The prolific practice of yoga is expanding
by Lou Fancher
As a former professional ballet dancer and physical fitness devotee, I'm always seeking athletic challenges and opportunities. Running, biking, hiking, swimming, tennis, weightlifting and occasional tree climbing began recently to take their toll, so I turned my attention to yoga, an endeavor I thought might be in my future. Reaching out to people in the Lamorinda community, I discovered a world wonderfully open to multiple generations, inclusive of all gender, race, ethnic and faith identities and, significantly, available to people living on generous or limited budgets.
While not endorsing a specific outlet, a simple Google search revealed yoga available in the East Bay at community centers, local gyms, pilate and dance studios, and specialty spas and boutiques. Private lessons conducted in-home by expert practitioners represent top-price options, while free programs found online, at public libraries (Yoga Storytime for ages 2-5 at Lafayette Library, just one example) or outdoor, in family-friendly sessions held in local parks (Berkeley has one monthly) extend the opportunities. Opening the window to the many techniques available, yoga can be practiced in 100-degree temperatures (Bikram), with baby goats (Yogoat), suspended in the air (aerial) or privately in homes, to name only extremes.
Important especially for novices, yoga honors long-held traditions and in 2018 is practiced and best learned from forward-thinking certified professionals like Bela Watson, a master's candidate at Saint Mary's College in Moraga. Watson is a graduate of North Carolina School of Yoga (now the Shanti Niketan Ashram) and has a a degree in fine arts from Florida State University. Diagnosed with cancer that temporarily interrupted her performing and instructional dance career, she turned to yoga for physical rehabilitation. The mind-body connection applied to movement therapy is her focus.
In the United States, Watson says popular yoga trends are specific to each city or town. Addressing the Hatha, Yin, Children's, Vinyasa, Flow and Power Flow styles she is qualified to lead, Watson says people in high income locations prefer approaches that emphasize physical exertion and aesthetics. "(In contrast), folks attending in less financially abundant communities appreciate the spiritual aspects more. Perhaps it is because people in lower income areas typically hold jobs where physical labor is exhausting and thus come to yoga to quiet the body and mind," she says.
A new trend pairs cacao ceremonies or plant-based medicines with yoga; aiming to achieve greater healing or calming through organic substances combined with focused poses, breath work, meditation and other ceremonial aspects of yoga. Western medicine's goal-oriented, "fix it" approach to health, Watson says, means slower recognition comes to yoga's transformational practices in America than does in India and other Eastern countries and cultures.
Watson's comments notwithstanding, there is good indication that yoga is more mainstream than ever before. At Aegis of Moraga, Life Enrichment Director Tina Laurena says up to 30 residents participate. Offered twice weekly to Assisted Living and Memory Care residents, instructors Esther Jun and Anandi Martinez adapt poses to accommodate 90-year-old bodies and more. "When the residents see chair yoga on their schedule they will ask about it the whole day," says Laurena. "They get excited. When I ask them 'How was yoga?' they reply with a smile and say 'wonderful.' To see them do the poses and focus on their breathing is amazing." Several residents, she adds, report improved moods after the lessons.
Charlie Craig, 17, is a Campolindo High School student and a linebacker and tight end on the football team. He took yoga taught by phys ed instructor Chris Walsh, who completed a YogaWorks 500 Hour Teacher Training Certification program in 2017. "It was a health P.E. requirement needed to graduate, but I took yoga because I wanted something relaxing that seemed interesting." Craig's favorite pose was savasana, also known as corpse pose. The restful but surprisingly difficult pose has people lie on their backs, legs spread roughly 18-inches apart, arms open and palms facing upward. "It was nice to rest in school and not be stressed," he says. The primary benefits to his football performance, he says, were increased flexibility in his hips and - due to challenging one-foot poses - improved balance and footing on the field.
Of course, with holiday gift-giving season, there's definitely yoga bling to consider. Flashy or functional athletic leisurewear is available everywhere, from large department and sporting goods stores to specialty dancewear boutiques to online.
But which accessories are helpful? Watson says she's "enthralled" with a yoga wheel from Clever Yoga that has increased the flexibility of her spine. Therabands strengthen the feet, an area of the body not always emphasized by yoga. "I also find bolsters helpful when teaching - to find comfort amidst uncomfortable, long-held postures."
Other ideas with safety in mind include yoga blocks for stretching during challenging poses (Yoga Outleit offers a Hugger Mugger cork version for the eco-minded) and foam rollers, lacrosse balls or acupressure balls (bodyback.com has a spiky version for $6.45) for self-massaging sore muscles. Yoga straps used for some poses can be purchased or fashioned using a scarf or fabric belt.
Footwear is yoga's final frontier and for that, this former professional dancer offers a sure-to-please suggestion tested directly. Apolla Performance Wear is a company founded by three dancers who sought to prevent injuries in the feet of dance artists and sports athletes. The Apolla Shocks line includes socks with no-slip traction that allows a person to feel the floor and provides ergonomic, targeted compression that supports and controls inflammation in ankles and metatarsal arches. They are comfortable and safe to use on typical dance flooring. Having tried a number of "no-slip" socks, I found the Apolla Shocks worth consideration. Now, to decide the what, when and where. ... I wonder, does anyone offer tree yoga?