Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Do You Do Yoga?

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With Sophia’s surgery coming up, I’m trying to not make the mistakes of the past, where I get more anxious than Sophia, and I’m the one who feels like fainting in the hospital.  I don’t think I breathe properly, especially when I’m nervous.  I also have a deviated septum, so I tend to breathe through my mouth, which I’ve read is NOT the best way to breathe.

I remember reading an article about some sort of yoga that deals specifically with breathing.   Do any of you do yoga?  What does it do for you?  I really know very little about yoga, which should be a surprise to you, since there are as many yoga studios as fish taco stands in Redondo Beach.  I’m most interested in the breathing aspect of it, rather than the ability to flex myself like a pretzel.   They do yoga at the gym, but it seems less focused on breathing than exercise.   I’m also a little turned off by the pseudo-religious aspects of places like the Rising Lotus Yoga Studio:

Come join us for an evening of ecstatic chanting. No singing experience needed, only a willingness to open your heart (and your mouth) to the blissflul flow. Kirtan (from the sanskrit word for singing) is easily learned and instantly memorable. The form is simple: a lead group calls out the melodies. The crowd responds. Sanskrit, the language of ancient India, is also the mother tongue of many modern languages. But the true meaning of its sounds are in the effect they create. As everyone’s breathing becomes synchronous, a feeling of unity and timelessness arises. When we sing without restraint our heartfelt expression brings peace and joy and meditation follow effortlessly.

Am I being too judgemental?  If we’re going to be singing songs to relax, why do we have to do it in Sanskrit?  If we’re going to use some obscure language, why not Yiddish? 

And most importantly, through yoga, can I really perfect my tantric lovemaking like Sting?

I’ll probably wimp out about going to yoga, but I’m still curious about YOUR experiences, and what type of yoga you most recommend. 

A Year Ago on Citizen of the MonthFat People

54 Comments

  1. For the most part, I found yoga to be annoying. It was either done at a gym (to which, there are other things I would rather entertain myself with than seeing how far I can pull my ankles over my head while all the catty gym-witches judge each other in the flourescant lights.) Or the religious ones like you mentioned.

    And then I actually found a nice yoga studio. It was a totally different experience. I think it was hatha yoga? Don’t quote me on that. Anyway, no religious pushing, no judgement, lots of breathing, and just… well nice. They warm up the studio quite a bit (I think to 80 degrees) but it actually really relaxes you. I can’t afford to attend it, but I actually really liked that one.

    There are many flavors of yoga, you just have to find the right one if you are really interested!

  2. Yoga can be really helpful when dealing with a stressful situation. For me, I enjoy doing yoga by myself in my apartment, it’s had for me to relax with 20 other people in the room. I just have a basic beginner yoga book and there is some streching and bending, but nothing too advanced. For me, focusing on simple moves and breathing deeply calms me down. YOu should try it.

  3. Kyra, that is a factor too. Unless I make more money off of this blog, it will be hard to afford therapy, cable, insurance, smoothies at Jamba Juice, AND yoga!

    Echo – I’m always impressed by self-motivated people like you.  I’m not sure I would do it with a book.  Kapgar got me a yoga dvd for my birthday, and it was more confusing than inspiring.

  4. my family doctor recommended that i do yoga several year ago when i was having a breakdown due to family conflict with my oldest, i bought a book, went to some classes and also used dvd’s. at some point of time i figured out how to breathe properly, thats when it all started to click and i found it actually did help. i can’t remember the name of the book, but it was yoga for stress relief, more about proper breathing and stretching than pretzel bending (that’s what classes are for).

  5. Hey…that poster is written in Tamil!…I speak that language.Cool.

  6. I tried the hot yoga and almost had to be carried out on a strectcher because of heat stroke. If you are a basic air conditioning kind of person the minute the temp outside reaches 73 degrees you will not like hot yoga. I do have a friend that does yoga for relaxation and he is not the pretzel bending type because he usually falls asleep when he does his yoga. As for me, I find a quiet place and just let my mind wander – I would think the beach would be a great place to find a rock and just listen to the waves crashing against the shore would be a perfect way to relax – if you don’t mind the sand, wind and bugs….

  7. I can barely bend down and touch my toes. Yoga is not for me.

  8. I will be spending about 10 days in late May with my French cousin and his wife, who is a yoga instructor. Hey, maybe I’ll get a free lesson or two. I desperately need to do something that will help me de-stress and relax, and that will help me get a bit more limber.

    I do not think that I could teach myself to do yoga, but I am very interested in its calming virtues.

