Yoga 101.

 Christy helping yoga look damn good.
 

At this point I am guessing that you either fall into one of two camps regarding my writing on yoga: either you think “okay Erin, we get it, you like yoga-please get back to talking about sofas” or you are interested in perhaps trying it for yourself or already practice and understand my slight obsession.  I’ve had several readers write me over the last couple months requesting my advice on starting a yoga practice and/or a post about my workout regimen. One person even suggested that my “killer triceps deserve to be tagged separately in Facebook photos”. While that might be a wild exaggeration, I’m delighted to add this little “lifestyle” tidbit to my normal design advice seeing as I feel very passionately about it.

I started practicing yoga as a senior in college alone in my dorm room with videos (after no doubt reading something in People about it being how Jennifer Aniston kept her body so…well… bitchin‘). I was always too scared to go to an actual class where other people could criticize my poor form, so for the next eight years I continued to practice on and off  once or twice a week while mostly logging in time on the treadmill and elliptical machines at the gym. Eight months ago I serendipitously met David Magone, a nationally praised, Boston based yoga teacher and founder of his own style of yoga, PranaVayu.  He invited me in for a class at a fancy gym and I anxiously went, knees shaking and scared as hell. I’m pretty sure (actually, 100% sure) I even considered taking a couple shots before going in order to work up the nerve, which by the way, is not zen at all.  After just a few classes with him I was totally hooked, no longer afraid of others’ judgment and actually quite addicted. I hardly ever find myself on the treadmill anymore and I’ve never felt better (although a few more runs now and then would probably not hurt the ol’ heart!)

You can’t swing a Lululemon yoga mat in this town without hitting a fellow “Magone-y” (what I’ve affectionately dubbed all the dedicated followers of David’s teachings).  He’s got such a nice, realistic approach to yoga in which you feel it can be a lifestyle supplement and not necessarily an entire lifestyle if you don’t want it to be (no worries if you don’t wear hemp, burn incense and desire to live at an ashram a la Eat, Pray, Love).  So I figured, why not get advice for you from the source? I sat down with David after class recently and asked him the questions you’ve been asking me:

This is not as easy as David makes it look. In fact, I almost break my face every time I try.
 

E: People say they are “scared” to go to a yoga class as a beginner. What is your advice for people who want to give it a try but are shy about attending a class?
D: Trying anything new can be a little intimidating.  Because of this, finding a good teacher to get you started is really helpful.  Ask your friends for referrals or check out online rating services like yelp.com to find a person who is good with beginners. 
Sometimes, taking a few private lessons before actually attending a class can be really helpful.  Most yoga studios and many gyms offer this service.  If you’re not able to meet with a teacher personally, pick up a Shiva Rea DVD (* I have loved this one for years, and it has David’s blessing too) and practice throwing down a few down dogs and warrior’s postures before your first class. 
E: What are some of the top physical and mental benefits to a dedicated yoga practice?
D: Yoga is a great physical workout.  Because yoga practitioners primarily work with their natural body weight to develop strength, many people who practice yoga develop strong lean muscles.  Many students also lose weight through the practice.   Many of my students have lost 15 to twenty pounds through a combination of three to four yoga classes per week and a healthy diet! 
Mentally, the practice is beneficial as well.  When combined with 10 to 15 minutes of meditation, a yoga class can help you feel as relaxed as you would feel after a week of vacation.  A regular yoga practice can also help you deal with high-blood pressure, insomnia and other stress related problems. 
E: As stated in many articles of ate, meditation is a great addition to a hectic life.  I have a hell of a time doing it or even just quieting my mind, as do a lot of people- any tips for those who want to simply add meditation to their daily routine?
D: A hectic life really stirs up the mind.  When you’re forced to multi-task and run to a thousand different appointments every day you might find that it’s very difficult to experience any sort of mental clarity in meditation and you’ll wonder why everyone makes such a big deal out of the practice.  Nevertheless, if you’re willing to stick it out, I think that you’ll find that the practice really can help you cut through your thoughts and experience a more peaceful state of mind. 
As with most things, a little technique can help.  If you’re new to meditation, I suggest you focus on your breath to start.  It’s always there, and easy to observe.  Close your eyes and practice counting your exhales from one to 21.  If your mind wanders substantially, begin again at one immediately.  Repeat this process for five minutes.  At first, you’ll be lucky to make it to five before you start to daydream about a trip to Bed Bath and Beyond or your grocery list.  If you persevere however, you’ll soon find that your concentration will strengthen and your thought process will begin to slow a little bit.  This is a huge success!  Stick with it, and after a bit of practice you’ll be able to make it all the way to 21 with no major mental distractions.  Afterward, you’ll often feel much calmer and focused that when you first began.   
E: What are your favorite poses for beginners?
D: Down-dog – This pose is cool because it strengthens the upper body, triceps and shoulders like mad. 
Warrior II– It really tones the bum, legs and thighs.  Who wouldn’t like that?
The prayer twist– It is still one of my favorite poses because releases so much tension from the back. 
E: There are a lot of types of yoga out there,how should a new student pick a type to study? Are there any that are suited best for certain results or body types (i.e. inflexible people, injuries, those wanting to loose weight?)
D: I would recommend checking out Yogajournal.com to learn more about individual styles.  That said, here are links to a few that I’d recommend.
Iyengar – Great for those who love precision and alignment.  Iyengar classes are appropriate for anyone from raw beginner to the uber bendy student. 
Ashtanga – The polar opposite of Iyengar.  Classes tend to be intense, fast and a little sloppy on the alignment front.  If you’re down with a challenge though, this could be the one for you.  It’s best to have a little experience before your first Ashtanga practice. 
Yin – These classes are perfect for new students as well as those with injuries.  Yin classes flow really slowly.  Typically, you practice around six to ten poses over the course of a class.  Each one is held for between three and five minutes on either side. 
PVYU – PranaVayu classes emphasize a balance of power yoga sequencing and meditative practices.  If you want to learn how to turn your body into a pretzel and free the mind, these classes are for you.
(*Side note on “hot yoga” or “Bikram yoga”- a lot of people love it. I happen to not enjoy it and typically end up wretching in the hallway excliaming that I am “dying, no seriously, DYING”- but it does help make you extra bendy and fry up calories like no one’s business! It’s all a personal choice.)
E: It’s typically hard to get guys into the yoga studio. Any tips on getting the fellas to down dog with us?
D: A yoga class can be great cross training for men who might be involved in other more active sports. Try to sell them on that one.   If you talk them into it, they might respond well to a power yoga class that that includes at least a few funky arm-balances or inversions. Find a teacher who can offer this, and give it a go.

