Naked, sweaty & downward dog

Yoga aims to help one find balance — easier said than done

Naked is just one of the many varieties of yoga you could find yourself experimenting with.

Naked is just one of the many varieties of yoga you could find yourself experimenting with.

Yoga aims to help one find balance — easier said than done

I have never been much of a “health guy.”  I am not terribly out of shape, but I probably don’t exercise like I should. In other words, I am not your ideal candidate for a yoga class . . . and yet last week, I found myself, for the first time in my life, deep in the downward dog.

Yoga introduced me to a group of muscles I never knew I had, and taught me one very important lesson: prejudge nothing.

My class took place at Moksana Yoga studios in Fan Tan Alley. One of the city’s larger and faster growing studios, Moksana is a testament to yoga’s growing popularity. It’s owned and operated by Ida Manly, a 15-year yoga veteran who’s run the business for the last eight years. She employs about 20 people with a schedule that runs every day, typically instructing between 15 and 40 students per class.

In Victoria, yoga is booming. Moksana grows by about 200 students a month, an increase Manly attributes to a public desire for a more holistic solution to staying healthy.

“On a physical level, it strengthens your body and creates flexibility, it reduces stress, it’s detoxifying and it can bring inner peace,” she says. “We kind of think of ourselves as one being, but there are parts of us that are more subtle, like our energy, our thoughts and feelings, intuition, and yoga helps bring them all together. It helps you find a balance.”

Finding that balance is easier said than done. Preparing for my first class, I awkwardly roll out my mat and shuffle through the opening “sun salutations,” trying not to look as silly as I felt. Ten minutes in, and my classmates look positively serene. I am already tired.

Feeling the heat

For the more adventurous type, there is also hot yoga. Heather MacLeod — co-owner of Moksha Yoga on Fort St. with business partner, Lena Simmons — caters largely to a younger, more active crowd. Moksha offers heated, non-heated, Moksha, Yin and Karma classes, but specializes in hot yoga, a practise MacLeod says is designed for detoxification and restoration of body and mind.

“Hot yoga is like taking a shower on the inside,” MacLeod says. “It also encourages people to lengthen and modify any injury or limitation that someone may have.”

As the room heats up to about 40°C, so does your core body temperature. Everything from the cork floors to the radiant, ceramic panel heating is outfitted to keep you hot enough to burn calories and sweat out toxins by the litre.

I can’t imagine it. About 40 minutes into my hour and a half session at Moksana and I am ready for a break. My classmates seem to move effortlessly through the postures, eyes closed with pleasant, self-satisfied smiles on their faces. I hate them right now. I look up at the grinning statue of Shiva, destroyer of worlds, posing effortlessly at the front of the room, and I collapse on the mat, embarrassed by my lack of grace.

It could be worse, I think to myself. I could be naked.

Au natural

For Ron Stewart there is only one way to do yoga. He teaches naked yoga at Skyclad Yoga, a studio he built on his seven-acre property in Metchosin. His courses are for anyone from beginners to the very advanced — anyone who shares his belief that wearing clothing holds you back from experiencing the subtle energy of the body and exploring the connection between body and mind.

“I had the feeling that clothes were really hindering my ability to evaluate what my progression had been with my training,” he says.

His sessions have traditionally been offered to men only, but he is opening co-ed and couples classes soon. He believes his sessions help people overcome issues they have with their own body image and bring a feeling of freedom and deeper connection to themselves.

But, he admits, it’s not for everyone. “Naked yoga is for people who are open minded and curious, fairly adventurous and slightly crazy,” he says. “It’s not to everyone’s taste, but when the whole room is in downward dog, people’s faces are on their feet or their mats, not what their neighbour is doing.” And he adds, “when the time is right to try a naked yoga practice, the fear falls away quickly.”

Naked yoga may seem like a novel concept to some, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. As the western world continues to embrace yoga, variations on the traditional art are arising to suit ever more varied tastes. Today’s yoga has expanded to include power yoga classes for athletes, dance yoga and even yoga for babies. It’s a trend that suits Manly just fine. Although her yoga practice is traditionally based, she believes there is room for all kinds.

“Any experience that can bring you closer to yourself is authentically yoga,” she says.

Adding a hip-hop beat

Amy Allen is the founder of DOWNdawg yoga, a hip-hop yoga program, that emphasizes a faster pace, set to a hip-hop soundtrack. Though her ultimate goal is to introduce people to traditional yoga, her method has more in common with a nightclub than a yoga studio.

“For years I would never do a yoga class because I thought it was too fluffy. I didn’t think it was a workout, I thought it was a little too slow and boring,” she says. “I absolutely don’t think any of that now, but when I first tried it I didn’t like it and I didn’t feel like I was getting a workout. So I created DOWNdawg for the fitness enthusiasts who want a really good workout but don’t necessarily want the spiritual side of yoga.”

She holds weekly classes at Studio 4 Athletics on Yates, Feel Good in Langford, Club Phoenix on Government and Breathing Space in Brentwood Bay, all set to the music of artists like Run DMC, Tribe Called Quest and even the Black Eyed Peas.

“This is an environment that is completely different from your traditional class,” she says. “People are encouraged to sing along, they are encouraged to hoot and holler — it’s a party environment.”

I am about partied out at the end of my own session at Moksana. My class ends in a position called savasana or “corpse pose,” which is fitting given the circumstance. The corpse looks just like it sounds and it’s part of the cool down phase of the class, which allows you to rest your muscles and relax your mind. It’s the point when all the stretching finally begins to make sense to me.

“The main reason people keep coming back is that it feels good,” says Manly. “You can’t lose 10 pounds in an hour and a half but you can feel better about having them.”

With my session over, I head back into Fan Tan Alley and out into the city streets. Walking to the office among the crowd, I momentarily suspend my cynicism. Like me, you don’t need to be a health nut to get into yoga. It’s really just about taking a bit of time out of your day to feel good. And at that moment, I felt really, really good. M