Friday, March 26, 2010

Yoga: The Right Exercise for Me

By Elaine Fox

I knew yoga was the right exercise for me when one of my early teachers passed on this favorite yogic maxim: “Don’t just do something, sit there!”

Like any woman with normal body obsessions, I’ve done my share of exercise videos and aerobics classes; I have a closet full of free weights and stretchy elastic bands; and I’ve wasted my share of gym memberships. It wasn’t until I discovered yoga that I learned there was something out there for which I did not have to make deals with the devil in order to go. I did not have to motivate myself with the fact that I’d feel better afterward. And I didn’t have to grit my teeth to get through it.

I remember early on lying in an incredibly comfortable reclining half twist, feeling my body melt into the mat as my lower back released and my spine stretched and my brain sank into tranquility, thinking, “This is nice, but am I getting in shape?”

A few short months later I was noticing how much more comfortable my jeans were, how my arms had muscles I could actually see (though not in any gender-bending way), how much more energy I had.

I graduated from the sheer, blissed-out stages of early yoga, where I reveled in the fact that every pose was followed by a rest and every challenge was doable, to get into such things as headstands, backbends and power yoga. I have sweated so much I could feel it dripping from my earrings and landing in rainy-day patterns on my mat. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that yoga is not aerobic!

But the thing is, it doesn’t have to be. To start out, all you have to do is move. Just a little. Just in this way that feels good.

I could go on and on about all the positive changes I’ve seen in myself -- I’ve become quite the yoga zealot -- but here’s what it means for writers: It means sitting in a chair for hours at a time does not leave you doomed to pull a muscle or throw out your back when you suddenly have to do something active. It means those aching neck and shoulder muscles can be unknotted, stretched out, loosened up with just a once-a-week class. It means focus and concentration can be practiced, learned -- achieved! -- and used in your daily work.

But most of all what it means is that all those neuroses, all those head-centric, mind-wearying, running around in plot circles problems, and the is-my-career-doomed-to-failure worries can be soothed by using the body. I always knew you could use the mind to relax the body. I had no idea you could use the body to relax the mind.

What a revelation! You don’t have to think your way out of everything. You can stretch, breathe, lift, breathe, hold, breathe, and finally lie down in corpse pose (really!) and know that your only task is to stop thinking. After a while you realize that this process will bring you back to writing in shape to be more productive than you’ve ever been.

(P.S. I would like to add one last thing. Many people take one yoga class, often at a gym, and end up with a teacher who treats it like a high school football practice with the goal of making the participants suck it up and sweat, stretch beyond their means, and try things their bodies can’t do. This is not yoga. Yoga should feel good and get progressively more challenging when you decide it should. I recommend going to an actual yoga studio for classes, because the teachers there are generally more schooled in yoga philosophy, but some independent teachers are good too. Just don’t decide you hate yoga because you got an instructor who tried to kill you. :)

Be sure to visit USA Today best-selling author Elaine Fox's site here.

11 comments:

Malea on March 26, 2010 at 7:46 AM said...

Elaine, I absolutely agree! I always assumed that I would hate yoga -- I don't like working out at all (even though I do it 5 times a week), I don't like group workouts (kinda antisocial), and I don't like other folks inserting their spirituality in mine.

But I took an adaptive yoga course at the advice of my trainer to make my damaged right knee & right shoulder stronger. Wow! I loved it. Still do. It's an hour+ when my mind is so completely focused on what my body is doing that I don't think about anything else at all. Total bliss.

I was lucky to get the right teacher in that first class, though. Yoga should be a "no judgments" place for people -- it's not a contest, it's a practice!

The best thing I learned from yoga? "Lift your heart." It's the best piece of physical & mental advice I've ever gotten!

Sally Kilpatrick on March 26, 2010 at 8:42 AM said...

