My yoga challenge
So far, 2012 has been the year of trying new things.
I’ve wanted to try a cycling or spinning class for some time but always felt a little intimidated. I’ve been going once a week for a little over a month now, and I’m loving it.
I also took some ice skating lessons, and I can now stop without crashing into the boards.
This week, though, I’m returning to yoga class.
The tag at the end of my column used to include a phrase that said I was trying to get the hang of yoga. After a couple of years, someone asked me if I was still trying to learn yoga.
The good news is anyone can do yoga. Even me.
There are many different types of yoga, but I chose Iyengar classes, which focus on proper body alignment and improving strength and flexibility.
(Some styles are more aerobic, but I get plenty of aerobic exercise already.)
A couple of the distinguishing features of Iyengar are that poses are held longer than in other types of yoga and its use of props, such as blankets, bolsters, blocks and straps, to help people who need some support in order to get the proper form for a pose.
After all the classes I’ve taken, I know I’ll need two sets of blocks rather than one for standing poses. (Tight hamstrings.)
In downward-facing dog, my heels aren’t going to touch the floor. (Tight achilles.)
And the poses designed to open up the upper body will be a challenge. (Tight shoulders.)
The props aren’t just for inflexible types like me though. They also can help people with back issues or knee issues or other physical limitations practice yoga.
A story that ran in The New York Times Magazine early this year made the claim that most people were more likely than not to injure themselves doing yoga. Problems pointed out by a source in the story were the explosion in popularity of yoga and teachers who don’t have deep enough training or experience to recognize when a student might injure himself or herself.
The comments on the story focus on two pieces of advice: Find a good teacher and don’t push yourself to do something if it hurts.
I’ve never hurt myself doing yoga, other than having some really sore muscles the next day. And I’ve always been confident in the yoga teachers I’ve had, at a studio that emphasizes teacher training and evaluation. I even did yoga while pregnant.
A colleague of mine recently began doing Iyengar yoga. One thing she’s noticed — and something that’s been my experience as well — is that while it’s a group class, the instructors notice the weaknesses of each student and can individualize how that person approaches particular poses.
Often in my classes there is someone who simply doesn’t do one of the poses the rest of the class is doing. That person will do a modified version of the pose or something else entirely.
My friend was looking for something to improve her strength and stability and to address the tightness in her neck and shoulders.
“It’s harder than I thought it would be,” she told me. “At the end of the session, I’m wiped out. It’s exercise. It’s not just standing there and bending over. Your muscles are active. Your body is active.”
She noted that it’s mentally challenging as well. But while she’s tired at the end of class, “I also feel charged afterward.”
She also appreciates the awareness of how she’s carrying her body.
That’s something I like about yoga as well. I am always sitting up straighter in my car as I drive home from a class. I think more about how I sit at my desk and how I stand. I put more effort into stretching.
And I’m both more relaxed and more energized after a class.
Now, if I can only master the warrior pose.
Photos by Robert K. O'Daniell/The News-Gazette