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Yoga Offers More than Fitness

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The Buffalo News (New York)

 

Vinyasa. Baptiste. Kirtan. Iyengar. Yin.

Sauces you've never tried on your chicken wings?

Some of the top international players in the NHL?

Languages you've never heard of?

Nope. These are some of the stylings that make up the rich tapestry of yoga.

Each brings with them differences in movement, in exertion, in the temperature of the spaces where they are practiced.

"Yoga is not one thing," said Carrie Jacobson, instructor and manager at East Meets West Yoga in Buffalo and Williamsville. "It's many, many things. And each of us can come to it and find what speaks to us."

Still, she said, "yoga is so overarching. If you choose, yoga can affect everything you do in your life, every decision you make. There are things you learn from it that resonate."

Think of all the ways you can climb a mountain; the meaning and exuberance that comes from the goal - and the journey. Now imagine you can try several of those ways, metaphorically through yoga, on the same day next weekend when the fourth HEAL Bflo yoga retreat unfolds Feb. 26 at Templeton Landing on the downtown waterfront.

Five of those who will teach classes at the retreat talked about what they bring to the mat.

KIRTAN - Megan Callahan

Most of yoga that has been adopted in America is hatha-based and focuses on asanas, or yoga poses, as well as breath work and meditation. "Yoga is more than those things," said Meghan Callahan, owner of Yoga Parkside. She will kick off the retreat with Kirtan, a yoga of sound that mixes Bhakti (the yoga of love and devotion) and Japa (mantra yoga). "You use these ancient mantras that have not changed in thousands and thousands and thousands of years," she said. "They have this very potent healing inside of the sounds."

Think of the serenity you feel when you put on a favorite piece of music. Kirtan aspires to set aside barriers, open your heart and clear your mind through repetitive chanting. "When we Om at the beginning or end of a class, you have this sense of community," Callahan said. Among the common chants is "Om, shanti, shanti, shanti" - "Peace begins with me."

YIN - Sue Zinter

In our busy Western world - one where deadlines and demands at home and work can challenge us physically and mentally - yin yoga forces us to be still. It isn't easy. "One minute into it, you want to bite your arm off," said Sue Zinter, owner of Soma Cura Wellness Center on Grand Island, who left a career in pharmaceutical sales after she became a massage therapist and yoga instructor about a dozen years ago. Yin yoga, she said, is a sort of massage therapy someone performs on herself. It targets the fascia - the tough tissue that buffets joints, muscles, organs and the spine.

Those who practice yin yoga focus on holding the body in unfamiliar positions to take you away from the more common ying movements you go through daily. Think hunching over a computer screen or working an assembly line. The goal is to create more balance - slowly, deliberately. "Yin yoga is not easy because you're doing the exact opposite of what you're doing most of the time," Zinter said.

An hourlong yin class may focus on as few as 10 yoga poses, some of which are held for several minutes at a time. The goal: make the body, and mind, more supple. "If you're holding in a spot for 3 minutes," Zinter said, "you're getting deep into the connective tissue." Many yin poses impact the biggest parts of the body, including the hips, knees and shoulders. Zinter said she wished she'd known more about it several years ago before she tore ligaments in her left knee and right rotator cuff.

The practice helps when discomfort enters your life. Take sitting in traffic. "You just breathe and let it go," Zinter said. "If you respond that way, your tissues will respond in kind. If you let yourself be taken care of and healed, the body heals itself. Force usually doesn't heal things."

BAPTISTE VINYASA - Candice Cinquino

Power Yoga Buffalo instructor Candice Cinquino teaches her Baptiste classes in a studio set at "a ripe 90 degrees." She describes this form of yoga as a way "for leaving people empowered inside and out." The Vinyasa flow style of teaching - the most common form in Western New York yoga studios - looks for its student yogis to move from pose to pose while they connect movement and breath.

