Friday, October 01, 2004

Friday blogging: Yoga

So, I've been taking yoga classes, off and on, for two and a half years now. I started out with yoga nearly three years ago with Richard Hittleman's 28 Day Yoga Plan, but I only practiced at home and didn't have anyone to correct me.

When Alana was pregnant with Abby, she wanted to try a prenatal yoga class, and there was another class going on at the same time so I went to that. (I wasn't allowed in the prenatal class, since I wasn't carrying a baby.) It was an intermediate-level Dynamic Flow class, which emphasized controled movement into and out of poses. The teacher was strongly influenced in the Ashtanga tradition (Ashtanga comes from Sanskrit for "eight limbs" -- I think talking about the 8 limbs of yoga). I put forth more sweat that day than I had in years, and after the class I was high as a kite. Later I learned it was because I had suppressed cortisol production, but whatever I did, it felt great. I probably also had no business in the class, but hey I had a full-time job and a pregnant wife, so which class I "belonged" in only had a small bearing on what class I would actually take.

I showed up weekly for the next few weeks, much to the surprise of the teacher. Then she quit and another teacher out of the Anusara tradition took over the class. For the next six months I kept hearing "inner spiral your legs" until I had to give up classes when my daughter was born.

However, by then I had a fairly consistent home practice going on, and had a couple of DVDs to help me practice. So I continued (taking month-long hiatuses here and there when the situation got extremely hectic) the home practice for another year.

This past summer, I decided to start classes again, and a new husband/wife team from the Anusara class rolled into town. I decided to take a couple of their classes on Saturday mornings, and learned a lot just from those two classes about how to align my body.

A month ago, I started having an obligation on Saturday mornings, so I decided to try the advanced class on Thursday late mornings. The teachers decided to turn this into a session class, rather than a drop-in class, because they thought they needed to provide a coordinated sequence of classes that build upon previous classes. So now I'm doing the advanced class for twelve weeks.

As you may guess, this is probably one of the biggest physical challenges since I played sports in early high school. The class has us go through lots of advanced poses, and I'm certainly not there on all of them. However, I do like the fact that we are doing lots of inversions (handstands, forearm inversions, and headstands). Not much beats hanging out upside-down for 30 seconds, as long as you're graceful (which I haven't always been). We also do lots of arm balances for upper-body strength, leg builders, and back work. My posture has improved greatly. I think I'm growing into the class nicely.

Perhaps the greatest part of the experience is that I'm able to forget neck pain (resulting from poor sleep in recent past), stresses for the day, and worries that I have. I also know how to better protect most areas of my body from poor alignment now, at least when I'm conscious of doing so. (The next step is to take these measures unconsciously.) All this, along with the natural cortisol suppression, lead to a wonderful feeling after the 1:30 class. More than a simple high or feeling, this state of mind helps medeal more calmly with stressful situations and so cuts down on the cycle where my stressful reactions create worse problems. Finally, I'm more mindful of different areas of tension in my body, and can relax these parts (mostly my jaw) more often.

In short, the practice of yoga has been a positive influence in my emotional and physical health.