Yoga

January 26, 2010

I can’t remember when I started doing yoga. I may have tried it for the first time during my college years in New York. Or, an introductory class I took in the late 80s in Fort Lauderdale. That is my earliest memory of doing yoga postures, or asanas, in a classroom environment.

I did start doing the seated lotus position when I was very young. Maybe all children can do this but I continued doing it and now it’s easy to maneuver into. It’s comforting to fold my legs into a pretzel.

But, I digress.

There are so many things I love about yoga but I’ll share just a few. I enjoy doing it in a class with a really good instructor. I’ve gone through periods where I start a home practice — either looking through yoga postures in a book, with a VHS or DVD, or from memory. It does feel good to start your day off with a few sun salutations in the morning — before breakfast, before checking email. But, I love the sense of community I feel in my local yoga classes so now I try to attend a class 2-3 times each week.

I’m fortunate to live in a small community where we have good yoga for reasonable prices. The local hospital has yoga classes (8 class series for $40) three times each week. Then we have Alameda Yoga Station offering community yoga (5 class series for $40) during the day. Apparently local gyms offer yoga classes as well. There are lots of options to meet one’s schedule, abilities, and pocket-book. Most of the classes I attend teach gentle yoga.

If you don’t know any thing about yoga, here’s a little history. I believe that most of the yoga instructors I see practice Iyengar yoga. Years ago it seemed that hatha yoga was most popular. In San Francisco and Berkeley there are places specializing in Bikram yoga which includes turning the thermostat up to 90-something degrees. That’s not really my thing — heat — and I don’t think it’s appropriate for middle-aged people with chronic health conditions. I go for acupuncture across the street from a Bikram yoga studio and have only witnessed really young people frequenting the place.

Again, I digress.

Yoga works for me. When I don’t do it for a while, I feel it. My digestion isn’t as good. I experience more body aches. I don’t sleep as well. I can’t concentrate as well. I just don’t feel right.  But, there are other paths to take. I know some people really enjoy tai chi. I took tai chi classes  several years ago and my arms would hurt. It’s a lot of holding your arms up, moving them around. Not for me. In yoga I have a few props that help with yoga postures that are more demanding of my wrists and arms.

Yoga is not just a form of exercise; it has a long and rich tradition which I won’t delve into because…I’m just not qualified. There are many websites devoted to yoga practice that you can explore. Yoga is something of a life style — blending meditation, diet, and exercise. I learn about my body but I also learn about listening which helps with my mental focus.

Sometimes I’m in a class and we’re on the floor, unable to see the teacher demonstrating a posture, and I must really listen to what she is saying. Believe me, it’s not always that easy to listen and move your body accordingly. Often a teacher speaks about an intention rather than an actual movement. It’s ever-so-subtle but it often produces a shift that is palpable. For example, lower your kidneys. Before yoga, I really didn’t have much of an idea where my kidneys are nor did I feel like I could control them. But there’s this intentionality in yoga that I’m just beginning to understand after years of practice.

One more thing. Yoga is non-competitive. Of course I’m aware of which postures I’m more comfortable doing. The ones requiring balance are annoying me a lot lately. But each person is so different. There are people in their 80s in some of my classes and they can do a few things that I am not good at. Yet, I still can do a damn good lotus position and that’s challenging for many. When something hurts, or you feel a little uncomfortable about trying it, take care of your self and don’t do it. I don’t do head or hand stands. I arrive early for class and place my mat in a corner; I like having the walls right there for balance postures.

Next month I’m taking an evening class in setting up a meditation practice; it’s taught at the yoga studio. Stay tuned for further discussions about yoga and meditation.

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