  9. You are a lot like me in the fact that “Yoga in Sanskrit” made me laugh then roll my eyes.

    I agree with everyone that has said to try it at home. Maybe you could research yoga or breathing exercise videos and order the one you find works best for you?

  10. Heather Anne – I couldn’t touch my toes and that is exactly why I took up yoga. Now I can put my hands flat on the floor while bending… Practice Practice. ( wrote a blog post about it. Neil. Just start breathing through your nose. slowly. listen to the breathe. And breathe. breathe a lot on Wednesday.

  11. Yoga is so varied, I think it is hard to find the right class. You are looking for the exact classes I try to avoid. I get bored and frustrated if it won’t get me sweaty. Look for gentle or relaxation in the class title. Stay away from bikram, ashtanga and power yoga. Around here yoga centers will give you first class at a cut rate so shop around. Ask the instructors to recommend a class with that description. Most instructors teach in more than one studio so should be able to point you to something good. Once you get the hang of things in a class it is easier to follow a book or tape.

  12. I have a computer CD that a family member picked up at a dollar store (for $1)… I don’t think they make it anymore. It’s called Yoga at Your Desk. Very much my speed. Only one or two silly things in it.. like “dancer pose teaches us to find balance in our boddies so that we can have balance in our lives”.
    Anyway, the only the instructor says about breathing is at the very start. I’ll go and see exactly what she says and report back. It was something about counting.

  13. i love yoga. it’s great for centering, calming and clearing the mind as well as strengthening and toning. there are classes that are a bit too hippy dippy for my taste though.

    maybe a meditation class is more up your alley? that also focuses on breathing.

  14. Yoga is excellent for relaxation and stress relief. I also like to push my body to see what it can do. It makes me feel strong and powerful.

    Breathing is what helps you through yoga. You breathe deeply through your nose, filling your lungs, then exhale completely, emptying your lungs. You can even do in through the nose, out through the mouth when you’re stressed.

    Yet a DVD; they have some good beginner ones out there that have modifications for the less flexible.

  15. Oh, and “ecstatic chanting”? Made water shoot out of my nose. Because of the mental picture. It was like “One Flew Over The Cooko’s Nest.”

  16. I do yoga every day (and have since January)… I adore it. I don’t look at it religiously, more in a “it calms me down and makes me stronger kind of way. I started off by learning the basic moves from the exercise TV yoga on demand. After that I attended some free local classes until I felt like I knew enough to keep myself challenged.

    I start every morning with yoga – I sometimes use affirmations and meditations to … refocus myself and to get my mind off of all of the drama.

    For me, yoga is about staying in touch with my body, allowing myself time to focus on how my body is feeling, and empowering myself to change the way my body feels if need be.

  17. I prefer to do yoga at home with a DVD and a glass of wine. I close the blinds to help me focus and to keep the neighborhood pubescent boys away from my window.

    My local recreation center is offering laughing yoga for the elderly. I want to watch this class from the window, I don’t know why. I am fascinated with the idea of old people in tights sitting with their legs all twisted up laughing their heads off.

  18. Non-Highlighted Heather

    May 7, 2007 at 6:56 am

    I do a Chinese form of yoga called Pa Kua. Unfortunately the only studios in Southern California are here in Orange County. Honestly, it’s just about the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. In Pa Kua, the emphasis is on the breathing, positions are secondary. The spiritual aspect is there, but very muted. Man, I wish there was one close to you. But like some of the others have said, there are plenty of yoga studios that aren’t so over the top with the spirituality. I never feel better, physically and psychologically, than when I leave the yoga studio. It’s amazing, I couldn’t recommend it more.

  19. Yoga is very calming. I practice at home, but it is good to have a DVD or go to a class if you are a beginner–it helps to have someone talk you through it.

    Yoga is what kept me from having a nervous breakdown a number of times in my life (this is not a joke).

    I had a very easy birth experience using yoga breathing. It is powerful.

    Yeah, laugh all you want about chanting, but it is VERY relaxing. I would be a bit too self-conscious to chant in a class though.

    Best of luck.

  20. I think I’m too ADD to do yoga. That whole “sitting quietly and breathing” thing doesn’t seem to work for me.

  21. Never done yoga. It all looks too new age’ish for me. I keep hearing people go on about all the amazing benefits but I just can’t see it happening for me. Then again, there are no yoga studios where I’m at so I can’t even look into it.

