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Stretch yourself: Yoga comes in many forms these days

Yoga is an ancient discipline, but that doesn't mean it never changes.

Every teacher tries to bring something new to his or her students — and every student to his or her own practice.

For some, it's a spiritual, mental and physical experience based in traditions they deeply respect. For others, it's a good excuse to buy a cute pair of yoga pants.

Whatever gets you in the studio door. Pants, chants or any one of the myriad types of yoga you can sample these days — everything from hot yoga to power yoga to chair yoga to aerial yoga to "Mommy and Me."

Yoga is a very broad term, says Mark Drost, co-founder of Evolation Yoga, which offers teacher training worldwide, including in Tampa, where his company used to be based.

There can be some abuse of that broadness, and having all those "brands" out there can get confusing, Drost says. But it all boils down to intentions.

"If it gets you to go deeper, then good," he says. "If not, it's just a fad, and it will disappear.

"It isn't about pitching a particular system, or focusing just on the poses," Drost says. "As teachers, we meet people where they are, with what they have. We take them and help them grow."

More than 36 million Americans practice yoga, according to the 2016 Yoga in America survey. And that number is growing. The people who show up for trendy classes like Goat Yoga, the newest offering from Namaste Yoga Studio in Lutz, are mostly newcomers, says owner Adrienne Reed. Gimmicky classes are fun and low pressure, and they often serve as stepping stones for those who might be on the fence about trying yoga.

Because, let's face it, the whole thing can be pretty daunting. Take, for example:

The vocabulary and symbols: Try Googling just one yoga term. Prana. It's a rabbit hole. Likewise chi, om and namaste (all Sanskrit words the average Joe likely throws around with absolutely no idea what they mean).

The poses: Downward dog? Doable. Dragonfly? Not so much.

The bodies: Um, yeah. Anybody can do yoga, and you'll see all shapes and sizes in the studio. But the die-hards are hard-bodied, lean and tight.

The discipline: It can take hours to perfect a posture, and people who love it work at it. According to the Yoga in America survey, 59 percent of those who do yoga (whatever type) practice at least once a week.

Because of the intimidation factor, getting people interested with an intriguing format is just good outreach, Reed says. (Next up for her studio — a bit more kitsch: Beer Yoga, which blends your favorite beverage with a move toward mindfulness, starts Aug. 18.)

A venue change also works.

Walking into a studio, where all the regulars know what they're doing and you don't, can be challenging, says Rissa Wray, owner of Moving Meditations in St. Petersburg. "It's hard to step into someone else's community."

Off-site, by-donation classes, including those held every Thursday at the Gallery in downtown St. Petersburg, offer convenience, a strong teacher and a great aesthetic, Wray says. "You get the yoga experience without the barriers."

And you still get the mental and physical benefits: better breathing, flexibility, overall fitness and stress reduction — just to name a few. You don't have to go very deep into the postures to do that, Drost says. "Any class, any focus can help reduce stress and improve awareness of the body."

That's the backbone of yoga, says Erin Wheeler of Lucky Cat Yoga in Tampa. Wheeler and her husband, Eric, teach at different studios and venues around Tampa Bay, including the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg.

Though they hope to open their own brick and mortar studio in September, the couple have enjoyed the geographic and demographic diversity they've encountered as "nomads." They've introduced students to Dark Wave Yoga through funky themed events with moves and music inspired by pop culture (the TV show Stranger Things, for example, and the movies of Wes Anderson). And they've taught Mommy and Me classes at local libraries.

It's all out there, Erin Wheeler says. "You just have to find the teacher and class you connect with."

Then take advantage of the abundance to try new things … and old.

Contact Kim Franke-Folstad at kffolstad@gmail.com.

Yoga, from A to Y

Although most yoga systems are based on the same physical postures, each has a different emphasis. Here are a few of the most popular types, from Anusara to Yin:

Anusara: A modified version of Hatha yoga, Anusara focuses on mental wellness, physical strength and improved breathing. It's known as a welcoming environment for beginners.

Ashtanga: This intense flowing style of yoga uses a set series of poses, always in the same order. It can be physically demanding, and there is an emphasis on daily practice that athletic practitioners appreciate.

Bikram/Hot: Yoga is performed in a heated room to loosen tight muscles and encourage a cleansing sweat. Practitioners like the physical and emotional benefits, including improved blood flow, lung function and stress reduction. (But they warn it's not the best place for finding your next date.)

Hatha: Contemporary Hatha classes (often labeled beginner yoga) use basic poses with no flow in between. Hatha classes offer many of the pluses newcomers are looking for when they start yoga, including relaxation, better flexibility and improved alignment.

Power: Sometimes referred to as "gym yoga," it takes the intensity and rhythm of Ashtanga up a notch. (And sometimes the temperature, when it's combined with hot yoga.) Styles vary from class to class, but most teachers will have you lifting and holding your entire body much of the time, so it's good for strength training.

Restorative: As you might suspect from the name, this one is about healing both mind and body through simple poses and the use of bolsters, pillows and straps. The focus is on relaxing.

Vinyasa/Flow: This workout moves smoothly and fairly rapidly from pose to pose, so you should have some experience. If you like to dance, you might enjoy this class, which is often billed as a stress reliever that also improves flexibility and enhances creativity, among other benefits.

Yin/Deep Stretch: These classes target the muscle groups surrounding the hips, hamstrings and upper back. Because it moves slowly, it's a good practice for beginners, but it's also popular with those who have aching muscles or joints (from athletes to the elderly) and those seeking more flexibility.

Where to start?

Yoga classes are offered in a variety of places, from studios and gyms to Curtis Hixon Park, the beach and even a few local breweries. See the calendar on Page 11 for a listing of some classes. The internet and Facebook also are great resources.

Stretch yourself: Yoga comes in many forms these days 08/04/17 [Last modified: Saturday, August 5, 2017 1:20am]
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