Restorative yoga class in St. Paul puts the 'ah' in asana

January 28, 2017 - 10:54 PM

What it is: Think of this class as a guided nap, and you’re in the ballpark (actually, yoga studio). The practice of somatics, also called soma yoga, involves using props, micro-­movements and slow breathing to release chronic muscle tension and achieve deep relaxation. Once you’ve gathered your props — mats, eye pillows, blocks, blankets and bolsters — you spend the rest of the time sitting or lying on the floor, slowly moving from pose to pose and then into a long rest.

What’s new: Yoga is thousands of years old, but as it has become ubiquitous at gyms, rec centers and workplaces, interest in niche classes that cater to different tastes is growing. I had taken hot, hatha, power and yin classes, but soma yoga was new to me.

Who it’s for: There were 19 people at the January restorative yoga and somatics workshop at the Yoga Center in St. Paul — a full house of mostly middle-aged women, several of whom appeared to know one another (and a few who snored during final relaxation). Teacher Maria Toso, a former dancer, told our class she came to appreciate somatics after she found that small, isolated movements could release tension she formerly had treated with routine visits to a chiropractor. I’m guessing the big selling point for many of us, though, was the promise of deep relaxation in a serene candlelit space on a Saturday afternoon.

The addiction factor: During the first poses, skepticism set in. How could raising one shoulder an inch off the ground a few times help my achy, stiff neck? Wouldn’t it be more relaxing to hit a massage table, since I wasn’t burning calories anyway? But after two hours on the mat, I felt like I had somehow given myself a deep-tissue massage.

Tips for success: Avoid caffeine before class and vigorous activity after class. Keep an open mind. Drink plenty of water before and after. Err on the side of dressing warm and using extra blankets — it’s not relaxing to be cold, and your body is likely to cool down dramatically during the final relaxation.

Don’t: Worry about being an experienced yogi, knowing what to do with the props or feeling like an outsider. This gentle, slow-moving class is welcoming and forgiving. Besides, letting go of judgment is one of yoga’s core values.

What to wear: Dress like you would for any yoga class, but keep on your socks and add a long-sleeved layer or two for warmth. Comfy and cozy are key.

How to participate: Monthly somatics workshops are held at the Yoga Center in St. Paul ($40). Class sizes are limited and do tend to fill up. You can register as well as find more information about these workshops, retreats and other therapies involving soma yoga at


"...awesome how we are all naturally talented artists in the moment."

I am always so inspired by these painting and sharing session. Both from internal perspective gained as well as hearing the feeling and thought from others about their creations - awesome how we all are naturally talented artists in the moment. 

— Michelle Heerey, Heart & Art Yoga Workshop participant

I chose to complete my training at SPC as I was already enrolled as a student in the personal training program. I had heard from a couple of fellow classmates who had gone through the training that the instructor was not effective in preparing students for real-world teaching. I decided to stick with my registration despite this, determined to make the most of my experience. Luckily for me, the school hired a new instructor for my term (she will continue on as the lead instructor going forward). I cannot say enough good things about Maria Toso. She had us up in front of the class on our very first day and every day going forward, and truly prepared us for being in front of people and teaching a class. Our final was teaching a one-hour public class, so we have experience going forward of teaching people in a class setting other than our classmates. She helped me experience and understand yoga on a very deep level, and left me with no doubt I was on the correct path. I feel she taught me not only how to be a good teacher, but also to be a better person in my own life. As long as Maria remains in charge, I would highly recommend her teacher training at SPC to anyone looking to complete a sound, fulfilling training.  - Jenna Staloch, Teacher Training Graduate
Maria is a wonderful teacher. Her in depth knowledge in teaching asana is great, but I really benefitted from her knowledge in meditation and somatics. I believe her teaching far exceeds what is offered in those areas at the 200 hour level, elsewhere.   - Lisa Ophoven, Teacher Training Graduate
 Maria Toso is a fantastic teacher. Her balanced viewpoint ensures that any student of any background will feel welcome and appreciated for who they are and what they bring to the world. Maria is an incredibly accomplished yogi as well, and has a way of breaking down poses and helping students find their own cues that allows them to find their own inner instructor. - Meghan Hatalla, Teacher Training graduate
Teacher training Instructor Maria Toso is exceptionally qualified to guide students. Her areas of expertise include, but are not limited to: meditation, yoga nidra, yoga philosophy & history, asanas, modifications and cueing techniques. Through loving kindness and sharing her deep understanding of yoga; she provides students with a solid base from which to build our own practice and instills confidence. An Inspiring and Supportive role model! - Kathy Young, Teacher Training Graduate

"I felt like I had given myself a deep tissue massage"

The addiction factor: During the first poses, skepticism set in. How could raising one shoulder an inch off the ground a few times help my achy, stiff neck? Wouldn’t it be more relaxing to hit a massage table, since I wasn’t burning calories anyway? But after two hours on the mat, I felt like I had somehow given myself a deep-tissue massage

— Heidi Raschke, The StarTribune

“It has been so eye opening for me to learn about the 8 limbs of yoga; especially the yamas and niyamas. How they all work in my life. I have realized how someone else’s samskaras and sufferings have affected me and how my own samskaras were formed and how they keep turning up as reactivity in my life. Through the Yoga Philosophy class, I am learning to give up some of the trappings that has kept me from fully meeting my potentials and the futility of comparing myelf to everyone else.”

