Open Your Mind, Your Heart, and Your Hips
By Melissa McGibbon
30 years ago, when the first issue of Outdoor Sports Guide was running through the printing press, my mom, along with every other aerobicizer, was likely getting her workout on wearing trendy new leg warmers that cleverly matched her leotard and high-top kicks, bouncing around to the popular new videotape Workout: Starring Jane Fonda. A few iterations of leg warmers and many thankful innovations in sport science later, fitness fanatics are far more focused on downward-facing dogs than jumping jacks, and Ms. Fonda no longer holds the keys to the kingdom.
Yoga’s roots are steeped in an ancient Hindu ascetic discipline—even more ancient than Jane Fonda. It’s a practice that involves controlled breathing and simple meditation in combination with specific body poses (called asanas) that improve your well-being. If you think yoga is for new-agey, ohming, flexitarians bending harmoniously together in synchronicity while focusing on their ujjayi breath, well, you’re not entirely wrong, but it’s also for anyone interested in better health, fitness, and relaxation.
Whenever I’m chatting with someone who doesn’t practice yoga and the subject sprouts into the conversation, the person I’m chatting with almost always proceeds to demonstrate how inflexible they are by folding over to reach for their toes. “I’m not very flexible. I can’t even touch my toes.” This both amuses and vexes me because it’s precisely the reason to do yoga. And by do, I mean practice. Much the same way that doctors don’t do medicine, they practice it; the way of the yogi involves an ever-ascending journey where perfection has no home.
Yoga is for people of all shapes, sizes, religious beliefs, and ability levels, not just for those who can achieve Eka Pada Sirsasana (legs behind head pose), and apparently it’s catching on. Fitness experts and physicians agree that yoga is one of the best things you can do to improve your overall health and quality of life. It’s been proven to reduce stress, increase energy, vitality, concentration, and metabolism, strengthen immunity, tone muscles, improve spinal flexibility, expand lung capacity, and even regulate cholesterol levels in the blood. Plus, unlike many sports, like running and mountain biking (even though yoga isn’t a “sport”) you can practice it until you die of old age without causing harmful deterioration to your body.
Common Yoga Styles
Hatha/Vinyasa Flow is the most common form of yoga and emphasizes the principles of body and mind alignment through breathing exercises paired with specific postures. Bikram Yoga technically falls under this umbrella, but is done in a room that is 113 degrees Fahrenheit with 40 percent humidity to promote blood circulation and allow for a deeper muscle stretch. Bikram consists of 26 specific poses done in sequence. Your goal during your first class is to not pass out. If you feel nauseous, it’s normal and the result of your body expelling toxins, you’ll be advised to go into child’s pose until it passes.
Alternatively, if you like the heat, but want it more freestyle, you can visit the new Salt Lake Power Yoga studio downtown, which is the only studio that offers Hot Power Vinyasa Flow classes in a similar climate to Bikram. Classrooms are heated to 95 degrees with 40–45 percent humidity or more, depending on how many people are in the class. Yoga Nidra and Restorative classes are designed for mind and body relaxation, practicing Nidra is said to have the equivalent benefit as three hours of restful sleep, while Power Flow classes are meant to be more challenging and require a high level of commitment in each pose.
Anusara is a relatively new form of yoga that pairs strict principles of alignment with a playful spirit and deeper philosophies of the practice. Iyengar Yoga promotes strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance through coordinated poses and body alignment. The pace is slower than in other styles of yoga so each position is held longer. Trying to elucidate the nuances of yoga is like trying to understand String Theory, so don’t be deterred if you can’t wrap your aura around it.
Some classes are designed specifically for climbers, cyclists, and other athletes. Yoga helps reduce the risk of injury by making the body more flexible and strengthening the support muscle groups. Prana Yoga’s Scott Moore says it’s easy for our bodies to get stuck in a rut of repetitive motion for extended periods of time and encourages people to focus on a well-rounded approach to prevent injuries and other deleterious effects of such activities, “One of my favorite poses that is beneficial to so many athletes is pigeon pose, or kapatasana. It’s designed to open some of the often tight muscles in the hips caused by running, cycling, skiing, and snowboarding, or even sitting at a desk for long periods of time. For climbers, I like the arms portion of eagle pose, or garudasana, which works miracles on the tight muscles in the upper back. I also recommend side angle pose, or parsvokonasana, which stretches the lats, a very important muscle for climbers.”
Growth of Yoga in Salt Lake City
Over the past ten years, yogis have been slowly colonizing the Salt Lake market. A decade ago, Soma was the only yoga studio downtown. In 2002, just as the nation was seeing a more popular trend in yoga, D’ana Baptiste opened Centered City Yoga in the 9th & 9th District and included certified instructor training as an option. A new legion of yogis weaved themselves into the local tapestry, introducing the practice everywhere from gyms and spas to community centers and city parks while simultaneously dispelling the many myths about yoga being too esoteric. The past few years have given rise to a sort of yoga boom with a nothing-to-sneeze-at number of new yoga studios, classes, and certified instructors to lead them. According to Yoga Journal, Salt Lake City is now one of the fastest growing and most yoga-friendly cities in America.
There are currently at least seven dedicated yoga studios within a three-mile radius of downtown that average between 50–125 students each day. Should you choose to join these bendy believers, you’ll have options galore for studios, class types, and schedules. Avenues Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Centered City Yoga, Prana Yoga, Salt Lake Power Yoga, The Shiva Centre, and Yoga Central are among the most frequented studios in the valley, but each offer something different. The atmospheres of these studios are unique and classes will vary depending on the instructor. Many of these studios offer free classes for beginners, discounted passes, or a free class on your first visit so you can explore your options before committing to a pass.
If you’re new to yoga, shop around until you find the instructor and type of practice you think is ohmazing for you. Deciding what to wear is an entirely different challenge. Wear something you can move in, but that stays in place. If you might be doing inversions (if you’re in Kim Lynn’s class it’s a certainty), wear a top that won’t slide up so you can focus on your handstands. If you’re going to a hot yoga or Bikram class, pare down to something minimal and avoid wearing cotton. Bring a mat, towel, and bottle of water to your class.
Yoga is an intensely personal practice. If you can’t do peacock, twig, or crow, no one will judge you, there’s always a modification that will help you derive the same benefit. The key is to practice it consistently, at least 2–3 times a week, but 4–5 is better. The hardest pose is always get-your-ass-to-class-asana.
Melissa McGibbon is an Associate Editor for Outdoor Sports Guide Magazine and a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. She is relentlessly optimistic, and always in pursuit of adventure, travel, or some daring combination of the two.