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Wednesday, August 6,2014

Home stretch

by Belinda Thurston

You donīt need to bend over backward to find yoga in Lansing — it seems to be everywhere you turn. Look in the community centers, gyms, workplace offices and outside in the parks. And yoga studios have flourished over the last 10 years, offering traditional forms and specialized classes, such as prenatal yoga and yoga for bigger bodies.

Across Lansing you can see people with their yoga mats tucked under their arm, Lululemon pants on and water bottle in hand rushing to get their yoga fix after work.

Yoga is an ancient system from India that involves physical exercises and other practices like breath and meditation. It has grown into a $27 billion industry with nearly 30,000 studios across the country. With so many styles it can be confusing to the newbie. Yoga can seem like a version of Cirque du Soleil, with pretzel-like poses and gravity-defying arm balances.

As the owner of Just B Yoga, Lansing’s only donation-based yoga studio, it’s been exciting to watch our yoga landscape grow. But I’ve also heard lots of questions about what kinds of yoga exist around town and how students should choose.

“Real yoga makes your heart sing,” said Patty Sutherland, owner of East Lansing Hot Yoga on Trowbridge Road. “All yoga has a basic foundation in common, but the pace of the class, philosophy behind them and range of types of poses can vary greatly.”

Ruth Fisk is the owner of Center for Yoga, Movement and Massage in East Lansing, which became the area’s first yoga studio in 1997.

“Yoga is about internal awareness, not exercise of the body,” Fisk said. “(You should ask yourself) what are you doing it for?”

Fiskīs studio offers Iyengar, Viniyoga and Hatha yogas, which are slow forms that involve more time in poses. They focus on alignment and breath.

“Our demographic encompasses people who feel that most yoga is beyond their reach, and we start where they are,” Fisk said. “We offer classes that bring people into themselves in a way that it begins at their level of health, physical ability.”

Ashtanga and Bikram yogas are forms that are set sequences, meaning the same poses are done in the same order in every class. Ashtanga can be demanding for upper body and abdominals; Bikram is done in a room heated to 105 degrees in front of a mirror.

Vinyasa classes are flowing, fluidly linking postures into a sequence that can vary in pace and selection of pose from class to class and teacher to teacher. These classes can get the heart pumping as the practitioner moves from seated to standing poses in a smooth manner. These classes can sometimes include music or be hot.

Hilaire Lockwood is owner of Hilltop Yoga, which has two studios in Lansing and East Lansing. She said there are there are no prerequisites to get on a yoga mat.

“We encounter so many people (who) are scared and nervous to try yoga because of it being perceived as only a modality for those who are strong and flexible,” she said. “(It’s) all relative.”

Ellen Larson, owner of Ardha Moon Yoga & Massage, one of the newest yoga studios in Lansing, recommends students “follow their guts” when choosing what type of yoga is right for them.

“It’s important to feel a connection and to feel safe,” she said. “Find a place you are able to be you.”

Yoga at fitness clubs or community centers could open the gateway for someone to explore other types of yoga or even the spiritual side of yoga. Often in those settings there is little yoga philosophy introduced; Sanskrit terms might be minimal and there may not be the chanting of Om at the end of class. Those traditional elements could be intimidating and foreign for newcomers, so sometimes fitness settings are easy entry points.

“Although yoga is amazing for the body, it isn’t meant to be exercise,” Lockwood said. “Through quieting the mind, real yoga should offer stress relief, emotional healing, self-acceptance and empowerment. Physical well being is a by product of having addressed all of those deeper pieces.”

Still, she said if you only have access or opportunity to practice in a gym setting.

“Any exposure to yoga is a start,” she said.

Plenty has been written about the health benefits of yoga, ranging from arthritis to spinal health and knee issues. But too much of even yoga could be a bad thing.

“Most injuries come from diving into your practice too quickly or simply not listening to your body,” Larson said. “The beauty of yoga is finding your practice today, to not have any expectations of what makes a posture perfect.”

Yoga has catapulted into mainstream life in popularity. You can dip your toe into it or dive into the deep end of the pool. But there is no wrong way. The way that is comfortable is the way that’s right for you.

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