Cinquino, who comes from a background in dance and gymnastics, described the Baptiste form of Vinyasa as athletic, vigorous and cleansing - though accessible to almost everyone. "The heat, and the connection of breath and movement" make it so, she said. "In general, we're moving at a good pace, always with the breath. It's a very intentional connection between movements and less time in between to get in your head or second-guess. You're not going to be sitting and taking breaths in between poses. For a majority of the class, we're moving anywhere from one to five breaths per movement. If we're holding, it's usually no more than five breaths. But there is no point where we lose the meditation. Because we work with the flow, students really have the opportunity to connect with their bodies."

Cinquino packages baseline poses laid down by Baron Baptiste - inspired by the Hatha yoga teachings of Krishnamacharya, and his students Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar and Desikachar, with whom Baptise studied - along with other poses she has learned during her training and in her five years of teaching. The goal is to build strength and confidence, and share with others as you begin to better understand how the mind, body and spirit can connect in healthful ways. "We look to inspire people that what you do on your mat translates to what you do off the mat," Cinquino said.

VINYASA OPEN FLOW - Carrie Jacobson

Vinyasa yoga covers a broad spectrum of styles that flowed out of centuries-old teachings in India that in more recent decades have been refined into the Ashtanga yoga system. Ashtanga involves "moving on the breath" with a goal of heating the body to remove what ails and limits it, making it more open to meditation that can improve the mind and create a greater spiritual connectedness to the universe.

East Meets West Yoga rides a middle ground, said Jacobson, studio instructor-manager. The temperature runs 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit in Jacobson's classes, not the 90-plus degrees of Bikram or Baptiste yoga classes. Studio teachers have a strong interest in alignment and moving in and out of poses to build strength and prevent injury. "It could be moving quickly and building a lot of heat, and exploring challenging poses," Jacobson said. "It could also mean moving more slowly and exploring poses in more depth. It's not necessarily easier. It can be a whole lot harder than when you're transitioning in and out of poses."

Yoga is so much more than fitness, she said, though many in North America are introduced to it through its poses. "I think for Westerners, it's easier to understand," Jacobson said. "We come to exercise on our mats and we learn how to breathe, and through the breathing we can access the other aspects, the other limbs, of yoga."

Yoga was almost a one-minute affair for Kelly Tripp, who was an executive assistant in a corporate health care office when she decided to try a gentle, restorative Kripalu class six years ago in the Larkin Building after her third daughter was born.

"The teacher said, 'Close your eyes and breathe,' and I thought, 'Oh my god, I've got to get out of here. We've got to move, to do something.' "

Tripp, a native of southern Maine who met her Buffalo-born husband in college in the late 1990s, played basketball and field hockey in high school, and lifted weights. But here she was, overweight after three pregnancies and feeling lethargic in the midst of her daily bustle. "I knew yoga was good for you and the class was during the workday," she said. "I thought I could take a break from my stressful job, and maybe get my health and my body back. It was one of those moments where I wanted to run but I stayed - because I prepaid."

Today, as an instructor and teacher trainer at Evolation WNY Yoga on the West Side, Tripp has learned to be still, and teach others to do the same.

Her flow classes borrow from several yoga stylings, with poses that range from gentle to vigorous, swift to lasting. "I'm trying to teach you to show up and try, to breathe mindfully," she said. "I could really care less whether or not you can do the poses."

Her classes - like most others worldwide - attract every age and ability, including school-age students to those in their 70s and 80s; her daughters; pregnant women and male laborers. "I try to make people feel they can just show up and breathe ... even though there could be someone else doing a headstand through the whole class." She hikes the temperature to 80 degrees for her classes - a temperature that can climb depending on the number of students and the vibe. "I enjoy sweat in my practice. It's cleansing and when it's a warmer environment, the poses are a little more accessible. Most people would tell you that."

Yoga is transformational, she said. "It bolsters the cardiovascular, nervous and musculoskeletal systems. It provides peace of mind, relaxation, clarity.

"You have the power to heal your own body. Yoga gives you back that power."

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February 18, 2017
 
 
 

 

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