As soon as I found out I was heading to San Francisco for a work event earlier this month, I looked into taking another class from Rusty Wells at Urban Yoga. “If Rusty Wells started a cult, chances are I’d join it,” someone named Khanjera tweeted recently. If I lived in San Francisco, I’d probably be a regular at Urban Yoga for Rusty’s deep, sweaty, lovey and chanting-infused classes. Rusty wasn’t on the schedule that day, but MC Yogi was subbing for him! Sweet!
Urban Yoga is only six and a half blocks from the hotel I stayed at, but it was a very long, nerve-racking, and smelly walk down Mission St., past a man pissing in a corner and a myriad of stark, ravaged-looking homeless men and women—another reminder of the economic divide I don’t usually see at home in Salt Lake City.
There was a line up the steep stairs to the donation-based studio. Someone in front of me rented a towel as he checked in. Later, I wish I had done the same. It was very hot inside. And incredibly loud. You know what it’s like walking into a class and it’s like a temple, quiet and meditative? That’s not at all what it was like. It was like a nightclub, and not just because there were three disco balls hanging from the ceiling. The background noise was so elevated that people had to practically shout to socialize. I remembered from my last visit that Rusty encourages people to say hello to the people around them.
But beyond the din of 100 or so voices, I was struck by the music. I wouldn’t know who MC Yogi is if not for his music, so I suppose this should not have been unexpected. His music mixes sacred stories and chants with backbeats and scratches. Even his mostly instrumental OMstrumentals CD totally rocks. There he was at the controls in the very back of the room, wearing cords, a long sleeved shirt, and big black framed glasses. He didn’t look like he was about to teach a yoga class. He looked like a skateboarder about to terrorize a retirement community. He was already setting a tone with his playlist. I have often wondered what would MC Yogi play? And what would MC Yogi teach?
He turned the music up even more and called us to stand at the front of our mats. He led us in three loud Oms. Then he clapped once, so loudly I was utterly startled. “Are you ready?” he asked. I wondered if I was! It was already so hot people were sweating. He led us through a flow class deeply inspired by Ashtanga. He talked a lot, using unusual metaphors, such as suggesting our backs were like solar panels as we crouched in a variation of utkatasana, backs parallel to the ground. Our spine was like a vine where grapes grow, and our breath crushed the grapes (our thoughts) to produce wine. At one point on our backs, he asked us to imagine all of San Francisco is having a party on our stomachs.
But his teaching went deeper than the imagery. Our hamstrings weren’t just muscles—they held the DNA of our family’s past. As we were forward folding, we were undoing negative karma passed down through our families. He wove Buddhist teachings into the practice, starting with a verse from the Bhagavad Gita about what a difference it makes even if you experience even just a drop of devotion.
It was so hot that I was drenched and eventually couldn’t even do downward dog on my trusty travel mat. Yet this was a level 2-3 class, and people around me were actually still jumping back and forward, even transitioning from navasana to handstand. The woman next to me slipped and fell when we were jumping. The man next to her fell from headstand with a thud so loud that MC Yogi came over to check on him.
I didn’t know if I could finish, but luckily he ran out of time and we wound down quickly, with a two minute Savasana. As I left, I saw him at the front desk, glowing. I went up to him and tried to say something, but I was tongue-tied. Good to see you, he said. Finally, I stuttered a thank you. “Do you share your playlist? I managed to mutter. He said yes, “if I can remember it, but I don’t even know what I played.” He had that post-yoga teaching high. When I asked if any of the music was his, he said “Yes, probably.”
What did he play? I couldn’t remember either, though it started with some reggae, interspersed with some omstrumental-sounding stuff. At one point, it was loud as a nightclub again, and we were dancing and shaking out our bodies primally. Class wound down with a little floor stretching to some sexy sounding tropical music reminiscent of Hotel Costes.
One of my favorite parts of the class came during reclining pigeon. “Push your knee away, he encouraged, like it’s your boyfriend who has said something that pissed you off. You love him, but you just want to get away.”
“It’s good to have space, he said. “Now pull it back. It’s good to fight, because then you get to make up.” My hips have never felt more open.
The walk home seemed much shorter. I caught a glimpse of a reflection of myself in a store window, and I looked beaten and haggard as the homeless people around me—red faced, crazy hair, sweaty and smelly. It made me laugh, not just at my prior judgment, but also because I felt totally happy and maybe even at one.