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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014

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Weekly New Thing: Bikram, Vinyasa & Ashtanga Yoga

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Years ago, during an enlightening conversation of our steps through life, my friend Irene spoke of "chakras." Meaning "wheel" in Sanskrit, the chakra system is comprised of seven energy centers, from root to crown. Each correlates to a specific aspect of human nature and together form our energy into the universe. When these are not open, the effects manifest in our daily and spiritual life, how we act as human beings and to one another. I explored this further through a Reiki session with Patricia Heenan (see July 13 entry). As well, I explored into yoga.

My intermittent trials of yoga in the past resulted in nausea from contorting my body upside down on one cup of coffee in my bloodstream. Or I found the instructor spoke so much that I could not concentrate on the movement. Or self-deprecating giggling. I finally found some classes that I was able to move through comfortably and enjoyed the challenge of the multiple levels.I have always wanted to try Bikram yoga, which is practiced in a humid 105-degree heated room. Dear friend Jemme joined me, as she too was always curious to try. The 26-posture series and two breathing exercises are practiced to push our bodies to its furthest extent; the heat helps loosen the muscles. Our instructor Chris talked quickly, helping us through each move.

My first impression was I thought I was at an auction buying steer. But what I found is the instruction is given in this manner to provide mental cues while we focus on ourselves and each movement, reminding us to push certain muscles and stances further. It did not matter that Jemme and I were neophytes nor anyone's varying degree or level. It was easy to quickly catch on with the beginning breathing exercise to moving into the side stretches of half-moon pose and other poses (triangle, tree, cobra, locust, tortoise, rabbit, etc.) that work on specific parts of the body. This includes hamstrings and back, while also focusing on elongating, balance, strength, flexibility and circulation. It also helped to follow another Yogi in front of me, who I learned afterwards was my dear friend Christine from 20 years ago.

Prior to this class, I have never been able to touch my toes while locking my knees. The originator, Yogiraj Bikram Choudhury, says his copyrighted series is a torture chamber - antithetical to the relaxing meditational yoga thought of here in the States. Bikram thanks Nixon for inviting him to live and teach in the US back in 1972, which has lent to the growth of 1200+ franchised studios worldwide. Proprietor Bron Gacki of Bikram Yoga Milwaukee says the rules to opening a certified school is stringent. The owner must be a certified instructor and cannot teach other practices of yoga in the same studio. Bron himself comes from a line of Bikram Yogis, as his brother, sister and parents all have studios.  An instructor who has opened me to a new perspective on yoga is Sarah Will. Sarah is an instructor of Ashtanga, Vinyasa and Yin in the Chicago area. Her instruction allows students of any level to feel comfortable as she reaffirms "there is no ego in this class." In the dark studio, with a soft and encouraging voice, she reminds us to focus on our own level, then offers extra challenges.

"The difference between Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow Yoga is Ashtanga (the 8-limbed path of yoga) is a set series of progressive postures. Each series is taught in the exact same order every time, and the practice in itself becomes a moving meditation. Vinyasa yoga is a flowing series of postures -- there is no set series. Both formats synchronize breath (ujayyi) and movement, and both technically are progressive. However, Vinyasa can be practiced at any speed and at any level; Ashtanga moves very quickly.... Yin yoga works to stretch the connective tissues; the other formats stretch and tone muscle."

After suffering several injuries, Sarah decided to turn to yoga in healing her body nine years ago. She had forewent recommended surgeries and physical therapy. Her decision deemed successful within only a few months, thus beginning her teaching.

Sarah draws from her experience in dance, instruction under many different teachers as far as New Zealand, attending training programs and workshops. "I try to emphasize that we are all built differently, have different ranges of motion and have been practicing for different periods of time. We may not even be using the same muscle groups to get into the same posture as the person next to us! I have seen, and experienced, overzealous teachers adjust students into the "appropriate alignment" of a posture, and the student ends up injuring, or re-injuring himself. That is not what yoga is about."Practicing these forms of yoga have also changed her character. "As far as the mental changes (which in my case I believe were a side effect, as I was very focused on the physical), I have become a much calmer and patient person."

In her spare time, Sarah operates a dog rescue and serves on the board of directors for Breakbone Dance Company. I always wondered what a yoga instructor does to find balance. Namaste.

For more information on Bron at Bikram Yoga in Milwaukee, please visit http://www.bikramyoga-milwaukee.com/.For more information on Bikram, please visit http://www.bikramyoga.com/.For more information on Sarah, her classes at The Yoga Boutique and X-Sports Fitness, please email her at gothyogi@hotmail.com. For full photo content, please visit www.a2009journey.blogspot.com

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