Monday, March 5, 2012

Stretch Armstrong

Over this past weekend, my unlimited month of yoga classes at O Yoga Studio, for which I paid $35 through Living Social, expired. I am in mourning. I love yoga more than running, and everyone knows how much running means to me.

I have had the privilege to explore yoga classes at a variety of studios in the Syracuse area--O Yoga, CNY Yoga, Fitness & Dance of CNY, CNY Healing Arts Center and Morningside Yoga. And I have been able to participate in a good number of these classes with my daughter, who is now 22. In fact, it was a character trait I noticed in her that led me to sign us up for classes at Morningside, on Westcott Street. When she was 10 or so I realized that she was stressing out over school. The upper grades of elementary school are always tough; combine that with a conscientious student, and you have a kid who needs some coping skills. I thought some calming yoga breathing would serve her well.

Fast-forward 10 years and I am pleased that she continues her yoga practice, realizing that it is an incredible stress-reliever. Besides, it's something we can do together, mother and daughter.

While I enjoy yoga for that reason, my main purpose in doing yoga is for the flexibility, which leads to improved athletic performance and less likelihood of developing injury. That's the overarching goal, but that's not what keeps me returning to the mat at least once a week (more when I have unlimited access to a trained yogi!). In addition to the flexibility benefits resulting from a regular yoga practice, the activity brings with it psychological advantages as well, mostly related to self-esteem.

No matter the studio, no matter the class, every yogi I have practiced with repeats variations of the same mantra: "Honor yourself. Do only what is available to you today. This is your practice; make it what you want. Don't worry about what anyone else is doing in this class: it's not a competition." Thus freed to modify the basic poses you'll feel incredibly liberated! If high crescent lunge is tough on your back foot, drop down on your back knee. If chaturanga feels incredibly challenging today, do knees-chest-and-chin instead. The strength will eventually come, if you continue to practice.

I also like the tradition of setting an intention for your practice--whatever it may be. You can use the 75 minutes on your mat as a chance to work through a particularly vexing problem, come to a conclusion about a difficult home situation, riddle through a work conundrum. I also use running to do that, so, paired with yoga, I often solve the problem even quicker (joking!).

There are several yoga poses I just don't like, mostly because I struggle in them--chair pose always burns my quads, cobra is so fussy with its rule that you have to keep your feet together. But here's another aspect of yoga that makes it so meaningful for me. The poses you struggle with are those whose benefits you need the most. Patience has never been a strong suit for me, but if I stay calm, work with my body wherever it is on whatever day I am practicing yoga, those poses take on greater meaning for me. I suppose it's like training for a marathon--some days it's a struggle logging those miles, but having crossed the finish line is a huge accomplishment. Being able to hold pigeon in a calm, beneficial way, being able to flow through a Vinyasa class from Warrior I to Warrior II to Dancing Warrior--all are steps in the right direction of greater self-awareness.

I urge everyone to try a yoga class--most studios have drop-in rates. While you may not like it, I guarantee you will step off your mat with a better understanding of yourself and your place in the world. Really! All from 60 minutes or so of stretching. I'm the first to look at saving a dollar here and there, which explains why the last three yoga studios I visited were the result of a coupon offer. Still, there's nothing wrong with checking some yoga DVDs out of the library, and seeing which works for you, or not. If you just don't like it, there's always Pilates!

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