I couldn't agree more. I started with the yoga function on the Wii Fit, and I've already scouted out some classes to take when I can get it into my schedule. My balance and posture have improved, and I've noticed that yoga really complements my weight lifting routine. (I actually like that whole go to the gym and sweat out your frustrations thing)

I got into yoga when I read an article about Raquel Welch, looked at the picture and then said, "She's how old? I've got to look into this yoga thing."

Elaine on March 26, 2010 at 10:42 AM said...

Malea, yes! "No judgments"! That attitude so important in exercise and it's exactly what's missing in most. We judge ourselves all the time when trying to get fit, which is I'm sure why it's so hard to go back to a class that pushes you beyond your abilities. You hate that you can't Keep Going without throwing up, breaking your neck, or expelling a lung. LOL Yoga does away with that.

"It's not a contest, it's a practice!" -- PERFECT.

And it's restorative for damaged body parts! I found that out too after knee surgery a few years ago.

Elaine on March 26, 2010 at 10:46 AM said...

Sally, I've heard the Wii Fit yoga is great, though I haven't tried it yet. I like having a teacher there to notice if I'm doing something wrong -- or maybe that's just my rationalization because I know I'm terrible at doing these kinds of things at home. I need the structure of a class I've paid for! :)

And OMG, you're so right: I have seen many yoga teachers who look DECADES younger than they are. Part of it is the fabulous posture, but I also think flexibility in movement is as important (maybe more!) as strength as we get older.

Michelle Butler on March 26, 2010 at 1:54 PM said...

What a convincing argument to try yoga! Thanks, Elaine. I've attended one or two classes at my regular gym, but I still am a bit intimidated by it - and all the devotees who seem to be speaking a language I don't get. I have had more luck with body flow or pilates, but I know I really need to give yoga a real try at some point. I've heard others say that no other form of exercise made as much of a dramatic difference to their bodies as yoga did. That's how I felt about my body pump weight lifting class.

And, yes, the mind-body connection goes both ways. It took me YEARS and YEARS to get that improving my body could improve my mind - and that it was a good thing to do.

Elaine on March 26, 2010 at 4:22 PM said...

Michelle, I've done pilates too and there's no question that that's GREAT exercise. But for me yoga was pilates without the pain. LOL I only did some introductory classes, so I didn't get into the equipment (other than the balls and stretchy bands) but the rest of the moves were somewhat similar to yoga, only without the mental relaxation response built in. Also, a good yoga teacher can translate so much of what you learn in yoga to everyday life. I don't know how to describe that except to say it's not spiritual in a religious sense, but in a human sense.

BTW, if you can do pilates, there's no need for you to be intimidated by yoga! Ignore the 'asana' language -- you can learn it, or not, later -- just follow along!

Diane Gaston on March 26, 2010 at 6:09 PM said...

Hi, Elaine!
I loved yoga when I took it. It was a class given at work at the lunch hour and the only thing bad about it was I was so relaxed afterward I didn't want to go back to working!

This might sound like fuddy duddy stuff but I've found that Curves is the only exercise that I've been able to keep up with. I belong to a very nice, friendly supportive Curves so it is a pleasant experience. Plus it is about 2 minutes from my house.

Elaine on March 26, 2010 at 9:45 PM said...

Hey Diane! The great thing about Curves is they make it so easy to fit exercise into your day. It's brilliant, really. So glad you're liking it, and you look fabulous so it's obviously working. :)

Me, once I've made the effort to change clothes and get ready to sweat, I don't want it to be over too soon!

Annie on March 27, 2010 at 7:33 AM said...

Great article! Love Wii Yoga but am looking into a class this week...and it's at Curves! So some of them are offering it, so it seems a good fit for my daughter and me. Glad to hear it has a positive affect on writing. Will it finish my manuscript for me?

Elaine on March 27, 2010 at 3:32 PM said...

Oh yes, absolutely. That's the best kept secret of yoga. It writes the book for you! BWAhahahahahahaha... :)

Keri Mikulski on March 30, 2010 at 10:24 AM said...

Love yoga. :) Great post, Elaine!

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