Go on a bender
“Take a long, slow breath, feel it flow from the crown of your head down your spine, the axis of your body, and all the way down, out your perineum.” These words can mean you’re in only one place – yoga class.
Yoga began 4,000 years ago as an art of stillness, through which its students pursued inner enlightenment. About a thousand years ago it evolved into postures, and today it attracts countless people who seek more limber limbs, a balance to their adrenaline-fueled exercise routines and a fusion of mind, body and spiritual awareness. In fact, as Kelly Major Heath told me, yoga means “union.” Heath is the owner of the new Mountain Lotus Yoga studio, which just opened its doors Jan. 16 in the Gymnastics Center in West Vail.
Yoga studios aren’t new to the Vail Valley, but Mountain Lotus brings a unique form of yoga – Vinyasa Power Yoga, an athletic, fluid form of yoga. To add choices for her students, Heath has enlisted more instructors from the local yoga community who will bring their specialties to her studio soon.
Heath first ventured in hot yoga, where the yoga studio is heated to 120 degrees. Vinyasa yoga “combines dynamic breathing with body movement to generate internal heat,” she said.
When I showed up early for her 75-minute Vinyasa class, the young, vibrant owner greeted me enthusiastically in her cozy studio. The sparkle never left Heath’s eyes as she told me about her background in yoga, her passion for teaching, and her goals for the newborn studio she’d been dreaming of for years.
Like any discipline of yoga, the practice is not just about improving strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness. “Our lives are entrenched in our bodies, our hips, our hamstrings,” Heath said. “The more we do yoga, we see it touch all aspects of our lives. Our aches and pains disappear. Our relationships get better. We’re more patient. We gain more perspective. We sleep better.”
Jamie Turner Alison, owner of Om Zone, also relates the practice of yoga to overall quality of life. “When life comes at us, we learn to pause and respond rather than react. The practice we do on the mat is meant to inform how we live the rest of the hours.”
Alison’s yoga practice is dedicated to Onusara, meaning “open to grace,” and was founded by guru John Friend in 1997. In Friend’s words, “Onusara yoga integrates the science of biomechanical alignment, the art of inner body awareness, and the celebration of the heart.”
Ben Swig, a 23-year-old Vail resident, has been practicing yoga ever since high school, at the gym and at home by himself. Swig said yoga helps him in his other physical endeavors. “It improves balance, gives me extra flexibility and core strength, which all help me in telemarking.”
I lead a similar lifestyle to Ben, and two yoga classes in two days has made me far more open-minded. It’s not for mystics and romantics, it’s for everyone. I haven’t concluded that yoga is my ticket to intrinsic glory and bliss, but there is a lot to learn about yourself simply through aligning your body and mind completely to one specific task, one posture, and holding it with all your might. The physical and mental demand is so challenging and bewitching that it clears your mind of anything else.
Heath helped this process by being encouraging, soothing, and helpful. When our postures started to waver, she reminded us that we could control everything with our breathing – or ujjayi.
“Beginning to feel fatigue is only the starting point in yoga,” she said.
Competition and judgment don’t belong in the yoga studio. “It’s not about crossing the finish line,” Heath said, a triathlete, who is no stranger to the pressure of most sports. This became refreshingly clear when I learned you score no points for holding a firmer chatarunga (hover-pose) than the person next to you.
Ashtanga Yoga instructor Halide Gazioglu and personal trainer Stacey Vachon, both of the Aria Fitness Center, said they have watched yoga grow more popular in the Vail Valley. There were about 30 people of diverse ability in my evening class with Halide. People show up to the daily classes for all reasons, Vachon said. “Preventing injury, fitting that spirituality into your day, getting the maximum capacity out of your body,” she said, “connecting your mind, body and soul is central to yoga, and that’s what this valley is all about.”
Heath said she envisions a network of studios where people of all levels and walks of life are comfortable, supportive and inspired.