Why Do Yoga?

I'm not sure if the huge wave of yoga popularity has crested yet. Yoga has invaded every facet of our popular culture--from television commercials to movies to girls' nights out--and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn't tried at least one class.

Yoga has a lot going for it. With the right teacher, anyone can do it. There is gentle yoga and chair yoga for the elderly and infirm. There is prenatal yoga for the unborn and postnatal yoga for the newly born. There is power yoga for the macho masochists. There is hot yoga for the deranged and insane. (I'm kidding!) (Sort of.) And a bajillion other kinds of yoga, most of them with Sanskrit names that refer to the moon and sun and planets. There is truly something for everyone.

How do you know what kind of yoga is right for you? That depends on your goals.

Are you looking for a class that blends spirituality with physicality? Do you want incense and candles, chanting in Sanskrit, complex breathing patterns involving alternate nostrils? Some yoga teachers emphasize the spiritual aspects of yoga while others avoid anything that smacks of religion. Talking to the teacher beforehand might clarify the focus of the class and how much emphasis will be put on learning esoteric practices vs. simple asanas or poses.

Are you looking to gain strength? Flexibility? Pain relief? Do you have particular issues that you hope to address? Are you looking for stress reduction? Relaxation? Do you want the class to be fun? Or deeply serious? Or both? Can you find all of this in one class? Sure. Again, speaking with the instructor beforehand or trying out a single class might give you the flavor. Each individual instructor is going to put their own spin on the class, no matter what it is called or where they received their training.

I've been practicing and teaching yoga for over thirty years. My very first yoga class took place in a wrestling room at the University of Maryland College Park. My teacher was a physical education grad student who had never done yoga before in her young life. Yet she dove into the practice and the teaching with total commitment and enthusiasm, taking her lesson plans straight from a paperback book, trying everything from chanting to meditation to having each of us lead a portion of the class. This experience taught me so much. For example: an excellent teacher doesn't need a long string of certifications. Just a love of teaching, an open mind, a respect for students, and a willingness to explore.

Since this first class, I've studied with many more experienced and more credentialed teachers. Some have been mentors. Some have been mistakes. A couple have made me rethink ever taking class from another yoga teacher. A few things to watch out for: a teacher that forcefully manipulates your body into deeper twists or stretches can do serious damage to more than just your ego. Once tendons and ligaments are overstretched, these do not bounce back. Permanent injury can result. This is beyond inappropriate. A teacher should only touch you in a way that gently guides you in a direction, while allowing you to make the decision of how far you go into a pose. Only you can feel what is happening inside your body. No teacher can decide the right amount of stretch for you. I've also had a teacher sneer at me ("You're a dancer! You should be able to go further than that!") and badger me to push myself into a deeper stretch. Needless to say, this should be considered malpractice. First do no harm should be the creed of the yoga teacher as well as the doctor.

I currently teach yoga classes through Howard County Rec and Parks. My classes emphasize stress reduction, breathing in harmony with movement, gentle stretching, and deep relaxation. My training has mostly come from the Kripalu Institute of Yoga and Health (in Massachusetts) and Viniyoga (a therapeutic practice) which I have studied more recently with Gary Kraftsow. I encourage my students to use yoga poses as a tool. I like to infuse our practice with humor and lightheartedness. Please feel free to contact me if you are looking to try yoga!