Moving meditation: Yoga Chill Studio offers variety of difficulty levels

Vanessa Judicpa was always skeptical about dipping her toes into yoga, even at the urging her of her enthusiast wife/partner, Maria Ydil.

Judicpa was more accustomed to exercise practices such as the trendy, high-endurance and ultra-aggressive CrossFit, instead of the meditative and dynamic ancient practice of yoga.

But late last year, she decided to give it a go and see if the spiritual and ancient stretch exercise was for her. She saw Yoga Chill Studio on the online review site Yelp and gave it a try.

She loved it.

Unlike some of the other gym yoga sessions she had tried, the Tamuning studio offered the more traditional style of yoga she had envisioned, taught by owner Josephine “Jo” Ichihara and a couple of other teachers.

Like Judicpa, Ichihara came from a more forceful fitness background — bodybuilding. After going through a difficult divorce more than a decade ago and hearing yoga was a level up in bodybuilding, Ichihara became a practitioner.

Today, she’s been teaching for more than a decade, focusing on the traditional, dynamic Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga in her modern and mirrorless studio.

The owner chose the name Yoga Chill to reflect the relaxed feeling her students have after a session.

“It is the proper breathing that creates the change in the nervous system and the sense of deep relaxation after the practice,” Ichihara says.

Physical type of yoga

If you’re looking for a gentle Yoga class, this isn’t the studio for you, she says.

“It is a fairly physical type of yoga,” she says “Most people that have the patience and self-discipline can eventually practice this type of yoga.”

Ichihara doesn’t turn the air-conditioning on and you’re guaranteed to break a sweat, if not drip, as you transition from pose to pose.

5 levels of difficulty

Ichihara has designed five different classes of varying difficulty, which could build you up to a level instructed only in Sanskrit.

Level 1, known as “House Blend,” was a sequence created based on a pregnant woman.

“Anyone can do these sequences that focus on strength, endurance and deep stretching,” she says. “If you want to work on flexibility, this is the class you want to take. It’s open to anyone, any size.”

A half-step up is the “Bold Blend,” where more dynamic movement is added, including pushups. It’s a class still suitable for beginners.

Level 2 is the actual Ashtanga Vinyasa “Half Series” session.

“Anyone can jump into Ashtanga, but I tell people you have to take a break and listen to your body,” Ichihara says. “We focus mainly on the breath. I tell people not to worry about what they look like because that takes practice. The great thing about this practice is that it’s very structured. It’s set, it doesn’t change. The first time you come in, it’s going to be chaotic because there are more than 72 postures.”

The Level 3 Primary Series is at the top of the sessions, where students must attend special workshops, and Mysore, or self-practice sessions, before attending.

“It’s the traditional way where you must have memorized the sequences and counts are spoken only in Sanskrit,” Ichihara says.

Health benefits

Judicpa is already in Ashtanga, level 2, which she says has benefited her, inside and out.

She’s had six knee surgeries from an injury and made sure she told Ichihara of her limitations. And after a couple of months at the Tamuning studio, Judicpa had a breakthrough.

“In 10 years, whenever I sit down, I can’t cross my legs like everyone can because of my surgeries,” she says. “Practicing yoga, I’ve been able to do it. … I’ve built a lot of muscle mass around my knees, which helps protect my knees.”

Just breathe

Ichihara’s Ashtanga yoga sessions focus on a lengthened breathing technique.

“Ujjayi is a special breath and in translation means ‘victorious breath.’ This breath is audible. If you hear your breath, it will remind you to breath and it’s meant to lengthen your breath, slow down the breath so you can facilitate the movement,” Ichihara says.

Clearing the mind, being in the present and focusing on breath were other aspects of yoga Judicpa learned through the classes.

“I had some stuff going on in my work and I brought it to class,” she says. “I was thinking that I wasn’t paying attention to her instructions and I started to feel a pull on my leg. I thought, so that’s what she meant about being in the present.”

Ichihara says she rarely advertises her studio. She relies on the referrals from students who have enjoyed her sessions.

“Ashtanga Vinyasa is all about moving meditation,” she says. “It’s the easiest meditation. But it’s like strawberries. You can talk about strawberries all you want and draw pictures. But you won’t know what it’s like until you actually eat it and experience it. Give it a chance.”

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