Sometimes when people ask me how long I’ve been doing yoga, I️ catch myself by surprise when I realize that the response is now “for about 8 years.” What started as a happy medium between dance and gymnastics after a number of collegiate dance team rejections turned into the one constant (or semi-constant) in my life.
I️ spent this weekend surrounded by some ~250 other diverse professionals. As much as I️ love networking (read: I️ don’t, it gives me all the anxiety), the highlight of the two-day-long seminar was a mindfulness and visualization session. One of the coaches in my professional development program (shameless plug for Management Leadership for Tomorrow) is a yoga instructor, and she led the session. I’ve never been more excited to have an opportunity to lay my hands, palms facing up, on my knees. To close my eyes (I️ promise I️ wasn’t asleep even though, Lord, I️ was tired). To take deep, concerted breaths. And all while surrounded by a bunch of people that look like me, that have had experiences like mine, but that have also lived completely different lives. In business casual dress at that. This probably sounds absurd to you, but it reminded me of one important truth: controlling your breath can truly control your day.
I️ know that yoga isn’t for everyone. In fact, I️ don’t think there’s anything in this world (other than the right to basic human needs, respect, and love) that’s a perfect fit for everybody. However, if you’re interested in working on mindfulness more broadly or in relaxation techniques generally, there are a few ways that you can dip your toe into the pool:
1) Deep Breathing
Start with the basics - there’s never anything wrong with that. Focusing on your breath has so many benefits, and it’s the one activity that you can truly do anywhere at any time. A simple inhale for 3 counts, hold for 3 counts, and exhale for 3 counts (repeated) can definitely do the job for those just looking for a sense of calm amidst a busy day or an act designed to allow you to set personal intentions in the morning after centering.
I️ also enjoy multi-part breathing techniques. A favorite involves breathing in and filling up the lungs first and then allowing breath to enter the belly second. That sounds complicated, but if you hold one hand over your chest and one hand over your belly, you can truly feel what it feels like to direct your breath to fill one area of the body first and then the other. It requires more focus and as a result, truly forces you to zone in on the act and benefits of breathing.
2) Yoga Flow
Yoga is a practice. As with anything else, your skills, and your understanding that poses do not equal practice gains, will develop over time. The beauty of the individual journey is that you are only comparing yourself to yourself, and only in the very moment in which you’re practicing. For that reason, I️’d recommend yoga flow type classes for beginners, as opposed to full vinyasa or intense yoga strength classes.
I’d also recommend yoga flow for advanced yogis. There are benefits to taking it slow, to giving your muscles a break, to focusing on the intention of your practice more than the outcome of physically practicing. Some days I️ feel like doing every pose I’ve ever learned in one practice and others I️ feel like doing child’s pose ten times and avoiding all full flows. Both of those days are equally amazing experiences because they serve different purposes.
Class Pass is a great resource for finding yoga classes near you, but it never hurts to ask friends and family (and Google) for Studio recommendations. Similarly, YouTube is your best friend. I’m a long-time fan of both Tara Stiles for Yoga Flow and Bryan Jones for Power Yoga as far as YouTube yogis go.
Hip-hop yoga. Sounds counterintuitive, right? Hot yoga. Sounds even more stressful now, doesn’t it? Despite the intense heat and the bass beat of the music, the session was really a nice change of pace for me. I was always adamant against trying hot yoga for personal health reasons (and actually didn’t realize that Y-7 was hot yoga until I️ got there - ha!), but I’m glad I️ took the chance in hindsight. I’ve never sweated that much during a yoga class in my life but the heat opens you up like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.
Pigeon pose is a pose that I’ve struggled to breathe into historically, and this class experience was the first time that I️ really felt my hips opening enough to allow me to sink into that specific pose. If you’re not into flowing through a Cardi B. song, then Y-7 may not be for you, but hot yoga generally speaking is worth a try.
4) Aerial Yoga
If you ever want to hear me exhibit general excitement about anything in life, ask me about aerial yoga. The unique benefits for me are the increased flow of blood to the head and the relaxation that results from sitting or lying in the hammock used in the classes. I️ get headaches pretty often during the workday and it’s helpful for me to hang my head between my legs when that happens - being suspended upside down during aerial yoga produces the same sensation.
Most of my experience with aerial yoga has been at Anya Studio in New York (by way of Class Pass), but there are now a number of studios that offer either “aerial,” “anti-gravity,” or “flying high” yoga in most major cities.
If you’ve tried a yoga class recently that you loved, share it with me! If you’re looking for specific recommendations on studios in New York or DC, ask away! At the core of yoga is mindfulness and breathing, and as I️ mentioned, both of those can turn your day around if you tap into them with or without the bending and stretching. It’s a beautiful, easily accessible thing.