When you think of ‘yoga’ what comes to mind?
Is it a guy dressed like the Dalai Lama chanting ‘Om…’? Some overly thin person twisted up like a pretzel? Or maybe it’s a yogi who, not only is she doing the splits, but she’s doing it standing on one leg with the other pointing straight up!
Yoga has become a lot of different things. It can mean different things to different people. For the purpose of this article let’s focus on what the so-called ‘hype’ of yoga is these days. That would be the yoga classes popping up right and left everywhere. Or so it seems.
People tell me all the time, “I can’t do yoga because I hurt my back.” Or “Yoga isn’t for me. I’m not flexible at all.”
Newsflash, people! Not only would these be reasons why you should do yoga, but you don’t have to be flexible, I promise! Yes, you might go to a class and see a beautiful woman in Wheel pose (a backbend) BUT there are many others that you won’t see in that pose, maybe ever. As far as the guy dressed like the Dalai Lama, or the pretzel man, or Miss Flexy-Splits, well, maybe in a magazine! Let’s talk reality.
There is so much talk and concern about health and fitness, as should be, no doubt. Here in the West (no, not the wild west, but in America) we are rediscovering the benefits of an over 5000-year-old practice from India—YOGA.
In my personal experience I would say that about 95% of men who attend yoga classes regularly that I’ve gone to are not f lexible at all. It is a misconception that you will go to class and be the only one who will not be able to touch your toes, and trust me, when you’re wobbling, trying so hard to hold a balance pose, and you start thinking that the people behind you are watching, I guarantee that they are so focused on doing the exact same pose that you are that you’re not even on their radar screen at all! I know because I’ve been on both sides of the coin.
There are different yoga style classes to choose from in today’s “modern” classes so yoga truly is for everyone — young and old, male and female, big and small, athletic and sedentary, etc. A few of the most common styles of classes that you could easily find to attend are Vinyasa (f low), Hot Vinyasa, Bikram, Power Yoga, Ashtanga, Iyengar and Hatha. Basically, these are the ones that the “hype” is all about. Why? It’s the physical fitness benefits that draw people to these styles of yoga. These yoga classes will challenge you — physically and mentally.
I’ve mentioned those who might think that yoga might be too hard because of an injury or maybe the flexibility thing but there are also those who think that yoga is for wimps or for people who just want to ‘stretch out’. Oh-ho-ho, I laugh when I hear that. I just want to challenge them right then and there! (Okay, that was very UN-yogi of me to say! Repeat after me. THERE IS NO EGO IN YOGA! Hey, I’m not perfect.)
Case in point, I couldn’t get my husband to come to yoga class for the longest time. He wasn’t one of those that worried about not being flexible. No, he was one of those who thought it was all girly stuff. When he finally did come to a class… well, you can ask him yourself. (Psst… You might know him as Captain Alan Workman of the Utah Highway Patrol!)
It can be daunting and intimidating to enter a new class of any kind especially when you don’t know what to expect so here’s an idea of what you might see in a yoga class.
I’d like to point out that although many classes are similar, teachers have different personalities so the way they teach (their own personal style) and how class is set up may be different from the next. Another factor is the type or style of yoga class you’re attending so each class might have a completely different feel, even with the same teacher. This is an example of what it would typically be like in one of my vinyasa flow classes.
First, shoes are not worn while practicing yoga so you might see shoes and other personal items outside of the door of the yoga studio or maybe inside along the walls. Lights will be dim and music (usually meditative) will be playing.
Usually there will be others already there with their mats set out. Some may be stretching a little, some in a meditative state or what is called a ‘resting’ pose such as lying flat on your back in complete relaxation (Savasana), Child’s Pose (Balasana)–sitting back on your heels with your forehead in front of you on the mat, Easy pose (Sukhasana)–sitting cross-legged with eyes closed or some other pose. Some students might be visiting with each other (hopefully somewhat quietly).
I’m going to spare all the details but basically you will go through some Sun Salutations or f lows to get your body warm and loose. Though it’s considered a warm-up in a way, it’s actually the longest part of class. Don’t skip this part of class, especially before stretching poses, to avoid unnecessary injury like pulling a muscle. In vinyasa class I call this part of class f lows because Sun Salutations actually have a set sequence of poses and I usually change one, add a different one or change the sequence.
YOGA FACT: In the west yoga is thought of as a practice for “females” when, in fact, it was at one time for men only.
