Thursday, April 21, 2011

Om, make time for yoga


Though it has become much "trendier" in western society, the word still invokes a variety of responses, from the devoted who swear by a twice daily practice, to the skeptics who think yoga is "easy" or best left to the crunchy, vegan, liberal-types.

I once was a cardio junkie. Okay, who am I kidding? I'm still a cardio junkie, but with a twist (and a plank and a warrior) these days.

Nine years ago I was teaching a step aerobics class at a fitness center for women and, every night after my class, I'd watch as a group of women filed in, unrolled their yoga mats and sat criss-cross applesauce while their instructor lit a candle and joined them on the floor.

Intrigued, I stayed after my class one night to find out what this "yoga stuff" was all about.

And I was bored out of my mind.

Not one to give up on something so easily, I decided to give it another try. Besides, I'd read that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. Even babies need to be introduced to a new food at least 10 times to determine if they have a taste for it.

So, week after week I went to yoga and, week after week, I left with a mild headache (from the inverted poses), sore wrists (from the planks), and a big dose of frustration with my own inability to "be present" and "quiet my mind."

I later learned that, while yoga is yoga, there are many different interpretations of the practice. The class I'd stumbled upon at the fitness center was Kripalu Yoga, a gentle practice that uses concepts of inner focus, meditation and relaxation, and emphasizes compassionate self-acceptance, observing the activity of the mind without judgment, and taking what is learned into daily life.

But it wasn't until I discovered a class being taught at a different gym that I became hooked. Yoga Bar, as it was called, was a combination of yoga and strength training that elevated the heart rate and kept it elevated--all the benefits of yoga, but fast-paced and challenging enough to satisfy my cardio craving.

The rest, as they say, is history. In 2004, I became a certified instructor and taught classes at the Merritt Athletic Club for a year before striking out on my own. For almost seven years now I have been teaching Ashtanga yoga (an active and athletic interpretation of the practice) from my home studio and have loved every minute of it. Not only is it an honor to share the practice each week with an amazing and inspiring group of students, but yoga has given me countless gifts for which I am ever grateful.

Here is my list of the "Top 15 reasons why you should practice yoga":

1. Reduce stress and create a balanced life

2. Increase strength, flexibility and balance

3. Improve concentration and focus

4. Improve circulation, digestion and metabolism

5. Increase energy

6. Sleep Soundly

7. Better body alignment and pain relief

8. Better breathing and cardiovascular conditioning

9. Strengthen joints and tone muscles

10. Weight management

11. Be present and delight in the simple things

12. Create inner peace

13. Boost self-esteem and confidence, increase happiness and battle depression

14. To supplement other physical activities

15. Be kinder to yourself and others


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