  22. They used to offer a beginning yoga class here at work and I did enjoy the stretching and relaxing but then people lost intrest and it went away. I don’t practice faithfully but I have a couple of books and a DVD that I reference. I like to do the ‘Sun Salutation’ to loosen up. OOOOHHHHHMMMMM

  23. I’m with Churlita on this one. I’m pretty fit and flexible, so it wasn’t much of a challenge, and as much as I tried to relax and empty my mind, my thought symphony refused to stop. Yoga makes me severely bored.

  24. Love, love, LOVE yoga. Seriously.

    I do it at LEAST twice a week. Usually, I combine a low-key flow yoga which I use for flexibiliy and stretching and a secondary class that’s more for strength like power yoga or yoga pump (which involves weights). I got at the local 24HourFit – which I know is not an official or traditional yoga place…but it’s a GREAT workout.

  25. Oh and the best thing about yoga is that you can modify the poses to YOUR abilities and go at YOUR own pace. No intimidation necessary.

  26. I don’t like to practice in a studio because I’m too self conscious. I like to practice at home.

    I like the Yoga Zone videos, especially the older beginner series featuring Alan Finger. He’s the best.

    My best advice is to go to the library and check out a few yoga DVDs. See which ones, if any, appeal to you. Once you master the basics, you may want to try a studio or gym class–or invest in DVDs to use at home.

  27. The style of yoga I like is called Svaroopa. It is sort of new, so you can’t always find classes in it. What I like about it is that it is focused on releasing old emotional stuff from your body. So it is not athletic and strenuous. In fact, a lot of the postures are done from sitting or lying down positions. You’ll love that, Neil.

  28. Yoga is good for stress, both the breathing and the stretching as well as the meditative aspect. I could not have survived the last 2 years without it.

    Hatha yoga is a good all around general yoga style and not too “wooo wooo” new agey weird.

    and NEVER NEVER NEVER try to do what everyone else is doing. Do what YOU can do based on YOUR level of flexibility and fitness, focus on YOUR movement, YOUR breath, and if you need help from the instructor to learn how to modify the movement, ask. (these are good tips for life, too by the way)

    good luck. and give it a try. It can’t hurt! (unless of course you force yourself into a perfect downward facing dog before you’re read) maybe you and Sophia can go together….

  29. momentary academic

    May 7, 2007 at 10:11 am

    Yoga is good for breathing. Try Kundalini, but I love Ashtanga.

  30. Yea. I do yoga. sometimes. but if you want to breath, do breathing excercises! maybe tai chi?

  31. Your post reminded me of this trend that came out a while back called breathing aerobics. I googled it and sure enough…here it is http://www.breathingaerobics.com/

  32. I do Iyengar Hatha Yoga. This styles has you use props like straps or pillows to help you position your body correctly. Very useful for people who aren’t so flexible! If relaxation is what you’re after, look for a Kripalu class. In order to take care of Sophia you’ll need to take care of yourself too.

  33. I was a Yoga instructor in my late twenties for a number of years. I still practice to this day – almost every day. Twenty minutes of asanas and then twenty minutes of breathing exercises. The Yoga I do is called Pranayama which has its emphasis on breathing exercises. It keeps my mind and body flexible. I miss it when I don’t get to do it often enough. Andrew Weil also suggests some simple but great breathing exercises that are based on Pranayama, I’m sure. Check out his web-site too for breathing exercises and things to do to de-stress. Yoga helps you practice breathing through your nostrils and the good thing about it is you can build up your prowess gradually instead of having to be a superstar instantly!

    When you finally come out here for our date, I’ll teach you what I know … winkety wink!

  34. It worked for me Neil. I can now go at it with the loving wife for 8 minutes!

  35. I started practicing yoga about a year and a half ago, and I love it…it’s not all that *relaxing* for me, but in class, I am so focused on the poses that I’m not thinking about anything else, which is pretty refreshing. I practice vinyasa and anusara styles at a local studio, and I 100% prefer the studio experience to DVDs or gym yoga classes – I like the energy of a full class and I need the guidance of the instructor to keep me focused. I sometimes take Bikram (hot) yoga classes, and I love the heat, love the sweating, love the intesity and the cleansing, but the stationary poses (which are done in the same sequence) was never as much fun for me as a vinyasa class. There is some chanting and some breathing exercises, but I find the benefits to be largely physical – I get sweaty, and I get sore, and I feel like I am getting a workout, only one that’s good for me (as opposed to running, which was wrecking me).

    There are so many styles of yoga, and within styles, every studio and every instructor has their own vibe – it’s hard to think of yoga as being something you either like or hate, because you may have just not found the right style for you.

    One thing I know for sure — I have never, ever left a yoga class NOT feeling better than when I went in!

