That being said, I am still no expert. With that in mind I decided to seek out some 'professional help'. Enter Chelsea Lees. Chelsea is an instructor at Samadhi, she teaches a great 'Power Flow' at 4:30 on Tuesday evenings. It turns out Chelsea is not only a good Yoga instructor, she's one of those people you meet who seems to have done everything. Yoga teacher (obviously), climber, surfer, world traveler, journalist, photographer, philanthropist (more to come on her Yoga4every1 project), all around cool person. She was kind enough to sit down with me and chat a bit more about the practice of yoga, her journey to becoming a teacher and some of the benefits of being a yoga practitioner.
C: I started doing Yoga when I was in University, my girlfriend turned me on to it. I honestly thought Yoga was hokey and super trendy -- not interested. She told me that I had to come and try out a class. After some prodding I finally agreed to try a class and I ended up loving it. I really loved the meditation part of it. I grew up in a family where meditation was a forced thing. In my adult life I realized that it is very beneficial. So Yoga was really, yeah... I remember leaving my first class and thinking 'wow I feel like I just meditated for an hour plus worked out plus took a nap' -- all combined, and I felt really awesome.
N: As a person trying this whole thing out for the first time I had some preconceived ideas of what Yoga was. Lots of stretching, they tell you to breath lots, they tell you to clear your mind but I didn't understand the dynamics of the physical and mental connection your supposed to be achieving. So how would you describe Yoga?
C: Ok, Do you want the practitioners answer or the teachers answer?
N: Let's go with the teachers answer:
C: So the word Yoga actually means Yoke. It's the unifying of something, in the original language The concept is you unify your mind to your body. The Physical form of yoga is actually a very small portion of the traditional practice. If you're looking at traditional forms of yoga it's always based on meditation, different forms of breathing , even different methods of sleeping. It was more of a lifestyle thing. One of the little tiny compartments of yoga stems from the eight limbs, hatha yoga, it was the only physical form of yoga and it was very small, but we kind of have grown it over the years. And of course, we took it in the West and grew it into something commercial and immense. Today, if you see Hatha yoga on a schedule you just assume that it's an easier class. It's really original yoga, all yoga that is physical is 'Hatha'.
N: So you mentioned that you've been practicing yoga for around ten years now, what actually got you interested in becoming an instructor?
C: Well I managed a yoga studio for a few years, and at some point during that time period... actually, so the honest answer is I went to a yoga class that was hosted by a friend of mine and I'd never been to his class before, and he played the most incredible music. And it was none of that like 'chanty bullshit' and I was like 'I want to teach yoga solely so I can put together rad playlists. And I was going through my masters at the time and it was a lucrative job that I could do part time. So those were my selfish reasons, but once I took my teacher training it became a lot more.
N: Alright, so for someone who doesn't do Yoga on a regular basis, maybe you could help explain what the full spectrum of Yoga looks like. For example, what is the lowest intensity form of yoga you can do and conversely the most intense?
C: The most relaxing type of yoga that you can do is probably 'Restorative Yoga'. So, each posture that you hold is about 10 minutes long, and they are all supportive [bolsters, blocks and blankets]. The idea is to support your movements so that you can hold poses for longer. As you hold for these long durations you get past the actual muscles and into the supportive tissue, the fascia. It's a really great class for injury prevention and mobility.
N: That's kind of cool, I haven't had the chance to try a restorative class yet but I definitely like the idea of doing work on your fascia. I've started to focus more on that pre-hab and deep tissue work in the gym myself, using tools like rollers and lacrosse balls to work on connective tissue and mobility. And what would you say is the most intense form of Yoga, for someone who wants a more physically demanding challenge?
C: Well it depends on what you mean by physical. Bikram maybe? I don't know, it's not always that physical it's just hard because you're in a room that's 130 degrees Fahrenheit. I would probably say Asthanga. Of course, we don't usually practice true Asthanga yoga in North America. True Asthanga is a more traditional form and classes are about two and a half hours long. Our Americanized version of Asthanga is power flow. The big focus of a class like this is on fast movements, not holding poses for very long. You really focus on matching your breath to the movements and with each breath you move into a new pose.
N: And how would you describe your personal teaching style?
C: I probably teach more of a Vinyasa Flow ( a form of Asthanga)
N: Alright, this leads to another question I've had. What's with the breathing in Yoga, and should I be breathing like Darth Vader the whole class?
C: Yeah, so the breath has a couple of purposes. One, the act of focusing on your breathing helps to clear your mind. This is a really big part of the yoga practice and has some really important applications in more than just yoga. The next part is that the 'forced breathing' or Darth Vader breathing helps to create heat inside your body. Typically we have 45 minutes or an hour to do a yoga class, and often that is not enough to build the heat your body needs to really get deep into the different poses. The breath helps to create internal heat within the body and improve your ability to get deeper into your poses.
N: I've also heard it described as a good way to see if you are pushing yourself too hard.
C: Yes, your breath is usually a good measure of if you're overdoing it in a class. Sometimes people get caught up in what everyone else is doing. They look over and see their neighbor all bent into a pretzel and they want to try and match them. If you find you're losing your breath it's usually a good indication that you're pushing too hard and need to take a step back.
N: So maybe to round this thing off you can tell me what some of the biggest benefits you've noticed since becoming an avid yoga practitioner? The whole reason I kicked this 30 day yoga challenge off was to see how I would benefit, but I'm realizing that 30 days likely isn't long enough to see the full effects. you might have some more insight on what benefits a person could hope to get from yoga?
C: Do you mean physically? Well, I am a climber and a surfer and so I find that for me one of the biggest benefits has been core strength. Starting to practice yoga has completely changed the way that I climb. Obviously there is the core aspect, there's also a big portion of strength and flexibility that most people expect. I guess if I were to think about it a bit I might say that one of the biggest benefits has been learning to listen to my body. As a result of getting more attuned to my body I think I recognize a lot better when my body is telling me I need to step back or take a break. I can tell right away if I'm not a hundred percent.
N: Something to look forward to. Well I've definitely taken enough of your time today. Thanks for sharing a bit about the whole yoga scene and I'll look forward to your next class!
So there you have it folks. Some pearls of wisdom from Chelsea Lees. As I mentioned briefly in my little opening statement, Chelsea is not only a dedicated yoga practitioner, she's also focused giving back to her community.
Her big project is called Yoga4Every1. Yoga4Every1 is a cooperative yoga group that she co-founded and is currently building. The idea is that the group functions as a non-profit organization. Yoga classes will be affordable and accessible. The funds that are made from the classes will be donated to various charities and causes.
Here's the co-op part of it: you can buy a lifetime membership in the cooperative (think like MEC) and with that you gain the right to elect board officials, vote on how the co-op should function -- and here's the cool part -- vote on where the funds raised by the group are donated to.
Anyone who has taken a yoga class in Calgary will attest to how expensive it can be -- $15 - $20 for a drop in is a pretty standard rate these days. By focusing on making classes more affordable Yoga4Every1 plans to make yoga more accessible and along with that, reach out and give back to the community on which it's built on.
Very cool stuff from a pretty cool person. If you have any interest in learning more about Chelsea or Yoga4Ever1, go check out their website www.Yoga4Every1.com
Thanks for reading today guys,
Live your best life!