Vinyasa means ‘syncing a flow sequence with breath.’ This brings up the most important thing in every yoga class you attend, no matter what the style is. BREATH. It is first and foremost! Without the yoga breath, you’re just exercising. In my vinyasa class I teach what is called the Ujjayi Pranayama, meaning “victorious breath”. It is sometimes referred as “the ocean breath” because of the sound it makes.
“Ujjayi is a diaphragmatic breath, which first fills the lower belly (activating the first and second chakras), rises to the lower rib cage (the third and fourth chakras), and finally moves into the upper chest and throat.
Inhalation and exhalation are both done through the nose. The “ocean sound” is created by moving the glottis as air passes in and out. As the throat passage is narrowed so, too, is the airway, the passage of air through which creates a “rushing” sound. The length and speed of the breath is controlled by the diaphragm, the strengthening of which is, in part, the purpose of ujjayi. The inhalations and exhalations are equal in duration, and are controlled in a manner that causes no distress to the practitioner.
YOGA IS FOR EVERYONE
Many professional athletes are incorporating yoga into their practices and home life. They
have discovered its many physical and mental benefits.
• Enhances well-being
• Increases strength
• Increases flexibility
• Increases muscle tone
• Increases endurance & stamina
• Improves balance
• Improves posture
• Improves energy
• Improves concentration
• And so much more!
This breath enables the practitioner to maintain a rhythm to his or her practice, take in enough oxygen, and helps build energy to maintain practice, while clearing toxins out of the bodily system. This breath is especially important during transition into and out of asanas (postures), as it helps practitioners to stay present, self-aware and grounded in the practice, which lends it a meditative quality.” 1
(I could go on and on about the breath when it comes to practicing yoga but that is a subject in itself and we must move on.)
The flow part of class can be the most challenging. You are constantly moving from one pose to another and your heart rate rises. During flow, even if you’re one of the few lucky ones who don’t perspire easily, you’ll work up a good sweat. There is usually a sequence of three consecutive poses known as ‘Half Vinyasa; Chaturanga Dandasana, Upward-Facing Dog and DownwardFacing Dog (aka Chaturanga, Up-Dog, Down-Dog).
Newer students will tell you that the flows are their hardest parts of class because of the Half Vinyasas. It is basically used as a transition between other sequences of poses so it’s done over and over again. This isn’t easy considering that you are in a constant motion with your breath and a lot of people, especially women, are not strong in their upper body, which this sequence totally works! Like most, I used to dread doing Half Vinyasas! Now, I love it! Honestly! It is one of my favorite things to do. As with everything else with exercising you’ll condition your body with consistent practice.
People have also told me that they would look ridiculous if they did yoga. If you look ridiculous everyone else will look ridiculous, as well. After you attend a few practices you just become used to it and looking ridiculous will become normal to you!
Following the Flows comes a few balance poses. This is one that I still need to work on getting my ego in check! As I mentioned above, one day we’ll be able to stick a pose then the next… nada! Argh! (I mean…. Om…)
The practice starts to slow down at this point with a few sitting poses which consists of some stretches, a few Inversions such as shoulderstand, and twist poses (which, by the way, I let my class know is so good for us, especially if constipated!)
Last pose of class….the beloved Savasana. Ahhh… Everyone loves Savasana! Well, most do. It’s total relaxation. Letting go. It’s the part that some feel they don’t need, or have time for, and can leave out. DON’T!! There are those that say Savasana is the most important pose of yoga practice. No question about it on some days!
With that being said, yoga poses have modifications to fit everyone. During class, especially classes geared for beginners, your teacher will cue modification poses. We are all on different levels in each pose. We are all built different and we were all born with different bone structures. We will never, and should never, look like anyone else, and that is a beautiful thing!
Furthermore, our own practices changes each day. The same pose you did yesterday will be different today. With consistent practice we will progress but there may be difficult days as well. Remember, don’t let your ego get in the way. There is no judgment in yoga. There is no competition in yoga. Be humble and patient and with practice the poses will come. Be happy with what you DID do and enjoy your progress. That is where you will find satisfaction.
“Yoga has improved almost every aspect of my life. As a public safety dispatcher I have a high stress job that is also very sedentary. The strain on both my body and mind can really wear a person down. When I started practicing yoga I was unable to quiet my mind at night and I have always had difficulty sleeping. I was also at an obese body index. Through practicing yoga I have learned to focus my body and mind together. I am continually improving and I focus on doing just a little more each time I practice. The ability to completely clear my mind in meditation and have some time to just focus on me has done wonders for being better able to handle the stresses of both my work and home life.”
SL Communications Supervisor