If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say, “Oh, I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible enough,” I’d have a lot of nickels. Many of us are curious about yoga but intimidated by it. We assume it’s only for the super-flexible and impossibly strong. The truth is, no one comes to yoga flexible or doing acrobatic headstands. We all start out as beginners.
Yoga is not about contorting yourself into unthinkable poses. Yoga is about being focused, exploring your personal limits and trusting yourself – it’s about being harmonious and present. In the process of the exploration, you become stronger, increasingly peaceful and better prepared for your life. Being present is the opposite of multi-tasking – it means being focused on what you’re doing in the moment, without distraction. When we’re present, our bodies do whatever we ask of them.
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I recently tried a few alternative styles of yoga that did away with all my preconceived notions about yoga. While my classes were offered by studios in New York, check with your local yoga studio to see whether it offers a creative spin on yoga.
(Om Factory, New York City) This class incorporates orange silks that hang from the ceiling and stretch to about 9 feet in width. We wrapped the fabric around our wrists and legs to lift ourselves into traditional Vinyasa poses. While a certain amount of upper body strength is required, I was able to get into most of the elevated poses and leverage the silk to deepen floor postures like Downward Dog, Standing Split and Pigeon. Throughout the class, the instructor offered modifications for every level, so no one felt left out. Some moves I could do, and some I just couldn’t; my inner Cirque du Soleil performer hasn’t yet been cultivated. But I did find myself sweating and breathing hard! Plus, flying is fun! Om Factory also offers an intense hybrid of Vinyasa, boot camp drills and kickboxing techniques called Yoga Fight Club.
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(Shen Tao Studio, New York City) Remember how much fun it was to jump on a trampoline as a kid? Bill Hedberg, founder of Shen Tao Studio, developed this yoga practice using the rebound quality of the trampoline and breathing principles of Kundalini Yoga. The class focused on deep stretching using the trampoline for support. We progressed from sitting to kneeling to standing on the trampoline, where we kept our legs and core tight to bounce our way to the final stretching series, in which we used Shen Tao ladders to do upright and inverted stretches, lengthening our backs, sides and abs. It felt amazing. Physically, I felt looser and more limber, and mentally, I was able to trust that the trampoline would support my body and that my body would support me.
Lotus Flow (Laughing Lotus Yoga, New York City and San Francisco) Grounded in the Vinyasa style, Lotus Flow offers a unique approach to power flow yoga. Influenced by the vibrant colors of India, the studio is painted in Crayola hues, with a huge mural of Ganesh (the Hindu god that removes obstacles from your path) adorning one wall. Ornate decor hangs from the ceiling, and you can visit the glitter bar to sprinkle yourself with glitter before class. This sets the tone for playful yoga, full of levity and dance-like movements. Several poses were new to me, like the Rainbow Warrior, which flowed from Peaceful Warrior into a low squat reminiscent of the fluid movements in the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Prince’s Purple Rain was even incorporated into the session. I’d give Lotus Flow two thumbs up for being a challenge and a “raise the roof” for being fun.
LaughterYoga (YogaLaff, New York City) At YogaLaff in NYC, Vishwa Prakana is among a handful of certified master trainers of laughter yoga and has created a welcoming environment where students are guided through a series of yoga poses designed to induce laughter, which exercises the facial muscles, diaphragm and intercostals muscles. Research shows that a good giggle fit reduces cortisol (the body’s stress hormone), lowers blood pressure and increases blood flow. Laughter yoga exists all over the world; there are over 5,000 laughter clubs internationally and approximately 400 in the U.S. Visit LaughterYoga.org to find one near you, then grab your friends for an unforgettable yoga session.
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