The Unexpected Benefits of a Yoga Practice
Years ago after grinding through a 4 month trial, I took some time off to re-center myself. Upon advice from a dear friend I tried Bikram yoga and although I could see how people get hooked, I just wasn't one of them. Fast forward 5 years and I found myself simultaneously dealing with one epic flood, the stress of a wedding, and the realization that my parents were once again my temporary roommates. Needless to say, I needed an outlet. Enter Revolution Studio.
I'd been a regular indoor cyclist for some years, but never found a cycle program or a studio that challenged me in the way I required. Revolution Studio has three studios in the Greater Houston area (Sugar Land, River Oaks, Memorial City) and offers not only cycling but also Vinyasa yoga. Capitalizing on a sweet weekly pass deal, I tried as many spin and yoga classes as possible. The spin class was epic, but it was the yoga class that had the most unexpected impact on my life. I remember sitting on my mat during that first yoga class being terrified that my limbs just weren't going to do what the instructor suggested. What I found was that even though my limbs were momentarily in paralysis after class, it was my heart that was forever changed.
Since that first class, I have worked hard to build a consistent practice. I try to get on my mat at least 2 times per week. Sometimes it's more, sometimes less. Regardless of the frequency, what is consistent is the quality of the practice offered at Revolution Studio. The very capable instructors not only guide you through each pose, but they take great pride in developing a flow that seems to reach each student exactly where they are both physically and emotionally.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Madonna, Revolution Studio's Yoga Teacher Manager, (and one of my favorite people on the planet) for a candid chat about the unexpected benefits of yoga and other tips for enhancing your practice. I hope you enjoy!
Meaux: "How and when did you decide to make yoga a part of your life?"
Madonna: "It was in layers. In college it was something I did with my friends, but not until I got into vinyasa did I see the real point of yoga which for me now is everything. I was initially drawn to yoga during a dark place in my life. I noticed I had a lot of negative self talk going on, and yoga gave me the confidence to overcome that. It also helped me reconnect to other human beings which was freeing at that point in my life. I was specifically attracted to poses that helped open my back muscles because I was living a very closed-off life at the time. That one act of opening up those specific muscles helped me not only relieve the physical effects of stress, but it also helped me emotionally open up. When I first took up teaching, it was simply a hobby. I have a background in science, but at some point, yoga became more relevant to me than science, so I decided to make this my life."
Meaux: "When I started with Revolution, I was dealing with a chronic back pain issue that was made immeasurably better by consistently practicing. What are some of the other unexpected benefits (physical and otherwise) of developing and maintaining a yoga practice?"
Madonna: "Yoga has this amazing healing quality. If you think about it, everyone walks into class with something to heal. It can be a back injury, sore muscles, surgical pain, high blood pressure, asthma, anxiety, depression or fatigue. I have seen yoga help people work through all of those issues. You will definitely see results if you put your mindset in the place that you most need healing during your practice. Also, people often miss the importance of breathing. Not only do we not naturally breathe the way the body is meant to, but we often overlook the important of breathing in regulating your body's energy. There are breathing techniques that can help effect change in just about anything."
Meaux: "People are often hesitant to try yoga either because of the heat or the concern about being flexible. What would you tell someone that has these concerns? And how does the heat help during a practice session?"
Madonna: "For someone who has not tried a hot yoga class, it can be tough because some bodies just don't take well to the heat. If you give it a chance, though, you'll find that the heat assists in the flow of the practice because your body doesn't have to work towards staying warm - the preset temperature takes care of that. Your muscles also become more cooperative in a warmer environment. Revolution Studio's classes are between 80 and 95 degrees which is the perfect range in my opinion. My preference is to stay in that range because for me, anything above that can be uncomfortable. For anyone concerned about flexibility, yoga is the answer for that perceived lack of flexibility. Think about it this way: why would you go to a language course? To learn something you didn't already know. So if you aren't naturally flexible, yoga is like another language for your body, and your body will get better at it over time. Yoga is an ongoing practice with one million layers, and even I'm still learning things daily. There is also no "good at yoga", there is just progression and growth."
Meaux: "You always encourage your students to "set an intention" before class. How does that one step help during the actual practice?"
Madonna: "I actually saw something that said you can be a boat without sails and although you will survive, you won't move unless you have something to propel you forward. Setting an intention gives you a direction, a sense of purpose, a goal, something to look forward to. Our instructors will sometimes provide an intention to the class, but when you set your own, it becomes like your own prayer that you put your energy towards during the class. That one little word or intention can help pull you through not only class but through life."
Meaux: "I know the answer to this as it applies to my life, but in your own words, what are the benefits of using yoga as a part of a cross-training regiment?"
Madonna: "Practicing yoga at least twice per week makes you stronger in other sports. You see your athletic abilities improving by leaps and bounds by incorporating regular yoga sessions into your schedule. I had the opportunity to work with NFL athletes during Super Bowl week this year, and I was surprised by how excited the players were to practice yoga. That lets me know that their training managers place an emphasis on stretching and working on balance movements that will help their overall athletic development. Also, it's important to remember that because of the stretching and breathing elements of yoga, it naturally helps with a body's active recovery."
Meaux: (Because I haven't mastered this)....how can a person really shut everything around them out (sounds, to-do lists, thoughts) during a session?"
Madonna: "It's not just you, I promise!! That's one reason yoga can be challenging. We are all wired to engage with our own thoughts which can distract us during yoga. It's also tough because once you know that your mind is wandering, you will then focus so much of your attention on why you allowed yourself to be distracted. I suggest the following practice: observe the thoughts, acknowledge them and let them go on their way.
[at this point of the interview I had a hallelujah moment....WHEW - that hit me on so many levels...ok, we're back...]
It's like a bird flying through - you don't have to talk to the bird or beat yourself up because you acknowledged the bird, you just see the bird and let it fly through."
Meaux: What sets Revolution Studio apart from other available yoga studios in Houston?
Madonna: Revolution's co-owner, Kim Syma's attention to detail and excellence is impeccable. You probably can't see it, but there were 1000 decisions made to make this yoga room expertly tailored to provide students the best experience possible. The goal is for each one of Revolution Studio's yoga rooms to foster a space for growth. We hold our instructors to very high standards, and we try to attract a good quality of students and teachers that work together, grow together and encourage each other to be better. The sense of community is something that Revolution prides itself on. We try to put out great energy to attract that same level of energy in return."
I encourage you all to find yourself on a mat or a bike at Revolution Studio in the near future! Click here for more information on how to purchase classes, including the 2 week unlimited pass for new clients, and to learn more about the place that has not only captured my heart, but has had such an incredible and lasting impact in the Houston area.
Photo Credit: Niki Benjamin for Mind of Meaux