I love Wednesdays. Wednesday is yoga day.
I have been teaching group fitness classes since 1992 but, for the past six years, I've been teaching yoga classes exclusively.
Gone are the days of choreographing and teaching aerobics and step aerobics classes, when, back in the day, women would show up wearing leg warmers and tights and leotards (thong-style, even!).
When I taught in college, my students were more interested in big hair, bold make up and sweating it out in the tanning bed after class than they were in breaking a sweat in class.
Gone, also, are my days of teaching crazy, upbeat, kickboxing and body bar classes, though I did enjoy the powerful feel of a side kick and uppercut, and struggling through one more set with the body bar.
Now I get my cardio blast from more solitary and less flashy pursuits, such as swimming, cycling, running and walking, and I find my power (and my peace of mind) in yoga.
But, cardio in yoga? When you think of yoga you may envision a earthy person sitting quietly and meditating. However, the practice of yoga can be interpreted in many ways and, yes, can even be done in a cardio way.
Cardiovascular exercise is typically defined as exercise that raises your heart rate and keeps it elevated over a period of time. Though meditation, centering and savasana are the most beneficial aspects of yoga, realizing this benefit takes practice, patience and dedication.
Most of my students extract themselves from the busy whirlwind of their lives to practice yoga with me for 60-90 minutes each week. They may be hoping for a slice of peace and tranquility for dessert, but for the main course, many are still seeking a workout.
In our western society, a workout often involves pushing our bodies to exhaustion, pounding on them and even injuring them, until we are sweaty and hurting, until we feel we have worked.
Ironically, trying to reach a deep level of meditation and mind-body connection is some of the hardest work out there. One yogi I practiced with suggested that, in addition to healthy eating habits, regular yoga and five miles of daily walking was all anyone needed to stay fit.
But I aim to please, and since neither my students or I have the luxury of living and practicing in an ashram, where full meditation nirvana may actually be possible (think: Eat, Pray, Love), I try to offer my class as a full-course yoga experience complete with the cardio cherry on top.
We center and stretch, breath and balance. We practice plank push ups, warriors and sun salutations. Then we up the ante by adding hand weights for extra strength training and flowing quickly through several vinyasas to up the cardio rate and sweat factor. At the end of a successful practice we are sweaty, and we have elevated heart rates and limbs made of jelly. And then we rest. We sink into savasana and those 15-minutes of relaxation can be more therapeutic and rejuvenating for some students than a full nights' sleep.
So, I look forward to Wednesdays--to sharing an incredible practice with an even more incredible and inspiring group of women. And, thankfully, there hasn't been one thong leotard yet!