Healthy Life


The Adventures of Yoga Man

Our reporter tries it all to check out the vaunted physical and spiritual gains of the ancient art.

 

I’m wobbling but confident. My arms are above my head, hands coming together in a peak. I slowly lift the sole of my right foot up my left leg. I stand, one-legged, and bring my hands down in front of my chest as if in prayer. I close my eyes briefly. There, I am a tree (or just in tree pose—something like that). I open my eyes and take in the world again. I hold the pose until my wobbling is too much, and I am no longer a tree. I’m just standing on a paddleboard on the calm waters off Big Hickory Island.

Yoga is new to me. I write the Feel Good column for this magazine. As part of it, I like to explore the various exercises our fine slice of the world offers. One thing I kept coming across was yoga. Hot yoga, gentle yoga, power yoga, yoga on the beach, yoga on the water, yoga with your dog, yoga in the air, yoga in the dark. People love their yoga here. Me, I’ve been so-so about yoga. I’ve tried a few classes in the past but never stuck with it. When it comes to a workout, I prefer something like tennis— outwardly competitive instead of inwardly meditative. But, I kept coming across people who swore by yoga. They told me how it refreshed the body, mind and soul.

So, I set out to experience the yoga of Southwest Florida. I came with an open mind and in turn was bent, twisted, flung, turned upside-down and, ultimately, given a little bit of inner peace.

 

Power yoga

Green Monkey Yoga, 6200 Trail Blvd., Naples, 598-1938, greenmonkey.com

I felt my awesome.

My left foot was firmly planted on the ground and right leg was curled behind me. The goal: The right hand grabs the inside of the right foot. In one shining instant it happened—mainly because the instructor helped. But whatever. Right hand on right foot, I stood balanced. “Feel your awesome,” the instructor intoned. Yeah, I’m feeling it. I am also feeling tired, dripping with sweat in this 85 degree room. Power yoga is like a workout. Heck, it is a workout.

I had talked with instructor Debi Grilo of Green Monkey Yoga months ago for a piece on best workouts in Southwest Florida. At first, I was a little confused. Yoga never struck me as a vigorous workout. Power yoga changed my mind.

Power yoga was developed with the intent of giving the routine yoga class a boost. The yoga mindset still comes with the class: start with “oms” and end with “oms,” focus on breathing, experience the moment. Many of the moves are familiar to the casual yoga student—downward dog and upward dog, dancer’s pose (where I felt my awesome), etc.—but are done more rapidly.

As I found in all the classes, yoga is open to all. Classes all follow the guidance of the leader but poses can be tailored. Power yoga introduces a strap, for example, to help pull your leg up and backward for dancer’s pose.

For a first-timer, it was challenging but not impossible. I was able to keep up and left with that same refreshed feeling I get when I leave the gym. And then, waking up the next day, came the reminder that I was working muscles that I hadn’t tested in a long time. I was feeling something other than my awesome.

Intensity level (1-5): 4

 

Bikram yoga

Bikram Yoga Naples, 6634 Willow Park Drive, Suite 100, Naples, 596-4549, bikramyoganaples.com

Bikram yoga is like yoga in a sauna. By that, we mean it’s hot. Make that 104 degrees hot. Hot like summer in Southwest Florida minus a nice sea breeze. The whole goal is to stay in the room for the full 90 minutes. I can’t remember the last time the goal of a workout was just to stay in a room. But at times it felt like a challenge.

Why do this?

Detoxify. Refresh. Recharge.

So I’ve been told.

Bikram yoga (named after its founder, Bikram Choudhury) is a specific set of 26 poses in a specific order. So, it’s not as flexible (pun intended) of a routine as the other classes. You know what you’re getting into each class.

This is less intense movement than power yoga. The emphasis is on breathing. You inhale the heat. You stretch slowly, lengthening the spine. Let the sweat just roll off you. Feel the heart beat soundly. Stay steady. Don’t push yourself too much. I got to a few poses I just couldn’t do—like camel pose, where you’re on your knees reaching back to touch your heels (sorry, not that flexible yet). And, I did get to a point where I did feel a little sick (which is normal, apparently). The heat no longer felt refreshing but oppressive. I caught a glance of myself in the mirror, red-faced and hair mussed. But I wasn’t backing down. I stayed in the room. Like finishing a long, victorious rally in tennis, I left with a sense of pride and accomplishment. I survived Bikram yoga.

At the end, our instructor Jennette Gluski opened the side door, and the heat escaped the room. Thunder rolled in the distance. A few of us lay silent for several minutes, breathing in the cool air.

As I walked to my car, the shower came. It was first time I’d been glad to be caught in the rain in a while.

