Wednesday, September 16, 2009

September Puts The Spotlight On Yoga

Yoga keeps gaining in popularity and we're lucky to have many studios to choose from in the Washington area. During the month of September the emphasis is on this mind and body practice as we celebrate National Yoga Awareness Month

I have found that a good and dedicated instructor enhances the journey and one of the best is Hannah Willman. She has been teaching for 12 years in clubs and studios, but now mostly limits her instruction to private homes and businesses

Hannah's teaching style is based on the graceful alignment and strength of Anusara Yoga. She has studied first-hand with its founder, John Friend, and master teacher Amy Ippoliti. She believes that practicing hatha yoga should be absolutely delightful and empowering at the same time.

Whether you are an experienced yogi or thinking about starting your practice you'll benefit from the knowledge Hannah graciously shared with

Q: Hannah, since September is Yoga Awareness Month can you remind of us some of the reasons that yoga is so beneficial to our mind and bodies?

Hannah: The ancient practice of yoga is beneficial because of its incredible power to align the mind, body and spirit. When we come to the mat, we are invited to tune into the current of the breath, and in doing so, we step away from the chaos of the daily pattern of work-home responsibilities, and a step closer to our true nature: bliss. When we take the time to practice yoga, whether in the form of physical postures or meditation, we more fully sync the mind with the body, and that union (the very definition of the word “yoga”) results in greater peace and stability for our entire being. The practice of yoga quite simply leads to greater freedom by restoring the mind-body connection.

Q: Can you give us a brief description of some of the more popular types of yoga that are taught around the area?

Hannah: The Washington DC area offers many types of yoga. It is important for the new yogi to understand that ALL physical yoga falls under the broader term “Hatha Yoga.” All of the schools of yoga that the students reads about (Anusara, Bikram, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini, Jivamukti, etc.) are considered only one element of yoga, that of physically adjusting the body to optimally align energetic flow, via the breath. Each of those schools may have different philosophic backgrounds and founders, but they are all leading to the same goal: enhancing the mind-body connection through the physical postures of yoga.

There are many fantastic studios in this area, including Willow Street Yoga Center (Anusara), Down Dog (Bikram and Ashtanga), Tranquil Space (Various), Flow Yoga (Ashtanga), Unity Woods (Iyengar) and many more.

Q: If someone wants yoga to be part of a weight reduction and body toning regimen is there a certain type they will need to practice--are some types better than others to reach those kinds of goals?

Hannah: Yoga can be a lovely compliment to a weight reduction and body toning regimen. Depending on one’s goals, yoga could be a great start to a workout. A flowing practice, like Ashtanga, is a nice way to link the breath to the body by linking postures to warm up the body and elevate the heart rate before weight lifting. In contrast, after a 20-30 min run or session on the elliptical machine, a yoga practice focused on alignment and stability, such as Anusara, would be a nice way to return to a resting heart rate and keep the muscles open. After each, I would suggest at least five minutes to sit with the breath and send out a word of gratitude to your body and its efforts. These few quiet minutes also help to break the energy from workout mode back into either office or home mode – an important distinction!

Q: How many times a week should we practice yoga to get the maximum benefits?

Hannah: There are many opinions on this, and there really isn’t a right answer. The truth is, only the physical practice of yoga is limited to the mat. If you have a vigorous Hatha Yoga practice, like Bikram (“Hot” Yoga), it is important to allow the body to rest and restore between sessions, so definitely not every day. Like running, biking or swimming, our muscle fibers are broken down when we practice yoga, so the body needs time to heal. Adequate rest periods between yoga practices will add to greater strength and endurance in the long run. A more gentle form of yoga, or even a short morning session of sun salutations could absolutely be part of a daily regimen.

That said, the meditative part of yoga certainly can and should be practiced each day, even if it’s in the car... in traffic! Taking the time to check in with your breath and to encourage it to flow more steadily can greatly increase bodily awareness and soothe nerves.

Q: What kind of things should we look for when choosing a yoga studio or instructor?

Hannah: The most important element when choosing a yoga school, studio and instructor is that the student feels affirmed when they practice. The study of yoga should remind the student of their own worth, whether that comes from feeling strong in a pose, being challenged by breathing routine or finding oneself more focused through quiet meditation. The yoga teacher is there to help reveal one’s highest self, but that really shouldn’t be in the form of yelling or pushing into positions. (Assists are a good thing, even when strong, but the teacher should also always be listening – voice your feelings about an assist if you are uncomfortable!) Overall, the heart should warm and anxieties begin to subside when one walks into the yoga studio, even if that’s in your own living room!

Q: Can you recommend any books or tapes about yoga for those that want to learn more?

Hannah: I suggest that anyone looking for an introduction to yoga, or hoping to advance a specific aspect of their practice – like arm balances, breathing techniques or meditation – check out local workshops at Willow Street Yoga, Flow Yoga or Spiral Flight. They all have great options. Also, a wonderful way to delve deeper into practice is through a yoga retreat. The Kripalu Yoga Center (Berkshires, Massachusetts) and the Omega Institute (Rhinebeck, New York) offer a HUGE variety of yoga retreats throughout the year, geared for everything from yoga for runners to meditative gardening!)

Find more information about Hannah through her website or contact her at your local resource for specials on beauty services as well as the latest information on beauty, health and fitness with a local twist.

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