If you live in Boston, check David’s website for a class schedule!

Another benefit to yoga has been the amazing people I’ve met in David’s class, like entrepreneur and fashionista Betty Riaz, who I wrote about previously here.  She’s opening her own yoga studio, Stil Studio, at Legacy Place in Dedham on October 3rd featuring a slew of great teachers, including one of David’s apprentices.  Not abandoning her fashion roots either, she’ll be selling some really fantastic lines of yoga clothing, beauty products and jewelry at the studio to keep everyone looking good when perhaps their crow pose isn’t looking so good.  And a couple stores down from her is a brand spankin’ new Lululemon! I couldn’t complete this post without a mention, let’s be serious. They take like 1/4 of every paycheck I pull in. Here’s a great starter outfit from them for a yoga practice (the cool clothes certainly make this a fun sport to get into):

As a personal side note, yoga has not only brought me flexibility and strength, a bit of inner peace and a cure for the dreaded Irish flat ass, but also something quite profound. As you know from my previous articles, I was afflicted with anorexia as a teenager and while I’ve been recovered for years I still never felt I had a healthy relationship to my body.  Eating disorders are a pretty severe and effective way to sever the mind/body connection.  I found out by reading many articles and books about recovery that many people who physically recover never abandon the negative thinking patterns associated with the disease. I assumed I was one of those people and that I may not ever regain a connection to my body in a spiritual and honest way.  Since starting my yoga practice that has all changed.  A sense of pride has been born, not necessarily regarding how I look, but rather how I feel- being more concerned with my strength than size and respecting the grand emotional swing from hatred to love.  The shift may be imperceptible to others, but internally I have moved mountains in only several months of  practice.  I may not be able to meditate or have mastered the scorpion pose, but I have discovered what I think might be the final step to my healing process almost 15 years after falling ill, and am so grateful to be given that gift.

To inspire you to give it a shot here’s a playlist of my favorite songs to practice to . I tend to be more of a trip-hop/electronica kind of yogi- an great beat makes me feel like I can hold Warrior 2 for like 8 minutes!  It’s just another example of how a yoga practice can be whatever you want it to be. You could listen to rap music if you really wanted to, whatever inspires you to do it.

And now I’m off for yoga class! Hope this answered some of your questions!