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Yoga YOUR Way

Monday, November 11, 2013

Like most normal, average, everyday humans I get bored with my workouts. Especially gym workouts. Elliptical, free wights, treadmill, stationary bike, stair step machine, rinse and repeat. Over and over again. Oh, how bored I get! Can I get an Amen? Heck, I'll give myself an Amen for that.


Why do we do it? Why do we keep pushing ourselves to do something that we hate? Physical benefits, of course--lower risk of heart disease and diabetes, the all-too-impressive ability to take the stairs out of the subway, and (let's be honest) perhaps a trimmer figure. Aren't we forgetting something, though? Oh right, that gray squishy thing that lives in our heads. What was his name again? B-something. Hmm.

What's the deal? You know who sticks with things that are boring? Nobody, that's who. I don't know about you, but I need some mental stimulation up in here. Enter the Wanderlust Festival.

Wanderlust is a three-day yoga and music bonanza (yes, bonanza) that travels all over the world, and it sounded like exactly what I needed. You don't have to attend all three days. For most people, that would be way too exhausting. Now, I practice yoga regularly, but three days sounded like pure insanity to me. I bought my one-day only pass, signed up for my three allotted classes, and was off to Austin for some yoga therapy.

Ok, Yoga is so much more than the physical practice. You could spend a lifetime studying and exploring both the mental and physical elements and you would still not know everything. Unfortunately, I am only interested in the physical practice. I have a tendency to close my ears at the first mention of "heart rhythms" and go, "La, la, la, la!" I don't want to chant, I don't want to use the egg shakers, and I don't want to talk about my chakras. The fact that the people who usually talk about that kind of stuff also appear to share the same disdain for eating meat as they do for good personal hygiene doesn't help their case. Maybe I'll be more interested in the spiritual side in ten or twenty years, but for now I just want to get moving.

That being said, I slept through my first class. Sorry. I went out for girls' night and stayed out way too late. The second class, however, Kula Flow with Schuyler (pronounced "Skyler") Grant, thoroughly kicked my butt. I've never tried the Kula style before, which made it the perfect class to wake me up from my workout coma. Super powerful poses melting into deep stretches, all on the rooftop of Brazos Hall in downtown Austin. Schuyler doesn't demonstrate any of the moves, preferring to give precise instructions instead. She forces you to take responsibility for your body. The whole class I wasn't focused on anything except my body and what it was doing. If something didn't feel right, I wiggled around until it did. Making yoga work for your own body. What a concept! I left feeling like a wet noodle and vaguely dreamy. I had been so focused on what I was doing for the past ninety minutes, that I needed a minute to adjust to reality. Looking at my watch--oh, crap! I had to get to my next class.

Turns out, I shouldn't have bothered. I chose a familiar style of yoga--Vinyasa with Shiva Rea--for my last class of the day, and it was a total bust. Chanting? Egg shakers? "We're leaving our egos behind!" No. These are my yoga phobias. I stuck with it and prayed we would get to the sun salutations fairly soon. Standing at the back of a crowded, hot room being led by an instructor I couldn't see who merely barked out the names of poses was frustrating to say the least. The final straw came when she stopped the session to ask everyone to move so that her brother could place his mat at the very front because "he couldn't see." At that point, I decided to take my ego and leave.

It was with mixed feelings that I sat down with Schuyler Grant at a nearby coffee shop to talk some yoga, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that her yoga B.S. meter was almost as finely tuned as my own.

"I think 'Yoga and' anything is retarded," she said, "but don't tell anyone that."

Oops. Forget what you have seen... She's referring to the new idea of pairing yoga with unlike things: yoga and music, yoga and golf, yoga and etc. Yeah, it seems like forcing yoga to be more accessible to me. She also hates yoga competitions.

"That's not what yoga is about!"

Yoga competitions originated in India as a way of advertising so that yogis could build their practices, but it has become more of a spectacle in America. She does acknowledge that, much like the yoga competitions, Wanderlust is trying to cast a wider net. Yes, they have corporate sponsors; yes, they attract well-known yogis like Seane Corn to teach classes, but she insists the festival is more about the practice of yoga than anything else.

"Everyone should try to find that mind-body practice. Have a relationship with your breath. I don't care what you do to get there, just find that connection." She laughs and shrugs. "I guess I'm less of a purist now."

I like that idea. Any athlete will tell you how important it is to know how to breathe. I don't care if you run, lift weights, swim, do yoga, play tennis, anything. Breath is a key part of what you are doing. As a runner, my breath is a focal point of my activity, and I actually understand what she means by engaging in a "mind-body practice." There have been times right after a run that I suddenly noticed not only my breath but the inflation of my lungs. I've stood there, feeling my ribs expanding with my breath, and thought, "I'm alive."

I didn't sleep on the ride home. I watched the world go by and thought about everything Schuyler said. I felt relaxed but awake. Actually, more than awake. I felt like I had jump-started my brain, which was exactly what I had been looking for the whole time. Why not keep exploring? Strive to challenge your brain and body simultaneously every day. Do something new. If you're a runner, sign up for a yoga class. If you're a swimmer, see what it's like on dry land. If your shin splints are back, try some aerial silks. Make your workout your practice. Take responsibility for your body, and make your practice work for you.

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