Intensity level: 5

 

Chair yoga

Love Yoga Center, 4949 Tamiami Trail N., Suite 204, Naples, 692-9747, loveyogacenter.com

OK, I probably should have done this one first. Chair yoga is gentle. It’s developed for people who may struggle through a traditional yoga session. Seniors with limited flexibility or people with a disability reap great benefits. 

The studio at Love Yoga Center was dimly lit. Soothing music played. Instructor Jennifer Mazorra led us through a mellow session. Of particular note, the emphasis was on release. Releasing the tension from the day. Focusing the mind. Stretch and lengthen. Breathe. The pace was deliberate. As I’d come to learn, yoga explicitly aims to engage the body and soul. The physical benefit is one reward; the mental is another. Even something as simple as reaching for the floor seated in a chair provided a structure to clear the mind.

I recognized most of the poses, just altered with a chair. Downward dog, for example, is like touching your toes seated.

Chair yoga isn’t designed for me, in particular. But I could see the benefits. So many people get boxed out of group activity because of physical limits. As another local chair yoga instructor, Jean Erlbaum, told me once, she felt like Santa Claus the first time she taught. Many students had previously felt like they couldn’t practice yoga anymore. But here was a way they could taste it again. That’s quite a gift, when you get down to it.

Intensity level: 1

 

Aerial yoga

House of Flyte, 2359 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Suite 402, Naples, 260-7782, houseofflyte.com

Hanging upside-down first thing in the morning is surprisingly refreshing.

This was the yoga class I anticipated with the most curiosity. Aerial yoga has been booming in popularity recently. House of Flyte specializes in that. Silk hammocks dangle from the ceiling. The movement is all based around how you can use it to your benefit.

Right off the bat, we’re in the upside-down Spiderman pose, suspended from the ceiling like the webcrawler minus the super strength. Waist wrapped in the silk, arms dangling to the floor, blood rushing to head. It’s a unique experience. Postures are heavily influenced by traditional yoga. I recognized the downward dog, the cat and cow poses. Physically, this beginners’ class certainly wasn’t as challenging as hot or power yoga. But the aerial techniques put another spin on it. At times it reminded me of chair yoga, how the silk is used as an aid in some of the stretching routines. If anything, it’s fun. But while you’re flying around like Peter Pan you are building strength, using those muscles you probably won’t notice until the next day. It does take some getting used to. At one point, I’m enveloped in the silk struggling to maneuver onto my side when I’m suddenly swinging and realize I can’t stop it. I feel like a half-drunk Superman until instructor Jamie Blaiweiss gently steadies me. I then rolled onto my side and into a ball, as instructed. Just under a week ago, the closest I came to a yoga pose was lying prostrate on the couch. Now, I was curled like a baby in mid-air.

Intensity level: 3

 

Paddleboard yoga

Suncoast Paddle & Fitness, 223-3303, suncoastpaddle.com

One of the things I love about living in Naples is that you can quickly escape. It’s not far off U.S. 41 that you can isolate yourself in nature. Paddleboarding among the mangroves is a peaceful retreat. Yoga adds another level.

The author finding his zen—or something like that. (Photo courtesy Suncoast Paddle.)

I managed to get out onto the water in a small group with instructors Anna Noble and Wiley Nelson (their small dog, Max, perched on Nelson’s board) for a session one Saturday morning.

We parked on Big Hickory Island, one in the chain off Estero, and plunged the boards in. Within minutes we found steady waters. 

You get a different perspective of the world lying on a paddleboad. Roll your head to the side and see the water shimmer, hear the small waves lap against the board. Let your hand dip into the cool water and slowly churn it through your fingers.

We got instruction: Release your knowledge of the world. Look around but don’t think of water, mangroves and sky. Just see the shapes and colors instead. Dark green contrasts with the bold blue. It looks like art. You are in art.

The positions aren’t too complex; if not on water it’d be a beginning-level class. But balancing yourself on the gently rippling water is the real challenge. Most of the time is spent discovering how you interact with the board and how the board interacts with water (and how your board may occasionally interact with another board if the current is a little strong).

Good news: I didn’t fall in. No one fell in, actually. But with the sun starting to beat down, a quick dip wouldn’t have been so bad.

Intensity level: 3

 

Yoga can be physically grueling. Or it can be mellow. The physical aspect is what you want to make it. The mental aspect should be the same: centered, focused. For an hour or so you are isolated. Then, you enter the world again renewed.

As we started to paddle back, we were largely quiet, taking in the last few minutes of peace on the waters around us.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Noble asked.

Yes, it is.