This month I had the privilege to sit down over a lush brunch with a best friend and pick her brain on anything and everything yoga (OKAY, I actually just e-mailed her some questions because she lives too far away, but a girl can dream). Adelle is an incredibly talented individual currently pursuing her masters, building a business off of her art-work, and recently certified as a yoga instructor. It is safe to say she blooms in so many colorful facets of life. She is a beautiful individual, and my favorite yogi-bear. To the mat we go...
What initially attracted you to practicing yoga?
As a mental health counselor, I was constantly taking in everyone else's stress, and not coping with all the heavy emotion that puts on me. I got to a point where that just wasn't an option any more. At the beginning of my career, I did not have the healthiest coping skills: wine, binge TV, eating, sleeping—aka avoiding. I wasn't a complete disaster. I had some great habits too: running, boxing, praying, socializing, and painting. "Good" and "bad," most of these things can help people, but alone they were not providing me the release I needed. Yoga has an extremely powerful essence of emotional release about it. At it's core, it requires you to connect to the moment, to be present, to be still.
I quickly became obsessed. I'll be honest. I loved watching my body accomplish things I never thought it could. Arm balances, hand stands, splits—are you kidding me? I had to learn, I loved the challenge of it all. Without realizing it I had started to become more relaxed. More stable. More centered. More connected to God, the world around me, and myself. My mind quickly transformed itself in a way that resonated with my profession. Even the hardest, most difficult stories I heard during the day, I was able to let go on my mat—then I'd go for the other releases.
Yoga gear: essentials vs excess?
Essentials—you and a mat. But really, you can do without the mat. The mat is simply there to help you not slip and slide on hardwood, cushion your fall, and collect your sweat. As a brand new "yogi" you won't be starting with headstands, so it truly is optional at first. All you need to begin is a good teacher. There are youtube videos, apps, and TV yoga classes out there if money is an issue, or you want to test the waters before investing. Try it out at home first, then if you like it, buy a mat and find a local studio.
What are the top 3 benefits yoga has had in your life since your practice began?
I could go on about this forever. Ill try by best to not get long-winded here.
Okay. The human mind and body are connected in every way imaginable. People often think of themselves in multiples ways: your work self, your school self, your church self, your family self, your best self, your worst self. And even still, your physical body and spirit. We take on different roles in different places. We may like who we are as one self, and despise another. But they are not separate. When we don't think about ourselves as a whole, something gets neglected.
Yoga simply makes you aware of how you can connect all of these selves through integrating the way you move your body with the way you control your mind.
Three benefits from mind body integration: stress reduction, spiritual connectedness, improved mental and physical health. Plus, yoga stimulates your thyroid gland which controls your hormones. Your hormones control…everything…from weight to mood, and are the main factor in chemical stabilization. And bonus, when you're chemically stable, your body is better able to fight off disease and infection.
Compare + Contrast: studio vs. home yoga?
Yoga at home is what you make of it. Like I said earlier, there are multitudes of great yoga instructors and videos for all levels online. Plus you can do it completely on your schedule, free of charge!
The major fall back from doing yoga at home is not having someone correct you when you do something wrong. But I have to be honest—not all teachers will correct you either. At the very beginning and as you begin to advance, this is when it is most important to receive correction. There are certain poses or positions which can hurt you more than help when done incorrectly.
The other major benefits of studio classes is the community challenge. I think it is hard for most people to push themselves when they are alone…and it is always nice to have someone else notice your progress. The number one reason I hear as to why people do not attend classes (aside from finances) is their fear of looking ridiculous, and not having a clue what they are doing. To this I always tell them: go a few minutes early, tell the teacher you are new, you will be FINE! Everyone was a beginner at one point. And for the record, being the only guy is not a good excuse either.
As a Christian, what is your take on the spiritual history and background of yoga?
This question is a loaded one. People have a really hard time integrating yoga into their Christian belief system, and I get it. Yoga did originate in India and to this day plays a role in the family practices of Hindus and Buddhists alike. This started five or six hundred years before Christ mind you. As a result of mere time, there are so many facets to yoga. It even comes with it's own "do's and don'ts" on how you should treat yourself, others, and the world around you. They are called the Yamas and Niyamas.
Yes, these are based off of the spiritual guidelines of Hinduism. But they are also extremely similar to our own ten commandments. For example: Yama one (Ahimsa) or non-violence…thou shall not commit murder. Yama two (Satya) or truthfulness…thou shall not lie. Yama three (Asteya) or non-stealing…I could keep going, but you get the point.
The beginning practices of yoga really focused on meditation, prayer, and becoming one with the world. Now let's talk about what meditation is. Meditations refers to a broad variety of practices that include techniques designed to promos relaxation, build internal energy or life force, develop compassion, love, patience, generosity, and forgiveness. Ultimately, it is a way to learn to stay grounded while still engaging in all of life's activities.
I know…some people stopped reading a "life force." But your life force can just the same be your spirit being made more alive by Christ. Meditation is simply finding both physical stillness in a hectic world and mental stillness in a hectic mind. And what does the Bible have to say on that?
"Be still and know that I am God" Psalm 46:10
"The will fight for you, you need only be still" Exodus 14:14
"Be still before the Lord and wait for Him" Psalm 37:7
Now, if all this still doesn't sit well with you, and you are "nope, no ma'am-ing" me in your head, hold on. The Asanas practice (mainstream American yoga) was started much later than it's Hindu and Buddhist origins; it was actually designed to helped adolescent males connect to themselves and the spiritual world.
Sometimes I explain it to people like this: when you went to Christian camp as a teenager and participated in the ropes courses, you climbed to the top of a power line poled a jumped in order to gain a simple, concrete, and active understanding of faith. Yoga is no different.
Two jobs + pursuing your masters: where do you find the time?
Time for my own personal, daily practice? Simple answer. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I don't make the time, sometimes I choose to not make the time. But I can attest to this, my busiest semester was when I took my teacher training. I was working two twenty hour jobs, taking nine hours of class, trying to maintain a social life, and having to do ten hours of yoga a week. And yet somehow, it was the happiest most sane semester I have had to date.
What are your top 3 stress-relieving/calming poses that work for anyone at any level?
I hit briefly above on activating your thyroids, and the benefits that accompany. The best way to do this is found in any pose that tucks your chin to your chest. (i.e. seated forward fold, head to knee forward bend)
Another great calming technique is putting your head below your heart. This allows your heart to rest from pumping blood while increasing endorphins in the brain. Any pose that aligns you in this manner is great. (i.e. headstands…you can do it up against a wall, and simple, standing forward fold will have the same effect)
I also talked about feeling grounded. Well the actual technique of "grounding" is really beneficial for the body as well. The more points of contact your body has with the floor equals more grounding. Funny how that works. (i.e. child's pose)