Yoga is undoubtedly gaining many fans these past years as a form of exercise and relaxation. Yet, while I see many eager individuals in the morning walking with their yoga mats, I have also met a handful of people who are reluctant to try yoga because they feel “inflexible.”
Stacey Shipman is a certified yoga instructor, author of Experience Less Stress, More Success: Networking for Business and founder of health magazine Healthy South Shore. Reasons To Be Beautiful was lucky enough to grab an interview with her during her busy schedule.
RTBB: How does yoga combine physical and mental disciplines in order to achieve a wellness of being?
Stacey Shipman: Yoga, by definition, means union. It is the union of mind and body through the breath. Using the breath as a point of focus, you can detach from your thoughts and tune in to your physical self (how do I feel? Am I really tired or is it my mind telling me I’m tired). You learn to regain control over your thoughts, so your actions follow rather than letting your thoughts control you. I quickly realized I could transfer this practice to my day-to-day life.
For example, Warrior II is a strength building pose. After a period of time you may feel your quadriceps burn. You mind may think “I’m done. I can’t take anymore”. By taking a moment to focus on your breath instead of your thoughts you tune in to the sensation in your legs. You realize with regular practice that burn is necessary to grow and build strength. If you give up so quickly, you never move forward. Much is true in real life. When I’m faced with an uncomfortable decision my tendency is to give up. Yoga helps me pause and check in. I allow my thoughts to settle so I can determine an appropriate next step. If I run from the discomfort I never learn and I never grow.
This doesn’t happen after one class, it is a lifelong practice and process.
RTBB: How does meditation come into play in yoga? Is there a difference between the two?
SS: Yoga, as a philosophy has “8 limbs”. The 3rd limb is “asana” or the physical postures that most are familiar with. Meditation, is actually the 7th limb, after breath control, concentration and withdrawal from the external world to focus within. Most people in modern society skip the first two limbs, which are perhaps the most important.
For a practical guide to this visit Yoga Journal: http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/158
RTBB: I’m a college student myself and I have noticed that there are a growing number of people who take on yoga as a form of stress-relief. What is it exactly about yoga that draws so much people to it?
SS: Originally, the marketing is probably what draws people in. Yoga is trendy right now.
The key, I think is what keeps people coming back. A combination of solid instruction mixed with how people feel when they leave. You stretch tight muscles, settle a busy mind, and build strength. You feel things in yoga that you don’t experience in other activities. You build strength, confidence and feel more relaxed. There is a Chinese proverb I love:
Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.
Yoga helps you find out who you are.
Yoga plain and simple feels good.
RTBB: When and why did you start doing yoga?
SS: I started about 7 years ago at my local gym. I started because my husband wanted to. I saw it as another physical activity. At the time I ran and lifted weights a lot. I used to leave for savasana (the final relaxation). The more I went to class, the more I learned about the practice, the more I wanted. I felt so good after class, relaxed, and “in control”. Yoga helped me overcome fear and self-doubt I experienced when I became self-employed and build my confidence. It truly is an amazing tool and one that I feel lucky to have in my back pocket. I feel empowered because I know this practice and can use it in my day-to-day life (without every striking a pose).
RTBB: Do you have a favorite yoga pose? From your experience, what are some of the most popular poses in yoga? What are the ones that really de-stresses people?
SS: My favorites.
Downward dog – because it stretches so much – shoulders, chest, legs, back. And strengthens – arms, legs, stomach, mind.
Child’s pose -restful, nice stretch, perfect at the end of the day
Reclined spinal twist. I sit a lot during the day, spinal twist is great for stretching and relieving back tension. I also love it first thing in the morning when I get out of bed to wake up my spine/body.
For de-stressing I recommend:
Seated forward bend
Legs up the wall pose
Easy sitting pose focusing on your breath.
I’ll also add, that while yoga is often considered a de-stressing activity, it’s also an energizing activity. Sun salutations and gentle back bends are energizing (great for morning!)
RTBB: What if someone is not very athletic or flexible, can they still experience the same fulfillment that others feel while doing yoga? Would they feel some discomfort or distraction if they were not able to do the moves as smoothly as others?
SS: First of all, yoga is about leaving your ego at the door. We’re all built differently and therefore our poses will (and should!) look different. I know people who can touch their toes with ease, yet can’t do a headstand. And vice versa.
It’s about allowing yourself to be where you are today (Some days I can touch my toes, other days I can’t. The stress of my life will affect my practice because mind and body are related).
That said, yes, of course even less flexible people will benefit! Of course. Remember, it’s a mind/body practice. So it’s not just the physical aspects. Yoga is about compassion, non-violence, kindness, quiet, strength.
New practitioners may feel discomfort and distracted – that is part of the process. Heck, I’ve been practicing for 7 years and I still feel discomfort and distracted. That is exactly what the practice is about – can you be with that discomfort and find some ease.
I know the news has shed a dark light on the practice lately. You do not need to flip yourself upside down, touch your toes, or get your foot behind your head to practice or be considered a “yogi”. You do not need to study with a “guru” to be a yogi. You do need a willingness to come to your mat regularly, if even for a few minutes, to breathe, stretch and settle yourself. You need a commit to the practice if you want to experience the benefits.
As Stacey Shipman says, yoga is about freeing yourself from the stress of the work-a-day world. So don’t assume that yoga is all about complicated twist and turns or turning yourself into a human pretzel. Just try it and enjoy!