Infiltrating CrossFit Culture in Yoga Pants with Serena Tom
July 9, 2014
After Brick Flow with Serena Tom, Yoga Sleuth felt ripped -- mighty enough to lift bar bells at Brick New York, a CrossFit gym in Chelsea.
"I would describe my class as physically and spiritually powerful," Serena said, welcoming the class," with emotional healing for the mind." A CrossFit practitioner, Serena knows her hard-bodied clientele. Her vinyasa classes are inspired by her Mysore background and certifications from Pure and Jivamukti yoga schools.
Stunning and petite with a long youthful ponytail, Serena was nominated as one of Shape Magazine's "50 Hottest Female Trainers in America." She was also personable, chatting with Sleuth in the spacious 17th Street entrance, which featured orange countertops, a smoothie bar, and lounge where members stored their workout logs in bookcases. This flashy front suggested fun and competition, the perfect place to mingle after a rock-hard workout.
As I freshened up in the state-of-the-art bathroom -- men's was labeled "Jerk" and the women's "Squat" -- I was a yogi out of her comfort zone. But I didn't care. Having studied Ashtanga and Iyengar, I didn't think CrossFit philosophy would be that different from goal-oriented yang styles. I wasn't too far off.
Class was in the palatial downstairs gym that had a turf-floor marked with stripes for various drills. Along the walls were neatly stacked weights, plyometric boxes, and stretch bands we would be using instead of straps.
"There's usually more people," Serena said, setting me up with a rubbery Lululemon mat and a towel, both free with class. "In the fall, there are 20 guys in here and maybe one girl. People are enjoying the summer weather today." As a yogini who usually practices with dozens of women, I was thrilled with my fellow students: two super-fit men. They rolled out mats and said hello to me, an incentive to return for that 20:1 male to female ratio.
"This is going to be a fast-paced athletic kind of yoga," Serena said. "Do you know how to rest in Child's Pose?"
"Oh, yes," I said, enjoying my Sleuth ninja skills. I was a ringer, infiltrating CrossFit culture in my yoga pants. But I knew I would need that Child's Pose.
Endorsed by fire departments, law enforcement agencies, and military organizations, CrossFit offers strength and conditioning through the Workout of the Day, a changing sequence known as the WOD. This popular model seems the opposite of yoga, but the brand encourages teamwork and connection. While many studios fail to create satsang, CrossFitters socialize through Facebook and events like that morning's hike in Cold Spring. I could get addicted to CrossFit.
"The postures that are integrated are targeted for CrossFit athletes, so I'm not going to include postures that are too passive," Serena said.
We started. No messing around. Sun Salutes were standard, with the option for Handstands in the Forward Bends. Handstands are common CrossFit moves. We did many. Crow is the CrossFit "Frog," which the guys did beautifully. Accompanied by driving yoga music, Serena demonstrated more arm balances. Later, she moved to the sides of the room to show Warrior and Triangle, one of my most challenging poses.
"Can you go a little further in Triangle?" Serena asked, her legs sandwiching my back thigh and hips. My tight hamstrings reminded me of past pulls. I couldn't touch my toes, but I appreciated Serena's attention and confident assists. Her strong hands supported my ribcage, reminding me that I might one day increase my stretch. Breakthroughs were part of the Brick mission statement; I had to keep trying. On the second side, she provided the same attention to make sure I was even. During Warrior 1s, she spent time with each student, making sure knees were bent at 90 degrees over ankles instead of toes.
"Focus the mind," Serena said repeatedly, a thoughtful cue for the powerlifting crowd. In Bow, she explained we were stretching pectoralis minor and the quads, important information for the sports population who could benefit greatly from even more of a yoga-anatomy discussion.
When it came time for Savasana, I was ready. The chemical-smelling floor triggered allergies, but I told myself I was in a gym, not a sandalwood-scented studio. When we sat up for meditation, I felt calm and respectful of Serena's energy and time management. We did so much in an hour, and we honored both disciplines, which didn't seem so contradictory.
There's symbiotic potential at Brick and other CrossFit gyms. Yoga could promote awareness and muscle recovery. CrossFit could balance hyper-flexible yogis. If yoga expands to more than twice a week on the schedule, I might suggest additional approaches with more anatomical focus, both to attract yoga enthusiasts and to prevent overuse injuries.
Sleuth will be back, next time as a newbie in CrossFit Academy, the program's introductory course. I can't resist Brick's atmosphere, where Serena Tom is a rising star.
-Ann Vatow for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in yoga clsses at Brick are $20, but try the 1-Day Intro Pass for more class options.