Finding your yoga home

Some of the obstacles to getting started in yoga is not knowing what type of yoga is right for you. There are many different styles of yoga and sometimes the best way to find out if you like something or not is to try it for yourself.

Yogitastic with her mat

But just to help you along, below are brief descriptions of the most popular yoga styles in the U.S.:

Ashtanga – In this style there are six established (and strenuous) pose sequences. Meaning there’s a series 1, series 2, etc. Yogis move rapidly from one pose to another, combined with deep, controlled breathing. Also referred to as power yoga.

Hatha – All yoga poses are considered hatha but more popularly when referring to a type of class it means it is slower-paced, gentle and focused on breathing and meditation.

Bikram – Created by Bikram Choudhury. This style is a series of 26 poses (each performed twice) in a nearly 105º room with 40% humidity.

Hot yoga – This style is similar to Bikram only in that the room is warmer than your average room but only from 85º to 95º. The lower temperature is more manageable while still benefitting from the warm room which helps with flexibility.

Iyengar – Founded by B.K.S. Iyengar. This form of yoga focuses on precise alignment and deliberate sequencing. Props are used in this class to helps students to get into the right position.

Anusara – Created by John Friend (who is awesome, by the way). This style of yoga also focuses on precise alignment like Iyengar but taps into the more spiritual (and fun) aspects of yoga. Expect a lot of “heart-opening” poses like backbends.

Jivamukti – Created by Sharon Gannon and David Life. A typical class includes a theme, some chanting and references to ancient scripture weaved into the physical practice. It is rooted heavily in yoga philosophy and traditions.

Kundalini – This practice is intended to release the kundalini (serpent) energy of the root chakra (area around your lower spine). Movements are intense and with a lot of work on core. There is also a lot of sitting. This one thoroughly kicked my butt.

Restorative – This style of yoga is heaven on earth. The poses for this class focus more towards relaxation. Props like blankets, bolsters and eye pillows help yogis to sink into their breath and let go. Stressed out? This is the yoga practice for you.

Vinyasa – My favorite style of yoga. Also commonly known as flow, like ashtanga, yogis rapidly flow from one pose to the next with attention to the breath. Most vinyasa classes are taught with music. (And I love that!)

Yin – This practice involve more passive stretches held for longer periods of time (read: not a cake walk). For those people (like me) who have a more fiery practice, this style of yoga is the perfect balance to cool down with.

Sometimes you’ll see a class labeled Yoga I/II. If the studio isn’t clearly affiliated with a style of yoga, it probably means that the teacher combines or blends several teaching styles in her classes. If you have never tried yoga, it’s best to start at Yoga I. As you improve, then you can move up to Yoga II then Yoga III.

I hope this helps get you on your yoga journey. If you have any questions, please let me know!

P.S. I teach a Yoga I/II class every Thursday at 7:00 PM in Silver Spring. I mix different styles of yoga and share a theme with my students. Questions and requests for clarification are always welcome. Come and join me next time!

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A kink in the shield

Late Sunday evening I started to feel dizzy… As in room spinning… Drunk-without-the-alcohol dizzy… By 5:00 PM on Monday, the dizziness hadn’t gone away and it was making me feel really queasy. I had no other symptoms and as long as I wasn’t moving I felt perfectly fine. I thought it was strange so instead of letting it linger on like I like to do, I headed to urgent care last night and was told that I was experiencing VERTIGO.

Damn it all to hell.

Vertigo Staircase

With vertigo, I could not go to work. I could not take a walk let alone attend Monday night yoga class and I had to find a substitute for my yoga class tonight. So I am sitting at home, staring at my computer screen, not doing much.

This morning, I started the day with a little meditation in the hopes that it would make me feel better. Two minutes in… an emotional dam broke. Tears came flooding out of me. We’re talking body wracking, full-on sobbing, snot running down my face, Ron Burgundy weeping… And I couldn’t stop. The tears just kept coming.

I was scared.

When I closed my eyes to listen, I ran smack dab into a scared yogi.

What if it keeps coming back and gets worse? What does vertigo mean for me and my yoga practice? What if I had to stop doing the things I enjoy? What if I had to change my lifestyle? This person I had become? I’m doing everything right. How could this happen???

You see, I don’t get sick. Not really. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been really really ill. I even escaped my husband’s bout with viral meningitis. I have never been seriously injured. I exercise. I eat well. I get plenty of sleep. I take good care of my body. Fanatically so.

And I guess I felt like I was invincible.

But I wasn’t. Vertigo has shown me that. I was terrified. And humbled.

I am reminded that life holds no guarantees for us. That try as we might and as healthy as we are – things happen. Beyond our control. No one is immune. Not even the most health-conscious.

I have calmed down since my weep-fest this morning. Although I have yet to find the words to allay my fears and give me comfort. For now I am simply acknowledging the possibility that I am overreacting and senselessly worrying myself.

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Ewar Woowar.

When pride is a good thing…

A few days ago I went surfing for the first time in my life.

I love the ocean… From afar, that is. Getting into the water without the protection of a boat or inflated arm floaties is something I never do. I have always been very afraid of submerging my head under water. Be it in a pool, the ocean or a river, I absolutely hate the sensation of water up my nose and not being able to breathe. In fact, I still pinch my nose and squeeze my eyes shut when dunking my head to get my hair wet.

