miércoles, 24 de octubre de 2007

Yoga and Versatility

By Margaret Burns Vap, 10-24-07

I’d like to kick off the theme of my second monthly column with my yoga philosophy. My hope is that this will set the stage for future columns inspired by my personal practice and yoga experiences, and introduce who I am as a yogini.
When I opened a yoga studio in Washington DC five years ago, one of my main goals was to offer yoga to as many people as possible. I believe that every body can do some form of yoga, and I’ve got years of teaching experiences to prove it – I have taught highly-trained athletes, seniors who didn’t get out of their chairs, and everyone in between.
The beauty of yoga is its versatility. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you perceive your limitations to be - everyone can practice yoga. Our studio class schedule includes a wide range of yoga styles so that everyone, regardless of age or physical limitations, can have an option. I’ve discussed this approach with other studio owners, who have preferred to focus their offerings on one style alone vs. trying to be all things to all people – and while there is a beautiful simplicity to that (as well as a possible business advantage), it’s just not me. And my recommendation to my yoga students is to diversify their yoga portfolio – it’s great to find one style that you know is a fit and that you love to practice, but mixing it up has multiple benefits for body and mind.
As a new yogini, I gravitated toward movement-intense styles such as Ashtanga, Baptiste power vinyasa, and vinyasa flow. I’ve found that beginning yogis find themselves attracted to a certain style of yoga that is a reflection of their personality; I’ve always been a bit “type A” (for all you readers out there scratching your head and wondering how I can simultaneously be type-A and “yogic”, let’s just say that yoga has helped my affliction quite a bit). Almost ten years later, I still prefer a good, solid flow and sweat dripping onto my mat – however, I have learned to recognize the days/life stages when I need to balance that yin with some yang and do a restorative or slower practice.
When I was pregnant three years ago, I definitely had to honor the changes in my body and take my driving personality out of the equation – my mind wanted the fast flow I was used to, but my body and baby did not. Mind and body reconciled, and I had yet another powerful lesson in learning how to respect the always-changing needs of my body. As we all know, our bodies change as we get older, and that requires adjustments in our practice as well. What about the days when we’re not feeling so hot or are recovering from illness? We want to practice, but there may be more harm than good in pushing ourselves - perfect timing for more restorative work or even perhaps just a single pose. The weather can affect our practice too. It doesn’t feel very good to do a heat-building practice on a really hot summer day; in the middle of winter cold bodies need a warming wake-up call from the practice. I tell my students that it’s great to have the style that resonates most with you become your foundation and work from there; you always know where you came from and what you can return to, but meanwhile enjoy the journey and experiment based on feedback from your body’s current condition.
The main tenant of my yoga practice philosophy has evolved from the overall philosophy that reaches beyond the physical practice, or asana – learn to live in the present moment. No matter what style of yoga we practice, it is a universal theme. One of the biggest challenges on our yoga mats isn’t the physical poses, but rather the mental effort required to leave everything else behind for the duration of our practice. It’s worth trying not to obsess over your day or your to-do list; one of the best gifts of yoga is the time away from all that. Make your yoga mat your sanctuary, the 72” x 24” spot on the floor where you really take a time out. In the ancient Sanskrit text the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali offers this definition of yoga: yogash chitta-vritti-nirodhah - “yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”. I have a vivid memory of my first taste of this as a new yoga student; I was living in NYC and spent most of my waking moments obsessing about the past or the future. Following my Sunday morning yoga class, I would be walking home and notice a new sensation - my mind was actually clutter-free. Instead of the usual hurtling towards my destination, mind a-swirling, I was noticing my surroundings and was more present in the moment. There’s a yoga clothing company called be present – great clothes, but absolutely brilliant name. Part of being present is cultivating an understanding of the changing needs of your body; there are days where the most beneficial practice will be to push yourself; there are days where you need to go slow and work deep.
Another important yogic principal is balance. By addressing both physical and mental imbalances in the body, yoga can be a life balancing tool. And in our culture, life balance is something that we often struggle to achieve. Yoga can help to unify the body and mind and release tension and negative energy from both. In fact, the word yoga means “union” - through yoga a union develops between body and mind with breath and movement. So how can you become more balanced in your practice? By not doing the same thing over and over, in my opinon. Many yogis become type-A about their practice and get stuck in a rut (of course I speak from experience). This isn’t good for either body or mind. I am a firm believer in the benefits of cross-training – doing different things will naturally push your limits in different ways.
My yoga practice and teaching has embraced many styles over the years, and I finally decided that I pride myself on being a “yoga mutt” and enjoy blending styles. I have gone through phases where I did nothing but one style, and felt compelled to be loyal to that one style and identify with it; but eventually, I’d develop wandering yogi eye and want to mix something else into my practice. I’ve realized that it’s a reflection of my life – I’m not good at standing still, and I don’t want to do the same thing all the time. And I’ve made peace with that and worked it to my advantage. The best yoga advice I can offer is to let your practice be a reflection of who you are, and recognize that you are different each day. Don’t force yourself to be someone you are not on any given day. Honor the changing world around you and your place in it with your yoga practice. Namaste.
There are a lot of yoga books out there. It can be overwhelming to make a choice, even for a seasoned yogi. So I asked myself what I would recommend if I could only choose one yoga book: I would have to go with Jivamukti Yoga: Practices for Liberating Body and Soul. Jivamukti was my first yoga love; it’s the style I practiced when I first discovered yoga in NYC. The best thing about this style is that it incorporates everything: history and philosophy, asana, chanting, pranayama, cool music. Every class is a well-rounded experience. The book is a thorough introduction to the many different aspects of yoga without being overwhelming or hard to understand. You won’t be sitting there saying “huh?”, and that is definitely bound to happen with many of the more esoteric yoga volumes on bookstore shelves. I’ve read it more than once and refer to it all the time if I have a burning yoga question.


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