Style Chat: Yoga 101 With Cathy

I’ll be honest with you guys, since getting pregnant with my little one almost 3 years ago I’ve been really out of shape. After playing tennis for over 15 years and staying really active even after I finished my college career I somehow found myself as one of the most exhausted pregnant ladies ever. I always figured that I’ll just pick it up after I’ll have the baby but somehow in between the new baby, starting to work again and my boyfriend’s hectic schedule I’m lucky if I get to the gym every 2 weeks. So, now I decided to do something really different for me and try a yoga class. And lucky for me, Cathy, one of my really good friends is a yoga teacher so I asked her to give my yoga novice self a few pointers, which (once I start emailing) practically resembles a yoga interrogation. See for yourself…

1.) So, Cathy, tell me how you got into yoga in the first place?

So, I hate admitting this but my mom was the one who (for years…most of college actually) bugged me about trying yoga. I became a little high strung during my teen years and she thought that yoga would calm me down. She also thought I would be good at it because of my years of ballet. And since she told me to do it I waited years before actually taking a class to get under her skin. I finally gave in after grad school and tried it at my gym and I just got it. It wasn’t until I was about 24 though that I started doing it very regularly because I just found an instructor I liked a lot. After a particularly stressful event in my family, I upped my personal yoga practice by going to a yoga studio and doing that definitely got me through a very difficult time.

2.) Why did you decide to pursue it and get into teaching as well?

So Groupon helped me decide to get more into yoga instead of just practicing at the gym, terrible story right? There was a Groupon for this studio called Baptiste Yoga (hot power yoga) in Cambridge between work and my apartment and so I figured I would give it a shot. I became addicted pretty quickly once I adjusted to the heat, and then did the “40 days to personal revolution”, which was pretty much 40 days of yoga, a little “fruit fest” (a.k.a. fruit cleanse), and I also (attempted) some of the nonphysical aspects of yoga like meditation. My “personal revolution” at the end of the 40 days was that I could at least try to be a yoga teacher. The info session for the yoga teacher training was a few months later on my 27th birthday and I LOVED my instructor, Natasha Rizopolous. She and the YogaWorks method, which I went on to learn had a strong attention to the detail of each pose and basically just taught how to get more out of yoga in general.

3.) Would you say yoga is a more spiritual activity or a physical one, or can it be a combination of both?

I think it definitely depends on the person but it can be a combination of spiritual and physical…. For me, I love the physical aspect of it and am still feeling out the spiritual part. My strong point is the physical because I am fairly flexible, pretty strong and I have good proprioception, probably also something I got from ballet, but I can’t meditate for longer than 10 minutes on a good day and some of the spiritual writings can put me to sleep. I would not call myself a spiritual person either. I think the good thing about yoga is that there is something for everyone to work on or towards, whether it is physical or spiritual, and you can make that choice for yourself. I look at the spiritual side of yoga as more of a way to live life and be happy with yourself. The physical practice of yoga helps you with the spiritual side by focusing your mind on the present, keeping your mind from all the nonsense of errands, chores, and what ifs, and allowing you to just be with yourself.

4.) What would you say is the most positive thing you got from practicing yoga?

The most noticeable positive thing about yoga has got to be my extremely toned arms – my boyfriend is still kind of amazed about those haha. Yoga can tone the entire body and help you get long, lean muscle but of course diet still helps too (something I slacked on during my yoga teacher training). I do think that yoga has calmed me down a little bit – people who are around me can tell if I have practiced yoga recently and also probably when I haven’t. It also helped me through a little family crisis by focusing on the poses and being present for the 90 minutes without all the mental chatter causing additional worry and stress.

5.) What kind of yoga would you recommend for someone who is just getting started? How often and at what intensity?

Well, I strongly believe in the yoga method I did my teacher training in, the YogaWorks (www.yogaworks.com), so if there are YogaWorks certified instructors near you try them! YogaWorks is a blend of Ashtanga (type of yoga connecting breath with movement, typical “vinyasa” style, lots of jumping and acrobatics too) and Iyengar (very alignment-based yoga where poses are held for a longer period of time. Also called “hatha yoga” in some gyms).

If there are no YogaWorks instructors, try an Iyengar class. It is on the slower side, but you learn a lot of the motions of certain poses in yoga and how to practice yoga safely. Also, if the spiritual stuff kind of freaks you out (“OM”ing totally made me giggle the first few times I did it), try a yoga class at a gym but be careful to always listen to your body. Try to make sure your teacher is at least 200-hr RYT certified because unfortunately some claim to teach yoga who are not officially certified.

