By Elizabeth Keys
STILLWATER, Okla. —
The warmth of the serene room at Red Earth Yoga Center envelopes the body as a gentle peacefulness surrounds the mind. Scented candles burning are a fond reminder of a beautiful walk in a garden filled with blooming flowers. Colorful mats are placed wall to wall as eager yoga enthusiasts of all shapes and sizes listen attentively to Miami Life Center’s Tim Feldmann who has made his first trip to Oklahoma to share techniques of Ashtanga Yoga, a living art dating back 5,000 years.
But take a deep breath because this is not your grandma’s yoga which became the rage in the 1960s world of peace, love and understanding. Ashtanga Yoga, also known as “hot yoga,” is heating up in Stillwater with some of the best athletes on the planet including world wrestling warriors to top collegiate golfers seeking out the exercises. Feldmann came to town last weekend to present a workshop on the practice which has passed in an unbroken line of teachers, sages and gurus on a journey of joy to soulful healing through the centuries.
“I was a runner but injuries prevented me from that constant pounding,” said yoga instructor Waleah Norton. “I needed the same kind of high — the adrenaline that a run gives you — but in a different way physically.”
Ashtanga Yoga gives you a sweaty workout with the demands of any sport and is life changing for many on a mental and emotional level. An internal, purifying heat is generated in the body where unwanted toxins are released and disposed of with vital hormones and minerals flowing into the bloodstream for a more balanced and purified system.
“You become more in tune to what your body is telling you and seek out a healthy lifestyle,” Norton said.
Although she said yoga is not a religion, the practice encourages compassion and being kind to make the world a more peaceful place.
Stillwater High School graduates and former Oklahoma State University students, Michelle Moore and Sally Alexander, agree. With both living in Oklahoma City now, they are yoga gypsies traveling from studio to studio meeting up in Stillwater often for practice.
“Regular workouts bored me,” Moore said.
She practices Bikram yoga, too, as there are not many Ashtanga studios in Oklahoma.
“I like to keep things simple. With yoga I get stress relief, strength and flexibility training, and with hot yoga you also get cardio because it elevates your heart rate for a long period,” Moore said. “I can’t meditate sitting still so I consider this sort of a moving meditation — all this in one really great workout — you feel fantastic afterwards.”
Even with all these benefits, Moore said her favorite thing in yoga is to come in and turn off all those goal-oriented thoughts. She said yoga is a set of tools that helps you deal with the stresses of modern life.
“As we get older, the ability to move freely becomes more and more valuable. Yoga doesn’t tear your body down the way sports or repetitive workouts do,” Moore said. “You can start at any level and make huge improvements without pain or damaging your knees. This is an opportunity to leave your ego at the door and really learn something of value that will help you in your health and everyday life.”
Ashtanga practice is also a breathing exercise, Alexander said. It boosts your spirit as well as helps heal your heart in learning to breath through life’s inner turmoils. Breathing is the key to tranquility and the power to regulate and control the nervous system.
“Yoga is about accepting yourself — accepting where you go with your poses each day,” Alexander said.
It is very addictive for her and she has developed her yoga skills to an advanced level serving as a certified yoga teacher — although sometimes she fears she is the oldest person in the room.
Gail Holland, United States Department of Agriculture manager, attended the workshop with Feldmann to increase her knowledge since yoga is her “strategy for aging gracefully” as she strives for stress reduction with basic joint and muscular health.
“Yoga works not only your muscles but your skeleton — helping your back remain flexible and strong,” Holland said. “It’s one of the best exercises for general health especially for people over 50. If I do not do yoga for even two weeks, I can tell a huge difference in the way I feel.”
Holland explained one convenient benefit of yoga is you can do it anywhere. She said yoga is one thing in your life that is really about you. There is no competition with advanced students and beginners in the same class. More experienced students just do deeper or more difficult poses.
“You can also have students with injuries in a class and the teachers modify poses to either rehabilitate or protect the injured areas,” Holland said. “Yoga forces you to use all of your body which is especially important after an injury or if there are areas that are particularly tight and inflexible. We store a lot of stress in our hips and shoulders, and yoga really works to correct that.”
She said yoga is very welcoming to all souls with “yogis and yoginis coming in all ages, sexes, sizes and ability levels.”