a tower of apples or oranges, you feel like a guest who’s been invited into a safe, peaceful retreat from the busyness of life in San Francisco. It makes sense that the emblem for the Pad is a lily pad – which, according to Leila, alludes to “growing from the ground to light or enlightenment.” The lily pad is a “symbol of transformation,” as noted on the studio’s website. The Pad reminds me of warm summer day spent outdoors in the sun and swimming in a cool lake, at the end of which you really do feel refreshed and transformed.
The Pad Experience
Aside from the space, what really separates the Pad from its competitors in the Bay area is the concentration on Power Yoga or Vinyasa Flow. Living on the west side after graduating from UCLA, I enjoyed taking classes at Bryan Kest’s well-known Santa Monica Power Yoga studio. The classes were always packed and promised a sweaty, exhausting, yet somehow exilhilarating workout. It’s no surprise to me that Leila frequented the same studio in her time down in LA, and has brought that familiarity to the Pad. The Pad experience is meant to be a detox that allows you to leave everything on the mat for an energetic hour and fifteen minutes. The classes are more upbeat and faster-paced than Hatha yoga, and there is an emphasis on having music that matches this mood at the Pad. I was happily surprised one day to have my yoga session end with my favorite song from instrumental band, “Explosions in the Sky.”
The yoga room itself is smaller, with space for about 25 mats total. I’ve been over 10 times and had classes filled wall-to-wall and then others where there were just 2-3 of us. The different instructors I’ve experienced at the Pad all have unique styles. The most recent set of classes I’ve been getting hooked on are Brad’s classes. Like all Pad instructors, Brad is well-trained in Power Yoga, but he also has significant Rusty Wells training (
), which focuses on Bhakti yoga. Brad’s classes are creative and highly energetic, but also balanced and peaceful. He starts each class asking everyone to focus on another individual to whom you will offer your efforts for the next hour and fifteen minutes. While you sit in a comfortable cross-legged position, you might be surprised (as I was the first time) when Brad begins a bit of call-to-response chanting. Do not worry, not all instructors at the Pad incorporate call-to-response chanting but I recommend giving it a try – you might like it! There is after all a reason Brad’s class is one of the most popular; I think the communal nature excites people. If that is not your cup of tea though, there are less participatory classes that focus more on the traditional aspects of Vinyasa Flow – moving from downward dog, through plank, to cobra or upward dog and into the other challenging poses that test your strength, balance and flexibility. Erin teaches throughout the week, and her calming persona encourages you to push yourself to a limit that will leave you blissfully worked and refreshed by the end. I’ve done yoga probably 40+ times total but it was Erin’s class that I finally figured out the trick to doing crow pose, and it was also her class that got me the closest do doing a handstand than ever before(it’s amazing how much freakier this is now that I am 5’9 than when I was a small 4’11 girl). One of the best things about the Pad are the other people who take the classes. There is no air. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve been in those classes and seen the guy who’s doing 18 different poses while the rest of the class is still getting into their downward dogs. You might think that since the Pad focuses on Power Yoga and Vinyasa Flow it would be a tribute to the A-Type competitive showdown. Not the case at the Pad, and I appreciate that fact. Everyone is just there to enjoy a tough, refreshing workout, leave behind the stresses of their day, reach inner peace, and maybe make a new friend or two.
What about pricing? Yes, yoga can get quite expensive and drop-in classes are listed at $17 a pop. There are 5 class, 10 class, and 20 class packs also available. Aside from these standard prices there are always a number of deals being offered at the Pad. I recently purchased the $10 a class for 10 classes over 2 months. Very reasonable if you ask me. The Pad is also having a “Refer a Friend, Get a Free Class” special right now. There are usually about 7-9 classes a day during the week, starting as early as 6:30AM, with the last class at 7:30PM for fellow fans of later evening workouts. If you don’t have a mat, you can rent one for $2. Aside from yoga, the Pad also offers Pilates classes with reformer machines and Massage. I have not done either of these but I have a feeling one might be incorporated into another PaoFit entry.
Final Take: Pao Wow?
This does not have to be a long conclusion. It’s really a slam dunk. There are three things that matter to me when it comes to working out and the Pad delivers on all of them:
1) Ease of workout – low maintenance – with online sign-ups, friendly people and minimal equipment needed I can roll out to a Pad workout at last minute
2) Ambiance – If I’m not going to be working out in nature then the place I’m visiting better be clean and inviting – Pad accomplishes this down to the last detail
3) Last but by far the most important – I want a tough work out. If I’m going to invest an hour and fifteen minutes I want it to be worth it otherwise I can just go do a 10 mile run. The Power Yoga at the Pad is guaranteed to not only push my body, it also manages my flexibility which helps with other activities, all while leaving me feeling balanced and clear-headed
Definite Pao Wow.
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