It’s been almost two years since I first discovered yoga. As I said, I started practicing it because I hurt my hip and had to stop running while that healed; but I quickly realized that I like yoga so much more than running as a primary form of exercise. (A fine thing to discover after I finally broke down and invested in good running shoes!) I still endorse everything I said in this initial post, which I wrote when I only had experience with one instructor, Julia Marie Lopez. I still think if you’re looking to start yoga, she’s a great introduction.
I did get a little bored after a while, but I wasn’t ready to start paying for real classes; so I started hunting around for someone else free. There are LOTS of free yoga classes on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and anywhere else you stream videos, and some of them are amazingly terrible. There are instructors who literally don’t know their left from their right, who say mean things about you if you’re struggling, and who seem to know about three poses and just want you to do them over and over and over again.
There was one chick I followed as long as I could, because her routines were challenging; but, my friends, she said “bref” instead of “breath.” Even when I’m doing yoga regularly and breathing in a controlled fashion and so on, I’m still always right on the brink of murdering people just as a matter of course, so I just couldn’t deal with hearing “bref” several times in thirty minutes.
Finally my friend Theresa clued me into Alba Avella, and that’s who I’ve been following for quite a while now. The worst thing she does is say “stagnant” when I think what she means is “static.” She also has a habit of reminding us frequently to “notice the difference,” and I truly don’t know what she means by this. What difference? The difference between what? I guess she just means “think about how you feel,” so that’s what I’ve been doing.
But truly, those are the worst things she does. The good things are:
-She tells you exactly what you’re supposed to be doing most of the time, so if you aren’t looking at the screen, you can still follow. She also always knows left from right, which is very important!
-Her voice is agreeable, and she is articulate. She doesn’t play music during her classes, and I don’t miss it at all.
-She is chill and encouraging without being condescending or overly therapeutic. I am at a point where, if I can’t do something, I just give it a shot and move along, so I don’t need a lot of “It’s okay to fail! It’s a yoga practice, not a yoga perfect!” pep talks, but she is reasonably friendly and does remind you that if you fall down, you can just get up again.
-Her routines are interesting and varied. I’ve done dozens of them and I haven’t yet found that “ugh, there’s that Alba Avella combo she always reverts to,” which other instructors all seem to have. She has a background in dance, and this may account for why the flows have a certain beauty and symmetry to them, which I haven’t noticed in many other instructors’ routines. She seems to be aiming to produce something beautiful in the whole act of the practice, from start to finish, rather than just making sure a certain group of muscles gets worked. (Which would also be okay, but I find the elegance of it is motivating for me, and keeps me coming back.)
-The routines that say “power” in them are hard! I am sweating pretty good at the end of thirty minutes. But she also has plenty of routines that are gentle, or focused on stretching, etc., and the written descriptions are accurate and useful.
-She doesn’t do a lot of quasi spiritual/mystical stuff. At the end of each session, she has you bow to your practice and I think maybe she mentions your third eye, but otherwise it’s all nice and physical. When I’m done, I put my hands together, bow my head, and pray “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal one, have mercy on us and on the whole world” and then add in any prayer that arises naturally, if any. Easy peasy. I’m actually fairly scrupey about spiritual mixing, so if you’re someone who has qualms about yoga as a spiritual influence, here’s my quick take on that, cut and pasted from this post:
I was joking when I said earlier I was afraid I might get a yoga demon, but I am also Catholic and do not want to participate in something that could be an expression of a different religion, whether that’s Hinduism or Buddhism, or some kind of nameless New Age spiritual practice. What I have learned is that yoga, as it’s practiced in the United States, is actually a quite recent invention, and not an ancient religious practice at all. However, modern or not, there is most certainly such a thing as yoga that invites you to participate in spiritual practices that are foreign to Christianity. What we do with our minds matters, so I get a little annoyed at Catholics who scoff at the idea that any yoga class could possibly be spiritually harmful or inappropriate. I would not take a yoga class that included a spiritual element. (That includes yoga classes that try to be explicitly Christian yoga, because that’s just weird. Just exercise! Or, do whatever you want, I don’t care.)
-Also, this is barely worth mentioning, but some instructors wear outfits that are just so silly-looking, and Avella does not. I don’t remember what she wears, which is probably her goal: Not to be distracting. The only down side to this is that I can’t make a mental note about videos, like, “Oh, I remember I really liked the one where she’s wearing that weird strappy red thing” or “uh oh, purple pants! I don’t have the energy for this one today.”
I think that’s everything. I subscribe to her channel on YouTube and have been working my way through the copious number of 20- and 30-minute free videos there. I would like to do one of the thirty-day challenges, but it’s hard to track them down in order, so I usually just scroll around and find something that seems appropriate for the day. (She also has ten-minute routines, and some 40-minute ones which I haven’t tried yet.) I’ve run across a few with poor sound quality, but that’s the rare exception.
The first video of hers I tried is this one: 30 minute total body reset flow.
It’s not the most entertaining routine, but it’s a pretty good introduction to her style, and as promised, it does use your whole body. Some of her videos are a lot more challenging and elaborate, and many of them are filmed in some kind of ski loft or something, which is visually interesting (you can sometimes see snow outside; I believe she lives in Colorado) and has better lighting, and some are in other studios. I believe some are shot outdoors, but I haven’t tried those yet (although I have done yoga outside myself, when I forgot I told the kids they could use the TV for a Mario tournament. I figured if the neighbors wanted to watch me get up and get down and get up again, that was entirely their problem).
All the benefits of yoga I discussed before are still continuing, as long as I keep doing it (and I sometimes fall off the wagon and don’t do anything for a couple of weeks, and I always regret it). If I do yoga several times a week, I sleep much better, my digestion is better, it’s easier to stand up and sit up straight, which in turn improves my whole outlook on life. My back doesn’t hurt, my hips don’t hurt, and I’m just calmer and more in control of my person throughout the day. I’m still fat, but that’s because I eat too much.
Here’s a thing I wrote about how I’m applying some yoga principles to life beyond the mat, and these all still apply, as well.
In conclusion: Yay yoga! I do recommend Julia Marie (and for quite a while spent the $6.99 for Wellness Plus to access a larger library of her videos on Amazon) and obviously Alba Avella, but as I said, there are tons of instructors out there. Lots of people love Adriene. I find her irritating, but you may not! So do look into it if you’re feeling blah. I love being able to do a full workout in my small living room without putting shoes on, and it’s been a real gift to me overall.