Thursday, 11 August 2011

Sun Salutations, Downward Dogs and Exalted Warriors

It hit me almost as soon as I got out of the car... a very subtle aroma of fine incense.  Entering the reception area, a young lady handed me a clip board with a health questionnaire to fill out and told me where to go next.

However, this was not my acupuncturist's office or any other kind of medical establishment at all.  It was about to be my first Yoga class in at least twenty years...

How It Started 

What was the attraction?  Well, aside from my constant drive to test out new-to-me and different forms of training in personal resilience, I'd been really wanting to expand my hip and leg flexibility for a while and summer is the ideal time for this kind of work (the heat and humidity facilitate safe stretching).  And what better way to stretch out of your comfort zone than Hatha Yoga? 

Indian Hatha Yoga is what people in the West usually think of as Yoga - the use of interesting and sometimes challenging postures that you hold for periods of a few seconds to a few minutes.  In reality the idea that Hatha Yoga = Yoga is like saying that the pre-game warm-up = the Superbowl.  Yoga is a vast subject.

Anyway, after changing into my conspicuously un-Yoga like exercise attire (I would have fit in perfectly with a Tai Chi class ;-), I took my mat into the appointed room and made myself at home... in a nervous kind of way.  

As more people entered, they all sat quietly and never acknowledged each other by more than a passing smile.  It was then that I noticed I was the only one wearing shoes - major breach of etiquette apparently!  Who knew??  

All this describes the first of two Yoga classes at different studios I attended last week.  The first was an hour long beginner's class and the second a 90 minute class for all levels.  In both cases I was already resigned to my fate as the class klutz, convinced everyone else would have rubber-like joints and glide effortlessly into scarcely believable positions.  

Here's a great video to help you get started... and you're NOT a dummy!

What I Learned 

I'm really happy to say in retrospect that I emerged from both classes with my dignity intact.  Apparently I was already at least in the mid-range of flexibility and even the instructors (who both did an excellent job) didn't come off as having an unlimited range of motion.

One thing that really surprised me was how good a cardio workout these classes were!  I shouldn't have been surprised, though, because people make that same comment about Tai Chi and Qi Gong all the time.  Just because something appears to be slow, rhythmic and gentle does not mean you're not working your ass off ;-)

And the sweat!  It was pouring off in buckets like I've seldom seen before.  In the second class I was actually running out of dry T-shirt space to wipe my forehead with so the sweat would stop running into my eyes!  And that's a good thing, because sweating is a superb detoxification process.  Have a really good sweat and, as one health professional told me today from her own experience, "you'll feel like a newborn baby." 

Before my first class, I was a little afraid the instructors would be calling out Sanskrit names of postures one after the other, like "Adho Mukha Svanasana!" and that everyone else would assume them easily while I'd be sitting there stunned, thinking the more polite equivalent of "WTF?!".  Fortunately, instead of the above string of incomprehensible Sanskrit syllables, the words "Downward Facing Dog" echoed through the training hall.  Now that I could understand!  It really helped that during a couple of recent business trips I'd picked up copies of Yoga magazines in US airports and refreshed my memory about which postures were called what... at least in English! 

And here's some more advance stuff I was NOT doing last week.  I include this not only so you can see a beautiful demo done by a beautiful woman on a beautiful sandy beach, but also to underline the fact you don't need to do the advanced postures to benefit.  As with most disciplines, 90% of the benefit comes from the more basic practices - fancier is not necessarily better. 

The REAL Take-Away

It's easy to go to a Yoga class, have a good stretch, feel energized and then go about your day just as you always do.  It's quite another to maintain your Yogic grace, poise and awareness all day long, to say nothing of delving into its deeper aspects in terms of physical health, emotional self-management and spiritual development.  

This is where the vast majority of people doing Yoga lose out.  And you can substitute Qi Gong or Tai Chi or any number of other profound disciplines for the word "Yoga" in the preceding sentence.  If your practice ends when the class ends, the benefits won't be far reaching or really transformative in your life. 

Yoga is capable of profoundly reconnecting your mind and body, detoxifying your system, boosting your immunity, calming your nerves and taking your life to a new level.  Going to class is a great starting point, but there's so much more to be savored and enjoyed.

Now, if only I could get into the splits (without screaming) and sit painlessly in that damned full lotus pose!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger :-) 

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