MARQUETTE - So many aspects of fitness focus on more - running faster, lifting heavier weights, going further. Others focus on less - eating less sugar or fatty foods.
By contrast, yoga focuses on exactly what is now.
"Yoga is a way of bringing more awareness to how the body moves," said yoga instructor Kristen Erdmann, who operates Om Rama Yoga Studio out of her K.I. Sawyer home. "It connects breath, mind and body."
Kristen Erdmann, a yoga instructor who operates Om Rama Yoga Studio in K.I. Sawyer, demonstrates a basic yoga position. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
Fellow yoga instructor Lisa McKenzie, a teacher at the Marquette Yoga Center, agreed.
"A lot of people start for physical reasons, but they continue because the practice touches them at a deeper level," McKenzie said.
What most Americans view as yoga - a series of poses and postures performed on a mat - is just one of several larger groupings of yoga. Bhakti yoga focuses on love and devotion and is practiced mainly through meditation and mantras. Jnana yoga is considered the yoga of knowledge and is practiced through the reading of yogic texts and realization of the self through study.
Hatha yoga, however, is what you might be familiar with. Focused on connecting movement with breathing, Hatha yoga is a way for those who practice it to become more mindful and aware of their bodies, as well a form of meditation that helps to quiet the mind and reduce stress.
Hatha yoga can be broken down into different branches, like flow yoga, which syncronizes breathing and postures, or hot yoga, which is practiced in a heated room which helps the muscles stretch further.
Those who are new to yoga likely will want to look for a beginning yoga or gentle yoga class, which will help beginners learn the basics before moving on to more advanced practice, McKenzie said.
Having practiced yoga since the age of 17 when she started learning from a book in order to become more flexible, Erdmann said the practice has become a foundation of her lifestyle, helping her not only to cope with life's situations, but also to have an easy pregnancy and natural birth to her now-3-month-old son.
The benefits of regular yoga practice, however, are almost immeasurable," McKenzie said.
"Really, it helps with everything," she said, specificially relaxation, flexibility, strength and an awareness of your own body.
Although yoga is performed through the various postures and poses, many of which promote flexibility, one of the major benefits of the practice is learning to breathe again, Erdmann said. Learning to breathe helps release tension in the body. Connecting that breath to your movements brings awareness to the body and helps to quiet the chatter many people carry around in their heads.
"It's regaining consciousness in the body," Erdmann said. "So much of us is always up in our minds. this helps us bring us into our bodies."
Yoga can be practiced by all ages, from children to senior citizens, and can have benefits for all the age groups in between. Those who want to begin practicing will need to get a yoga mat, which provides a non-slip surface to practice on, as well as stretchy, comfortable clothing.
Other materials such as blocks or straps can assist in the practice of yoga, but aren't necessary, and may be available at the studio where you practice.
To learn the basics of yoga practice, Erdmann suggested finding a teacher, either for a private session or a larger group class. As each yoga class differs based on the teacher who is instructing, she said to try different classes and teachers to find one that is a good fit for you.
Once you find a class that fits into your schedule, try to show up a few minutes early to introduce yourself to the teacher, McKenzie said. The instructor can provide you with variations of poses if an injury prevents you from performing the full pose. McKenzie's yoga classes typically include meditation before and after the postures, which helps to bring more meaning to the practice.
Regular yoga practice can help alleviate everything from headaches to back pain, as well as helping those who practice learn to deal with stress in their lives.
"Just taking a moment to breath can help you take a situation that is frightening and realize it's not so awful. It's a learning experience," Erdmann said.
Critical to practicing yoga, however, is focusing on yourself, not on others in the class or problems that might surround you.
"Yoga has also helped me realize it's not about what everyone else is doing," Erdmann said. "Yoga is exactly what you are right now."
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.