Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Cool Aunt Does Yoga

My Aunt is 56. She is quite possibly the youngest 56 year old I know. Sometimes I think she may be a vampire with her inability to age, her love of Twilight...or quite possibly she is Benjamin Buttoning herself. Now, my mother (her younger sister) quickly attributes this to not being married or having kids. Funny how when she mentions these reasons, her eyes seem to twitch with a tad disdain towards us kids and my dad.

I however, believe that it has been her commitment to yoga for the last 20-30 years that has kept her youthful glow. That and I think all of her disposable income goes directly to the Clinique counter -which always works out in my favour because she gives me the gifts with purchases!

My Aunt did yoga before it was cool. She even did yoga before Madonna did yoga (however, my Aunt does not have those crazy arms).  I remember a long time ago, she tried to teach my brother (then a rambunctious 5 year old) and myself (at 7) some breathing techniques. Needless to say, she never...ever...tried again.

I always knew that my Aunt did yoga, but only recently, with the numerous Lululemons popping up everywhere, did I actually think much of it. Now all of a sudden, my cool Aunt Margot was "My cool Aunt Margot, who does yoga".

My decision to join a yoga studio came about from a couple of reasons. The first being that I wanted to expand my repertoire of exercises. I pretty much stick to my basement. It has my treadmill, weights and a plug for my lap top - all I need. My intro to yoga has been poorly shot youtube videos. I pretty much sucked. I needed something that was interactive and had someone that could assist me.  Fortunately there was a great and highly recommended yoga studio in my town! The other reason was that my boyfriend and I were looking for something to do together.  With the start up of school, our time together has been shortened. We wanted to something together, and I really wanted it to be in line with a healthy lifestyle. So cheap ticket movie night was kind of out of the question.

Yoga isn't exactly a social exercise. Yes you are in a studio filled with people, but as my boyfriend pointed out you are so focused on your own centre and breathing that you really don't care what other people are doing - and you know that they don't care about what you're doing (which is great. my balance certainly needs work...I like having him there, because if I know I'm going to fall I just need to lean a little bit to the left and crash into him).

There are a number of ways to experience and practice yoga. Here is what I do and my suggestions:

1. If you are new to yoga, like I am, do your research. I won't get into it here, but there are actually different types of yoga - each one slightly different from the other. The yoga that you are probably familiar with is called "hatha" with is a general, basic and gentle yoga. Vinyasa is another "general" type of yoga. It is a bit more vigorous, and focuses on connecting movement with breath. This is the type of yoga that I take - and it certainly helps me break a sweat!  This is a great website that explains the various styles, and which one would work for you. 

2. Sign up for a class. While your gym may offer a weekly class, I have heard that this isn't the best way to experience yoga (I have never gone to a yoga class at a gym, so this is just what I have heard - you however may be perfectly satisfied with your gym's class). From what I gather, the classes seem a bit rushed and the area in which you practice isn't conducive to meditation and creating a sense of calm (think of the bright lights, some classrooms have all glass walls so you are on display, and they may not be very sound proof. I don't think I would be able to meditate with the possibility of music pumping through the walls or even worse, the sound of grunting men lifting weights).  Instead, look for a class or studio that is dedicated purely to yoga. While our class isn't held in a "yoga studio", our instructor makes it peaceful and welcoming.  She lights candles, sets up a scented diffuser, and has a music stream that works perfectly with the class.

3. I can't stress how imperative it is to go to a yoga class first before you start practicing at home. I have signed up for a 10 week yoga class. It is $140, and each class is 80 minutes. It is money well spent - however, I can't afford to (both $ and time wise) to sign up for another class which is why I also practice at home.  Yoga is just like any other activity. You don't have to go gangbusters on it, but you will certainly notice it's benefits if you practice regularly.  I am incredibly impressed by those who can put on some music and just "flow". There is no way in hells bells that I could do this. At least not yet. So I rely on videos to help guide me. The problem was that I started getting pretty frustrated with the little amount that YouTube offered. First off, they were mostly poor quality, and secondly, they weren't much longer than 10 minutes. I did some research, and came across this website: My Yoga Online.  I will do a review on this later on - but it is a paid service ($9.95/mnth or $89.95 for year), that offers lots of videos on yoga, Pilate's and dance. What I love most is that they offer not just yoga videos, but videos of actually classes. They are all great quality, and are varying in lengths. Some are quick 12 minute exercises, while others area  full 75 minute class. I don't usually sign up for internet things but I got a coupon that gave me 2 months for $16 - so I thought it would be worth a try.

What to wear:

As much as you may like to, and trust me, I like to - you don't have to outfit yourself head to toe in lululemon. I personally prefer to wear pants and a tank while practicing (I find pants gives me a better grip when I have to place my hands on my legs).  You can wear pretty much whatever, so long as you are comfortable in it, and you can do flexible poses in it. My boyfriend wears shorts and a t-shirt. I do love lululemon for their quality of clothing, so I have no problems plunking down the cash - but it is not necessary. The only thing I can say is please respect those who are behind you. If you are wearing low rise crops, or too short shorts - you may be giving the guy behind you quite the eyeful as you downward dog.

For yoga, you will need a good mat. When I asked my instructor, she said that you wanted one that wasn't too thick for stability purposes (so not a Pilate's mat), and you want one that isn't shiny. If you have a shiny mat you will know what I mean - ut apprently if you tend to sweat like I do, those shiny mats may become quite the hazard and cause you to easily slip. Again, lululemon sells a good quality one called "The Mat", however, it is $70. I picked mine up for $20 at a local discount department store (Winners, if you are Canadian). Perhaps in the future, if I find I am really committed to the yoga scene, I will purchase the lululemon Mat - or go even more extreme and get the Manduka $90 Mat (which boasts a lifetime warranty along with that hefty price tag!).

Blocks and straps are usually provided by your yoga instructor and help assist in several movements if you are less then flexible. I use these a lot.

Most of all, yoga isn't just for the body but it helps with your overall well-being. It brings me back to centre, reminds me to focus and be calm, and generally makes me really happy and giddy!  I can go into a yoga class exhausted and cranky from a day of work (I have a "no work or school talk" rule with my bf on the car ride there because I just don't want to hear yah..just a tad cranky), and I leave feeling just purely happy. Maybe a bit loopy I shouldn't be driving's wonderful.

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