  36. Molly — the hot, sweaty Bikram yoga sounds a bit scary to me. I don’t even like going out in the sun when it is too hot! I prefer my yoga at room temperature or lower.

    And someone reminded me that I did once write about the commercialization of yoga.

  37. I’m a yoga instructor, but I teach it at a gym, and I focus less on breathing and more on twisting into pretzel shapes. I find that having your shoulder blade wedged into the small of your back has a strangely calming effect.

  38. This may be TMI, but yoga always gets the old peristaltic waves going in my colon. I’ve learned to take Gas-X strips as a preventative measure before class.

    It’s the law of the universe: you don’t feel the need to pass gas until you are in the downward dog position in a room full of strangers.

  39. Cynical — Yes, I’ve heard rumors about that. Maybe all the chanting is there to cover the sound. Good reason for incense, too. Those ancient yogis were just using common sense.

  40. Namaste Yoga on FitTV

    but there is also this CD/Video with this guy called AM yoga – you can even do it while still in bed!

  41. i’m all for the nice quiet yoga. no chants for me, all i want to hear is my breathing

  42. Non-Highlighted Heather

    May 7, 2007 at 9:07 pm

    As much as you hate the hot, sweaty stuff, Neil, sweating is one of the healthiest things you can do for your body.

  43. Heather, are you propositioning me?

  44. wow. i had no idea there were so many types of yoga. i’m flexible, but easily bored. i did one episode of yoga when it was on tv and it was harder than i thought. i’m in karate..and the whole sitting, quietly, breathing..i had a hard time with it. they made us spend half a class period findng out inner peace because i couldnt stop laughing. oops. so yoga and I, not made to be friends!

  45. I said I’d report back, but it seems kinda silly when all these folks have given you real advice… anyway, she says count to five while you breath in and seven or eight while you breath out… There you go, an actual breathing exercise.. simple enough for even me.

  46. Yiddish is an obscure language?

    Am thinking of both you and Sophia 🙂

  47. I can’t yoga. I laugh to much at the silence…

  48. I have a deviated septum too!

    Also, I’ve never tried this but have heard good things: http://www.yogatoday.com/

    Supposedly they have one-hour yoga sessions that you can do from your computer whenever you want – and new ones with different people every day. I’ve heard they’re quite good.

    I’ve done yoga a few times and always found it to be very relaxing and rejuvenating. The best time was when I did it in the tropical rainforest among the monkeys in Costa Rica. But maybe that was more about the banana pina colada than the yoga.

  49. I’m not very experienced with yoga but when I was pregnant I took a self hypnosis class that taught me how to relax my body through breathing techniques. It’s incredible how you can train your mind & body to relax. And yes the hypnosis did get me through 15 hours of labor without any drugs. It’s incredible what your mind can accomplish. I highly recommend hypnosis. You may want to consider it as an option.

  50. I hope that the surgery has gone well.
    As for yoga. Yoga is religious- anything else is pseudo-yoga. I am a pseudo yoga instructor and yes- it can help, and no- it can increase stress (it can also hyperextend joints, etc). Struggling to push your body into uncomfortabe postions, while craning your neck to see the video, or see if the rest of the class is staring at you- yeah, that is stressful on body and soul. If I were you- or your instructor, at least- I’d recommend choosing only a few positions that will help your breathing, help you slow down. One of them would be the fish. And like the Hatha instructor above said- they sometimes use accessories. Goodness sake don’t buy them. Roll up bathtowels to get the right lift and lay over that. . . and I always recommend headstands- if for no other reason than some grown-ups haven’t been upside down since they were five and it is about trusting the strenght of the body- which eases one’s mind.

    best of luck to you and your love!

  51. I recommend hatha/integral.

    The yogic breathing is called “pranayama.”

    It can help, even if you are not into a full yoga discipline/practice.

  52. hi neil. i may be a bit late in the game for a comment, but i actually just finished doing a kundalini yoga dvd (sound dirty, doesn’t it). it’s amazing! it focuses a good bit on breath work, both deep-breathing and something called the breath of fire, which is a light, more rapid breathing through the nose. very invigorating. kundalini yoga doesn’t require a lot of flexibility at first, but works to increase it, and it’s a great aerobic exercise, as well. i use ravi singh and ana brett’s dvds and really enjoy them(http://raviana.com/). not too new-agey, as long as you skip through the chanting at the very beginning. and ravi (narrator) can be a bit cornball, but the exercises are incredible. i don’t get along well with any other type of yoga. also, there’s very few standing poses in this type – more sitting and lying down — so it’s good for people with fallen arches (like me). enjoy!

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