Friday, June 22, 2012

4 Common Yoga Myths - Busted!

Myth 1:  You have to be flexible and "in shape" to do yoga.

We’ve all seen pictures of yogis with legs bent around shoulders and feet by their heads.  But that level of flexibility—or any, for that matter—isn’t necessary to begin a yoga practice.  Rather, a regular yoga practice is an excellent way to ease into a fitter, more flexible body (and mind).  Keep your attention on your own mat and your own body, don’t worry about what’s happening around you, and let the practice work.  It’s not necessary to work into the “full expression” of a pose in order to reap its benefits; your body will tell you where it wants to go and where it needs to stop. And if you need an inspirational story, follow the link.

Myth 2:  Yoga is just a bunch of sitting around and stretching.

Well, yes…we do sit, and we do stretch during a yoga practice, and some styles are more passive than others.  Many styles (Vinyasa, for example) link postures with breath to create a continuous flow of movement that warms the body quickly and can, frankly, be one way to incorporate cardio into your exercise routine.  Once the warm up is over, there is generally a series of standing poses that challenge our strength, balance, and resolve.  After this a class will generally move onto the floor for a series of more passive, though not easy, poses.

Myth 3:  Guys don’t practice yoga.

Sure they do!  While it is often the case that yoga classes (especially in the West) are primarily populated by women, yoga began (thousands of years ago) as a practice for men.  But this is neither here nor there—anyone can reap the benefits of a practice that offers a stronger body, more focused mind, and more open heart.

Myth 4:  Yoga is boring.

It is often said that the ultimate goal of the physical practice of yoga (insofar as there is one) the ability to sit quietly and meditate.  Meditation requires a disciplined, quiet mind.  Bryan Kest, a talented teacher out of SoCal who gave a master class at Vibe last spring, made the bold claim that we don’t actually want to quiet our minds.  He explained that we are addicted to our drama because without the constant mental stimulus of stress and anxiety, we feel bored.  But without it, we might also feel happier and more grounded.  Maybe the potential boredom is worth it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Notes from a Yoga-Crier

Sometimes it’s a sad song during pigeon.  Sometimes it’s a heart-opening backbend.  Sometimes it’s the wringing-out action of series of twists.  And sometimes the teacher says just the right/wrong thing during the opening meditation, and there they are…tears.

Not everyone cries during yoga.  Some people cry almost every time they practice.  Neither is right or wrong.  Neither means that you are more advanced in your practice because you can a) hold it together or b) access your emotions.  Like so many other aspects of yoga, it is what it is for you on any given day. 

Many students have noticed that there’s a moment during which they can make a choice—to cry or not to cry.  To hold it in or to let it go.  And while it can feel a little odd to do something so personal in a public place, your mat is a sacred space on which you can do what you need to do and feel what you need to feel without considering/recourse to anyone else’s thoughts or judgments.  Chances are, other students don’t even notice what you’re doing because their attention is on what’s happening on their own mats.  And if it isn’t, it should be (I don’t like to invoke a “should” re: yoga, but this one stands).  The teacher might notice, and might offer you a facecloth, or might even place a hand on your shoulder as a way of showing support.  He or she knows about how the physical practice can interact with the emotional and energetic body, and will certainly offer you some compassion.  This is all to say that if you need to release some emotion, a yoga class is a perfectly valid place in which to do it.  It's your practice--cry if you want to.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Third Chakra - The Core

So, what’s a chakra?  Chakras (there are seven) are energy centers.  Often described as wheels or vortices, the chakras send energy out from the subtle, energetic body into the physical body in a whirling pattern.  According to various eastern philosophical traditions, when the chakras are spinning as they should, the physical body, the emotions, and all other aspects of life are in balance.  When they are over- or under-active, injuries, illnesses, and emotional disturbances can manifest.  Caroline Myss offers a comprehensive explanation of the chakras (and a fun flash presentation) on her website.

Today, let’s skip to the third chakra.  The manipura chakra.  This one is located in the solar plexus…in the gut.  It’s the seat of our power, self-esteem, personal boundaries and identity, our ethos…  It’s the core.

Here at Vibe, we hear a lot about the core.  There is a “core” section in every class we do, and to be honest, the first few times I practiced here, that really bothered me.  It didn’t feel like yoga to me—it felt like exercise.  Working muscles for the sheer sake of making them stronger or more attractive struck me (and sometimes still strikes me) as narcissistic and ego-driven…not yogic. 

But, there’s a lot to be said for having a strong core, and not just in terms of being able to hold ourselves in arm-balances and standing poses.  The manipura chakra, as the energetic core, also offers strength and balance in other aspects of our lives.  If we have strong cores—knowing who we are, what we believe, how to honor and value ourselves—we’ll be better equipped to weather the challenges that are an inevitable part of being alive. 

Maybe in this way our core-centered yoga and Pilates classes can become points of access for tapping into our intuition, building self-esteem, recognizing and respecting our boundaries as well as building physical strength.  Thoughts, yogis?