How often someone practices yoga is really up to that person. We are all different and everyone should listen to his or her own body. Yoga is something that can eventually be done every day and I think it does help if you do it at least once a week in the beginning just to keep up the strength and flexibility. My instructor from yoga teacher training does have some great videos on her website, www.natasharizopolous.com, which you can download. They range from beginner videos to more advanced, in case there aren’t any yoga studios near you or if there isn’t enough time to get to a studio class.

6.) Can anyone do yoga? Are there cases where you wouldn’t recommend it? What about pregnant women?

The YogaWorks method I learned has the phrase “yoga works for every body”, so yes! Yoga is for everyone! You can pretty much find a class for anyone. The main thing I say to people who might have an injury they are concerned about or are nervous about: if it hurts, don’t do it! Most yoga instructors should be asking about injuries or limitations at the start of class but if they don’t ask let them know! Even if it is something as little as my knee is sore or I pulled a muscle; there are always modifications of each pose to work around the injury.

Yoga is also great for pregnant women who can really benefit from poses that help keep baby in the right position, to poses that help strengthen back muscles and arms to keep good posture and prep for carrying around that 10+lb baby for months. There are poses that aren’t supposed to be done by pregnant ladies, just as there are poses to not be done if there are certain injuries or conditions. I would recommend an expecting mother, especially one new to yoga, to go to a prenatal class, which are now getting more and more popular/common in the States.

7.) What is your favorite kind, which type do you practice? 

My practice has changed so much since the teacher training – my favorite kind is definitely the YogaWorks method where some poses are held for a long time while sometimes you move with your breath – this keeps me from getting bored. I have stopped going to the hot power yoga almost completely and I practice more from home and in a variety of studios where there are YogaWorks certified instructors.

8.) Yoga retreats? Yes, no? Have you been or would you want to go (I have this crazy fantasy of going to yoga retreat in Costa Rica).

I have not been to a real yoga retreat yet, but it is definitely something I hope to do in the near future! I am hoping to go to Kripalu, which is out in Western Massachusetts, soon for a retreat weekend at least and I totally dream of a Costa Rican week long getaway where you practice yoga on the beach as the sun sets… Unfortunately these retreats can get a little pricey but I am saving up my pennies for at least a Kripalu weekend.

9.) And last but not least, which are some of your style yoga essentials?

It’s all about accessories first off: let go of the ego and practice with some yoga blocks and a strap! Especially if you practice at home. The blocks (to bring the floor to you!) can be cork or foam – I have some blue foam Gaiam blocks that are not squishy. The cork blocks are heavier so a little more cumbersome in some poses. The strap helps get that extra bit of stretching in for some poses and can help keep alignment in others. I recommend a strap with a metal D ring because those hold the best – I bought a Manduka one for my mom recently that she likes and I have a Half Moon strap that I use regularly, but the shipping from Canada can be a little difficult.

Yoga mat selection is key also and it all depends on your practice. For newbies, I recommend a Gaiam mat (squishy or not:  the squishier/thicker the mat, the more difficult balancing can be) for the price ($15-25) and the stickiness is decent enough. I have this one.

I have since graduated to a Manduka “Prolite” mat, which is pricy ($65+ from Amazon.com) but after breaking it in (all mats need a little air and some breaking in to get sticky) I am in love with it and I know it will last a while.

When it comes to yoga clothing, I stopped using anything cotton because I do sweat and the clothes would be ruined after a couple wears. All my clothes are pretty body hugging. I recommend a lot of tight clothing for a couple reasons: 1. The obvious; with any downward facing poses loose shirt scan fly up and body parts are revealed, and 2. It helps when your yoga instructor can see your body to let you know if you are doing something incorrectly and adjust you accordingly.

A lot of yoga clothing is black and gray and that get can boring. I am a fan of color and I don’t like looking like I am wearing a uniform all the time, so I do have a pair of bluish purple “Wunder Under” crops from Lululemon that I toss in the mix every so often. I am always looking for other brands of fun yoga clothes, like Zobha and Lululemon, which have some fun yoga clothes with great coverage, of course. Yoga clothing brands in general can be pretty expensive, but they last a lot longer and are built for doing yoga so ultimately, it is worth the money. They do have decent sales every couple months and I try to buy then to save a few $ here & there.


Thank you Cathy for taking the time to answer all my questions. Have to admit, I’m feeling pretty well informed for a first time yoga goer! What about you? Do you do yoga? Thinking about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please share…

(Images: Anamaya Yoga Resort, Five Points Yoga, Alice’s Adventure Yoga)

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