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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Fitness Review: Holy Yoga

         Yoga and I have never been best buddies. I'm an impatient person who finds it difficult to sit still. Deep breathing and meditation and self-acceptance aren't really my thing. Pilates, with its emphasis on precision and control appeals to my Type A ballet dancer brain, so when I head to the mat for cross-training, I'm more likely to do the Hundred than a Down Dog.  In college, a dance teacher recommended yoga to me to help with my tight hips, back and major anxiety problems. I made the mistake of taking a couple of classes from a teacher who burned incense in the studio and rubbed herbal ointments on our foreheads in resting poses. It immediately turned me off and it was several years before I tried another yoga class again.

        Fast forward to pregnancy and childbirth and parenthood. As I've journeyed (or, more accurately, stumbled) through these different phases of life I've become more aware that the reasons I tend to shy away from yoga are the very reasons it's good for me.  Last year, I started taking a friend's yoga class and started incorporating more of the practice into my own exercise routine and classes.
Jesus At The Core, Charleston,

This past week I had the opportunity to take a Holy Yoga class in Rochester as part of a Christian wellness conference. Founded by Brook Boone, Holy Yoga encourages its practitioners to connect their "entire being, body, mind and spirit with God: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" through the discipline of yoga. I was a little apprehensive to try the class at first. Too often "Christian" versions of things are cheesy and low-quality. I expected it to be either corny or else full of burning incense, smelly ointments and flowery cues. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the practice was both mentally and physically challenging while encouraging a worshipful mindset.
Yoga for your mind, body and spirit

Brooke Boone instructed the slow flow class by candlelight on the first evening of the JATC. She led us through a series of poses interspersed with readings from scripture. She often used cues to help us use mental and spiritual focus to overcome the physical challenges of the yoga practice. I'm always surprised by how our emotional tension carries over into our muscles. I loved that, while there were moments of rest in the practice, we concentrated on scripture or prayer during those moments rather than emptying our minds (as in many yoga practices). My one complaint was the use of worship music during the class. Some might find the upbeat, victorious song selections empowering but I found them distracting and annoying at times. We were often encouraged to sing along to the songs which wasn't really my style. As a person of faith, I prefer to worship through movement and the last place I want to feel pressured to sing is at a yoga class!

Overall, I'd definitely recommend Holy Yoga, particularly to Christians looking for an uplifting and challenging exercise experience. It encouraged me to take more yoga classes throughout the summer and to keep up with regular home practice. Click here to find a Holy Yoga class in your city.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

New Blog Series: WNY Fitness Reviews

I love group exercise classes. As a toddler, I spent time hanging around the aerobics studio at our neighborhood gym, watching my mom take and teach group fitness classes, always joining in for the stretching at the end. (I thought thera-bands made the best toys.) As an introvert to the extreme, I prefer solitariness in almost every activity--shopping, traveling, movie-watching--except exercise.

I think it's common for dancers to trend toward structured group workouts because that's what we know. We spend our lives jumping around mirror-lined studios, following a teacher's instructions, spending months and years learning and mastering different combinations of movement. We know how to step on beat and check our alignment. One of my biggest flaws as a fitness instructor is underestimating how uncomfortable many people feel trying a new class for the first time. I try to make everyone feel welcome and safe in my classes but I forget that for a lot of people, just moving in public is downright terrifying. 

To help myself improve as an instructor and stay in shape during the summer months when my teaching schedule is slower, I'm making it my summer goal to leave my Pilates and dance aerobics comfort zone by trying and reviewing a variety of group exercise classes in the Rochester and Buffalo areas. Every class will be at a studio or gym I've never attended before. Some will be in familiar styles, like barre and yoga, while others will be totally new to me like aerial dance and pole fitness. I'll also be trying my hand at individualized workouts like running (eek) and lifting (ugh).

My first review--covering a Holy Yoga class I took this week--will be posted on Wednesday!

Do you have any suggestions for classes I should visit?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Swan Lake Recap and Summer Plans

What a whirlwind week. Yesterday a cast of just a few dozen kids and teens performed a mature classical ballet with beauty and maturity. Even more than their dancing, I'm proud of their patience, diligence and send of humor during the rehearsal process. Both Swan Lake and the performances by my jazz, tap and pre-school students went smoothly. The kids had fun and the audience loved it  

This was my third year producing and directing a student performance so I felt pretty prepared by Tuesday's final studio rehearsal. Too prepared.  On Wednesday I realized we didn't have nearly enough backstage volunteers to handle the 20 - 30 performers under age 10 in the cast and sent a frantic email to almost everyone I know locally asking for help. On Thursday--the day of our first rehearsal in the auditorium--I found out that our videographer wouldn't be able to record the show after all and that the print shop I'd counted on for programs was closed for the week. Thankfully, a very dear friend and fellow dance school director stepped in to take care of both of those tasks and volunteered to take photos of the performance.

A whole other set of potential problems was waiting for me at the auditorium. The stage hadn't been cleared or cleaned since the school's play a few weeks before so I spent the hour before dancers arrived moving set pieces and props around. Shout out to the high school student who helped me move a heavy sap-covered log after I interrupted his piano practice with my cries for help! Despite that minor inconvenience, the backdrop still on stage from the play ended up being a nice addition to Swan Lake so it all worked out nicely.

Once we got the theater set-up the stage rehearsals were mostly easy sailing. I had a crew of fantastic backstage volunteers who helped the kids get lined up and in order so I could focus on other things and actually watch my dancers. Not every piece was technically perfect but no one left the stage in tears or stood frozen like a deer in the headlights!

Now that the dance season is over, I'm looking forward to a few months of focusing on other aspects of my life: swims and walks with my son, lots of time working in the garden, and taking as many dance classes as I can. One of my biggest priorities this summer will be to spend some time working on the book I'm editing about dancers and body image. I also plan to submit my first MFA program application by the end of July (more on that later).

Before I do any of that,  I should probably clean my house. A distracted mom and two year-old can make some big messes.