Confessions of a Beginner Yogi

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_DSC6861As I lay on the cold hard floor, I can feel my heart pounding rapidly as if it could burst out of me at any second. I close my eyes, and I try to recover my breath. My hands burn from the scratchy rug, and my legs are placed close together in a corpse-like pose. Finally, a yoga position I can execute perfectly.

My roommate and I peer through the store window. There are more people here than I thought there would be at 8:30 on a Sunday Morning. The entire Lululemon store is packed with people sporting stylish yoga attire, complete with vibrantly-colored mats.

We quickly shuffle through the crowd and look for an open spot. All of the good spaces are taken, leaving a measly opening in the way back of the room. We look around trying to find the mats provided by Lululemon, but like the spots in the room, all of them are taken. We share a look that says, “I think we should have gotten here sooner.”

The gentle sounds of tribal drums and the instructor’s soothing voice blend nicely with the rays of the sun that pierce through the store windows, creating a calm atmosphere. We lift our hands upwards and slowly bend over into the pose called downward dog, stretching the muscles in our backs and calves.

From a physical standpoint, there are many advantages of practicing yoga. Marquette alumna Jaime Wooten, the owner of Fitness Advantage Trainer and a yoga instructor at Marquette, said body awareness and improving posture are key components of yoga that are beneficial to the body.

“As we age, we start to lean forward and even in our digital age we are all hunched over keyboards or texting,” Wooten said. “So what happens is the muscles in our back lengthen and the muscles in the front of our bodies shorten. In yoga we’re working on opening up the chest, the shoulders and drawing that core in so we’re walking around healthy.”

From downward dog, the instructor pushes herself into a plank position, and the rest of the class and I follow her example. While mid-plank, I can feel the tension in my shoulders and core. We bring the left knee up to our chests and then twist into a pretzel like position.

I sneakily glance at the other yoga participants around the room to check if my posture matches theirs. However, instead of noticing their technique, I notice the vast diversity in the room. To my left is a group of older women, in front of me is a middle-aged man and to the right of me is a clump of men and women who are roughly the same age as I am.

This variation is what Wooten finds to be special about yoga and what sets it apart from other athletic activities.

 “One of the neat parts of yoga is that I work with children and babies, all the way up to seniors,” Wooten said. “Whether you’re injured or whether you’re sick or whatever age you’re at, there is a place for yoga in your life.”

At this point, I tune out the noise around me. The music and the instructor’s voice become muted by the sound of my voice inside my head. As I untangle my body, I find that I am no longer gazing around the room, but focusing on myself.

Yoga is not just a physically demanding activity, but also stretches the mind. The concept of deep concentration and speaking to yourself in a kind internal voice is another aspect Wooten said she loves about yoga. Practicing and mastering this craft can help you in and outside a yoga environment.

“The whole idea of being mindful and being fully present is a transferable skill in the world,” Wooten said. “If you’re a student taking a test, instead of having all this anxiety and freaking out, come back to that breath and make some thought patterns.”

I like to think of myself as a fairly athletic person, even if it has been a couple years since my high school glory days as a cross-country runner. But the amount of pain and stiffness I awoke to Sunday morning was unbelievable. I did not think an hour of yoga would make just about every muscle in my body ache.

“I think it’s a fallacy that you can’t get a nice long lean length with your body doing yoga,” said Wooten. “Yoga can be most challenging when you take it to the advanced levels.”

Yoga opportunities, both free and paid classes, are not limited to Lululemon. Marquette University Medical Clinic offers free yoga sessions Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays as part of their 2014 fall semester free wellness classes. Wooten’s class costs $50 for 10 weeks or $75 for 15 weeks session. Classes range from beginners to advanced styles.

Wooten advises beginner yogis to first attend a yoga class to understand the basics and proper form for positions before embarking on a solo yoga journey. According to Wooten, buying a yoga DVD and practicing alone in front of the TV is the worst thing a beginner can do.

“People think yoga is gentle, but you can get hurt doing yoga,” she said. “You have to be very careful to engage that core, protect your lower back and so many different cues you may not get in a home setting.”

Don’t I know it.

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