- Jessica Estrem, Yoga Philosophy Student

"As I studied the Kleshas I certainly started to notice myself in emotional states that I have nursed for years.  The emotions come out as drama, depression, worry or, as Maria put it, looking for someone to be my second leg.  I feel as if I need to continue to focus on study of the Kleshas to act more consciously and be more aware of my emotions and my needs."

- Linda Emeott, Yoga Philosophy student

"The Yoga Sutras have transformed, changed, and have helped me grow exponentially in a very short period. I have not been this happy for a very, very long time. Thank you so very much. I am so very grateful!"

Geneah Escobar, Yoga Philosophy student


"Every time I come to one of her classes I realize some internal reality"

"I very much appreciate Maria's focus on the philosophy of yoga as well as the movement. She does such a beautiful job of connecting heart, mind, body and spirit. Every time I come to one of her classes I realize some new internal reality or make a connection to something else I have learned on my spiritual path. It is wonderful. I don't have vast amounts of yoga experience, but she does that better than any other instructor I have encountered thus far.  Maria's approach is gentle and sincere. I love it. She is clearly meant to do what she are doing. A deep felt thank you."

Jim Condon, Saturday morning student

"I feel so much more focused and renewed"

I enjoyed our retreat at the Christine Center so much. If you do one in the fall or winter, I am definitely there. I returned to the Twin Cities with many more emotions and feelings than I imagined and there were several times over the last week that I was in tears and had a very cathartic release. But I feel so much more focused and renewed. Thank you for hosting a well planned and executed retreat.  

— Lori Buggs, Saint Paul,  retreat participant and Yoga Teacher Training student

"Maria literally saved my life"

Maria literally saved my life a few years ago, and I am eternally grateful for her intervention. Anyone who works with Maria will be benefited and empowered. She is a person of awesome empathy, compassion, and wisdom.  

— Jeff Linzer, - Astrologer in Minneapolis (MN)


"I LOVE Maria's CDs"

I LOVE Maria's CDs. The sound quality is excellent and she has such a great voice for the recordings. I have looked at other Yoga Nidra and meditation tapes but Maria's are the best. Browse Amazon, listen to some samples and you will hear the difference. I have found Maria's CDs to be very effective. 

— Monica Schultz  - Frankfort, (MI)



"awakening & liberating"

As a yoga and meditation teacher, Maria has the exceptional ability to be both a great technician and a spiritual leader, an intuitive guide. This, I find deeply beneficial and rewarding. She has great understanding of yoga and can beautifully demonstrate the correct alignment and position. What I truly enjoy about my yoga class session is the depth in which I travel, in spirit. After my yoga class, I feel very present. I believe that my heart chakra is more open and I am a happy traveler (someone at work jokingly said, ”Cynthia, you are too happy after your yoga!”). It is this joy that I take back to my work. Maria is an expert; however she has the ability to tune into a beginner’s mind for teaching, which makes one feel at ease and accepting of where one’s own yoga practice may find itself within each particular day. I highly recommend Maria as a yoga and meditation teacher. 

— Cynthia Olson, St Paul, MN - yoga and meditation student


"one of the most gifted instructors I have ever had the pleasure of working with"

When I met Maria, the first thing that struck me was her grace. She is truly a soulful person and I could just feel the positive energy radiating from her. I truly believe that Maria is one of the most gifted instructors that I have ever had the pleasure of working with. I only wish I lived closer so that I could continue taking classes with her two times a day.   

— Susan Broderick, Washington D.C. - retreat participant


“can’t imagine sunday morning without maria

I look forward to attending Sunday morning meditation and yoga class with Maria. She has such a calm, caring presence and a kind, gentle spirit. She makes it easy to be fully present in the moment. I especially appreciate Maria’s guidance during meditation. She has the ability to help me to connect to my inner strengths and draw them out rather than focusing on the challenges. Maria is particularly skilled in helping us wherever we are in our practice . She stretches those who have been working for some time while guiding and offering alternatives for those who are new.  I can’t imagine a Sunday morning without Maria and her class. 

— Anne F. Baker, Minneapolis, MN - yoga and meditation student


“a soothing and healing journey”

Maria’s guidance took me to a rare and peaceful place during yoga nidra. She has the most soothing voice that when paired with her remarkable patience took me on a soothing and healing journey. I was present and yet not, all at the same time; it was reminiscent of hypnosis really. It was so apparent to me that yoga is the cornerstone of Maria’s life and where she draws her strength, serenity and wisdom from. She brings such grace to yoga; it’s like an art for her not an exercise. Maria has a gentle, kind spirit I feel so lucky to have spent time with her. 

— Celeste Sciortino, Chicago, IL - retreat participant


“be here now”

I so appreciate Maria’s guidance to clear the mind and bring focus to the yoga practice.  She coach us to breathe as we think,  ”I am here now,” and to leave all other thoughts outside—to be present in the moment.  One thing I really appreciate is when Maria tell us to acknowledge any thoughts that come into our minds, then dismiss them.  Maria teaches each yoga class with calm, caring energy.  She is careful to encourage and challenge at the same time as adapt and support each of the yoga participants. 

— Rebecca Lund, St Paul - prenatal yoga student


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