BUYER BE­WARE: BE­GIN­NING YOGA

Pasatiempo - - JENNIFER GOES - Jen­nifer Levin

Santa Feans love yoga. If you live here, chances are you’ve been told to try it — as a fit­ness reg­i­men, as a spir­i­tual prac­tice, or as a way to heal from in­jury, chronic pain, or psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma. It’s not ter­ri­ble ad­vice, but for peo­ple with se­ri­ous phys­i­cal or emo­tional is­sues, find­ing the right class is cru­cial. It’s easy to in­jure your­self in yoga, es­pe­cially if you have struc­tural prob­lems, and yoga prac­tice is also known to trig­ger deep emo­tional re­sponses that can be very scary. There is no doubt that many peo­ple have used yoga to take charge of and re­gain their health, but if the per­son in need of heal­ing winds up bolt­ing out of their first class in tears, or with in­creased pain, the rec­om­men­da­tion isn’t very use­ful.

I went in search of a yoga class ap­pro­pri­ate for those who func­tion be­low the bar of what would be con­sid­ered av­er­age health. Any kind of high-im­pact, rig­or­ous ex­er­cise I try tends to re­sult in in­jury, but my at-home rou­tine was get­ting stale, and I wanted to find new ways of mov­ing my body. I called around to a few stu­dios for rec­om­men­da­tions. The con­sen­sus was to look for “restora­tive” yoga classes, which are de­signed to open the body up to heal­ing. I con­vinced a friend with very lit­tle ex­po­sure to yoga to come with me. Nei­ther of us had ever taken a for­mal class in a stu­dio. Let’s go ahead and re­fer to our first restora­tive yoga class, at a pop­u­lar lo­cal spot, as a false start. It was def­i­nitely not a class for be­gin­ners. The poses were held for long pe­ri­ods of time, in si­lence, with no ad­vice from the teacher about what to do if we were un­able to re­main in po­si­tion. My back is­sues flared up some­thing wicked, and my friend suf­fered a se­vere flash­back to child­hood abuse. We left not know­ing if yoga was ac­tu­ally go­ing to be pos­si­ble for us, but the next day, de­spite feel­ing wrung out, we de­cided to try again.

Our next stop was Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Yoga Cen­ter, the city’s only non­profit yoga stu­dio. It op­er­ates on a pol­icy of mak­ing yoga a vi­able op­tion for as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble, and in­struc­tors tend to teach to the low­est abil­ity in the class. Be­fore we set foot on the premises I had a de­tailed con­ver­sa­tion with Anjali Paige, the stu­dio’s as­sis­tant di­rec­tor, about what I was re­ally look­ing for. Af­ter lis­ten­ing pa­tiently to my story about our first class, she of­fered to lead me and my friend in a pri­vate ses­sion. I had not known peo­ple did pri­vate yoga, but it turns out this is prob­a­bly the best way to ease into a prac­tice if the idea of a group class is daunt­ing or you are not sure what your body can han­dle.

Paige did yin yoga with us, a style that em­pha­sizes poses that stretch the body’s con­nec­tive tis­sues to cre­ate re­lease. Though the poses were sim­i­lar to some of what we’d learned in the restora­tive class, we didn’t hold them as long, and Paige did plenty of talk­ing so that we would stay con­nected to the present mo­ment. She of­fered nu­mer­ous sug­ges­tions for mod­i­fi­ca­tion, which al­lowed me to ad­just when I felt pain or dis­com­fort. She also did a guided med­i­ta­tion in which we con­sid­ered the mind as a clear blue sky, with thoughts drift­ing past like clouds. “You are not the body,” she said. “You are not the breath.” I felt thor­oughly stretched by the end, calm, just a per­son ly­ing on a mat.

The next day, how­ever, my friend was in cri­sis-level panic. She was so un­used to the feel­ing of re­lax­ation that it ter­ri­fied her. I found this so alarm­ing that I called So­lace Cri­sis Treat­ment Cen­ter (1-800-7217273, 505-988-1951) to find out if there is such a thing as yoga specif­i­cally for post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der. I was re­ferred to Melissa Spamer, a li­censed coun­selor who has been teach­ing yoga for 20 years and has a pri­vate prac­tice work­ing with body-cen­tered ap­proaches to psy­chother­apy, most of­ten with peo­ple who have been sex­u­ally abused or as­saulted.

“A lot of yoga teach­ers don’t have the ap­pro­pri­ate skills to man­age what shows up in classes, es­pe­cially in terms of trauma or emo­tional re­lease. They don’t have the skill set to sup­port stu­dents in feel­ing safe,” she said. “The way that stu­dios are struc­tured now, there are all lev­els and any­one can come in at any time. You don’t know your stu­dents very well, and you don’t have a health history on them.” She said some clin­i­cal re­search is now be­ing done about how yoga af­fects the ner­vous sys­tem and the brain, which she con­sid­ers very ex­cit­ing. “Learn­ing to breathe more ef­fec­tively and en­cour­ag­ing that re­lax­ation re­sponse is one of the most help­ful things for re­set­ting your body. If peo­ple have acute trauma, we hold poses for just 30 sec­onds or a minute, so you’re just slowly wad­ing into this ca­pac­ity in­stead of div­ing.”

Spamer had plenty of ad­vice about how to find the type of yoga and a class that is right for you. Be­gin­ners should not ex­pect to drop in on a class full of ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple and be able to keep up. It’s best to find an in­tro­duc­tory class se­ries so that you can learn the ba­sics of how to align your body, get com­fort­able with a teacher who is con­sis­tent over a set num­ber of ses­sions, and find out how your body re­acts to yoga. As yoga’s pop­u­lar­ity has in­creased over the last 20 years, the names of styles, as they are taught in the United States, have less and less to do with tra­di­tional def­i­ni­tions, which means a restora­tive class at one stu­dio could be very dif­fer­ent from one at another stu­dio. It’s best to care­fully read the bi­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion about teach­ers avail­able on stu­dio web­sites. Look for peo­ple who men­tion us­ing an in­te­gra­tive ap­proach, stay­ing in tune with the needs of the body through ver­bal in­struc­tion, and any ref­er­ence they might make to hav­ing gone on their own heal­ing jour­neys. Hatha-style yoga tends to be some­what gen­tle or at least easy to grasp and fol­low, be­cause the poses are held in­di­vid­u­ally, un­like vinyasa yoga, which con­nects the poses into a flow that can be very stren­u­ous. Be wary of “hot” yoga, es­pe­cially vinyasa done in rooms heated to one hun­dred de­grees or more. “I’ve seen plenty of symp­to­mol­ogy come out of prac­tic­ing hot yoga, like get­ting eczema, acne, or mi­graines,” Spamer said. “You’re warm­ing the mus­cles up in a su­per­fi­cial way so that peo­ple can go deeper than they or­di­nar­ily would. Vinyasa is very fast, and do­ing that in a hot room is where you’re most prone to in­jury.”

As for me, I’ve found my class: yin and deep re­lease at Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Yoga Cen­ter (826 Camino de Monte Rey, 505-820-9363). I even in­vested in a new yoga mat. Now I just have to pre­vent my­self from be­com­ing one of those peo­ple who tells ev­ery­one how they sim­ply must try yoga, or try it again.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.