And so it was with a lot of trepidation that I approached my first ever surfing class. Heart racing. Palms sweaty. Eyes dilated in sheer panic. But I knew I had to do it. It was not a question of whether I would try it but whether I would make it. I am happy to report that the only damages incurred were one lost contact lens, a huge intake of salt water and a bruised right hip.

Floaties

When I tell people about my surfing experience, their instant reaction is to say how impressed and proud they are of me. I would modestly smile and brush it off. But for whatever reason, when my friend, Rachel, told me she was proud of me, something clicked. It occurred to me that though I was hearing people saying this, I had not said it to myself. I had not acknowledged my own good work.

When she drove away, I took a moment and said to myself, “I am proud of me.” And this warm feeling started in my heart, spread out to my arms and legs all the way out to the top of my head and I felt giddy! “Holy crap! I am awesome!” I practically skipped up my driveway!

I had overcome this super scary thing – way out of my comfort zone… When in the past I had let my fears dictate my decisions. I needed to recognize that I am this person who pushes up against her very edges. So I deserved a pat on the back – not from others but from myself. I don’t tell myself enough how proud I am of me. I don’t always make big courageous decisions but I make brave choices all the time. Whether it’s trying a new dish, learning to do something or going up to a complete stranger. I take the harder road when easier ones are available. I continue on when many might have given up.

When I talk about pride, I am not talking about switching teams. I am talking about more than just accepting compliments from others but recognizing all the good things within ourselves and projecting it out to the world. We are good whether or not others see us and shower us with accolades. It is most important that we recognize within ourselves the work we have accomplished, the work we continue to do and the work we WILL accomplish.

So be proud of yourself and let your freak flag fly!

How have you celebrated yourself today?

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Board Shanty.

How to start working out

So you got yourself a gym  membership, a velour tracksuit that J-Lo would be envious of and a new pair of sneakers – now what? I am asked all the time how to start a workout regimen – whether it’s running, weightlifting or yoga. Or even just how to finally get active.

It’s simple and I’ll tell you how. Just send me three payments of $9.99…

Just kidding.

You start by walking – literally. Take a walk outside or on a treadmill… Just walk. For a mile or three. Whatever you can do. Try that for a week. The week after walk a little farther or walk a little faster. Maybe add in some run/walk/gallop combination. If the weather is nice, go for a nice long hike.

If you joined a gym, try a group fitness class.

Most gyms have a weightlifting class or a sculpting class that can accommodate all levels of fitness. That is where I started. Instructors were able to tell me how much weight to use and kept an eye on my form to make sure I wasn’t hurting myself. (At the beginning, senior citizens were lifting twice as much weight as I was but I made myself feel better by moving my bench as far away from them as possible – bunch of overachievers.) 😉  I tried every single group fitness class that was offered – including Zumba – I felt both fabulous and ridiculous. (Did you know that laughing at yourself also burns calories?)

From there you figure out the activities you enjoy – what motivates you, keeps you challenged and more importantly keeps you coming back. Once it’s in your blood it’s fairly easy to delve into other activities like kayaking, hiking, rock wall climbing or long bike rides.

Here are a few tips you can try:

5k Running Machine

1.  Tag along with an already active friend (i.e. let her drag you to something you never thought you’d do).

2.  If running is your chosen drug, register for a 5k race. There’s nothing like a definable goal to keep you motivated.

3.  Sign up for a challenge. (Like the Burpee Challenge starting tomorrow!)

4.  Rope a friend in. Hopefully you’ll keep each other going.

5.  Start simply and build. Don’t allow yourself to take on too much. You start small and get stronger every day.

Ultimately, being active will become a way of life – something you want to do rather than something you have to do. But the beginning is really as simple as walking out of your front door.

So what are you waiting for?

Jump into YOUR first yoga class

Okay, you’ve heard all of the talk. Your cool friends are doing it… (And by cool I mean the ones who bathe regularly.) And now you’re ready to try yoga AT LAST.

Now what?

First, decide on which studio you’d like to try out. Preferably one that you’ll keep going to if all goes well. A lot of studios have a new customer special so no commitment necessary at this time. Perhaps go with a friend to his regular studio.

Second, decide which beginner’s class to take. Talk to the people who run the studio. They can match you up with a class and instructor who will fit your needs and your schedule.

Third, show up.

Well, okay. Here’s a bit more information:

  • Wear clothing that isn’t too baggy. It’ll be important for the instructor to see your form and make sure you’re aligned to prevent injury.
  • Bring a mat, a towel and a bottle of water. Most studios have mats you can borrow if you don’t have one.
  • Arrive early. Give yourself time to let the instructor know that you are new. Let him know of any injuries you may have so that he can show you options.
  • Clear your mind. Focus on the moment. And throw out any ideas that other people in the room are judging you. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

There are plenty of types of yoga out there and each instructor has his own style. Don’t try one and then give up. Try a few different classes. You’ll find your home soon enough.

If you have a yoga studio/instructor you would like to recommend, please feel free to drop it into the comments section. I would love to be able to share it with others and not just in the DC area.