Yoga: The Bodycentric
By Anna Sachse
I know it may be totally mind-blowing, seeing that this here is a Mind.Body.Spirit. column, but I have never actually written about yoga in these austere pages. I suppose it’s just hard to believe that there’s anyone out there who doesn’t already know everything there is to know about this ancient spiritual practice/trendy fitness routine. I mean, come on—this is SoCal; there are almost as many yoga studios as there are taquerias and donut shops. Aficionados such as Madonna, Leanne Rhymes and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Om its praises, claiming this bendy calorie-burner has helped them achieve a better connection to their “self.” If done correctly, you can also develop rock-hard abs.
From Bikram Yoga, a ritualized series of 26 yoga poses, each of which is performed twice in one 90-minute class in a room heated to 100 degrees, to Kundalini Yoga, which consists of a series of poses done in conjunction with a specific breath with the purpose of freeing energy in the lower body, to Power Yoga, a vigorous, fitness-based style that is all the rage at most gyms, there’s basically a yoga style to suit every Zen enthusiast and/or sleek physique seeker. I personally get bored when my yoga is too spiritual and find myself dreaming of lunch, but I definitely groove on the classes that kick my ass so badly that I can’t taste the salt in my sweat anymore (I know it’s a drive, but try Brian Kest’s famous Power Yoga classes in Santa Monica—I used to attend these with a gaggle of ex-frat boys/college athletes who were even more impressed by the workout than all the hot girls). After a good yoga class, I come out feeling strong, calm, flexible and purified, even though I was too busy panting and focusing on my burning muscles during the class to ever think about the end result.
The point is that yoga is very accessible and very valuable. It requires little or no equipment and yet it strengthens your cardiovascular system, increases flexibility, tones and stretches your muscles and really does help decrease stress. You can be as mellow or as vigorous as you want, as spiritual or focused as you desire, as dedicated or drop-in as your schedule dictates. I wish someone had told me that when I first started doing yoga and I would have found a better class instead of spending 90 minutes thinking about how I needed to fold laundry and really wanted a beer. Do a little research and find out which style best suits you.
But in the meantime, courtesy of www.yogasite.com, here is a basic explanation of one of the most popular poses, Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Facing Dog. You’ll spend a lot of time in this pose no matter what style you choose, so it’s a good one to know. It is meant to build strength, flexibility and awareness, stretch the spine and hamstrings and rest the heart. It may seem simple but stay in it long enough and your shoulders and leg muscles will feel like they’ve caught on fire.
Start on your hands and knees, with your legs about hip-width apart and your arms shoulder-width apart. Your middle fingers should be parallel, pointing straight ahead. Roll your elbows so that the inner elbow is facing forward. Inhale and curl your toes under, as if getting ready to stand on your toes. Exhale and straighten your legs; push upward with your arms, letting your head hang down. Lengthen the spine while keeping your legs straight (okay to bend knees as a beginner) and your feet flat on the ground so that you look like an inverted V. Focus on lengthening your spine. Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears. Weight should be evenly distributed between your hands and feet. Hold the position and breathe.
Next thing you know, you’ll be balancing on your hands with your knees on your forearms.