The lowdown on yoga
Get to that Zen place with help from local practitioners
Debra Hutchings reincarnated her disheveled garage into what is now called The Yoga Room Annex. The studio sits on the second floor of the redesigned building in the back of her Vallombrosa Avenue home.
Up a small staircase and inside, the windows are tall on the east side of the room, and outside is a majestic white sycamore tree, making it feel like you’re in a tree house rather than a building. The room is painted a soft mint green, and tiny yoga poses are stenciled on the walls in a very mellow shade of purple.
Hindus and Buddhists have long practiced the mental and physical disciplines of yoga as a way to find inner peace and harmony. Over the past few decades, those disciplines have increased in popularity in the United States and are now found in nearly every gym—considered not only a way to relax but also a great way to work out.
“Yoga is ancient teachings,” said Hutchings. “Originally, it was only taught between a teacher and his disciple. The individual that was in training would renounce the rest of his life, go and live, and just be trained by his teacher.”
Hutchings decided that in her retirement she wanted to teach yoga, so she attended The Yoga Room Teacher Training Program in Berkeley. After graduating, she traveled to India, where she took public classes for five weeks from B.K.S. Iyengar’s son and daughter, Prashant and Geeta.
Iyengar is known for being one of the main yoga teachers who brought yoga to America. Hutchings has now taught Iyengar yoga—the method he developed—for more than 20 years.
Many other styles of yoga exist: Ashtanga, Integral, Kripalu, Kundalini. All of these would be considered traditional, each developed by an Indian guru, in the overarching rubric of hatha yoga (the general word for the physical practice of yoga: postures, breathing techniques, and the act of meditation).
Beyond the traditional styles, there are also others—such as power yoga, which was created to introduce the Western world to the practice.
Iyengar yoga teaches precision, precise alignment of the body, and the longevity of the poses. Also, it is known for allowing yoga props, such as bricks, for those who aren’t as flexible and can’t reach the floor. It is so that people can get the same benefit from a pose.
“His thought is that keeping a pose derives more benefits. Fifteen-minute head stands are not uncommon in India,” said Hutchings.
Andrew Gere teaches at Bikram’s Yoga College of India on Mangrove Avenue. He says that this is not the place to build muscle mass—it serves as an aerobic workout. The yoga he teaches has 26 different poses that are held and repeated twice, all in a room set at 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
“You’re holding the posture, but you’re still active within the posture,” explained Gere. “I try to keep it as simple as possible. The more simple you keep it, the more you gain from it, and the more you would understand yourself.”
Over at the Blue Lotus Yoga & Wellness Center, owner Lisa Gorman is a registered nurse with more than 20 years of health-care experience. Gorman’s passion for yoga began when she served as director of the Center for Obesity in Southern California, where she saw the effects of stress on herself and co-workers. Gorman describes yoga as the integration of the body and the mind as an approach to wellness.
Gorman explained that when we’re stressed, the commonly known stress hormone cortisol is released, and tells the body we’re in a state of stress. Therefore, originating from the caveman days, our body “thinks” food may be scarce. Then, every morsel we put in our mouth is stored in our bodies as fat.
“When people are stressed and say I’ve tried every diet in the world, I’m eating nothing and still not losing weight, that’s because when cortisol levels are high you can’t lose weight,” said Gorman.
Stress stems from a perception, she went on to explain. The definition of stress is the body’s physical reaction to a perceived threat. When people are able to induce the relaxation response, which is the opposite of stress, through yoga and meditation, it reverses all the metabolic changes that happen in the body with the stress response.
In her yoga class, Gorman talks about how the breath induces the relaxation response and reunites the body and mind in the present moment.