Yoga is a practice that calms the storms of the mind to create mental clarity.
Ask a few random people what they think yoga is, and you’ll get a variety of answers. And, they are probably all right.
However, they may only be seeing one small piece of the whole because the practice of yoga is much richer than most people realize. Myself included. I attended my first yoga class at Santa Monica Power Yoga in 2007 because I thought it would be a great stretching routine to complement my running. I kept attending because I appreciated the calorie burn and how good it made my body feel.
As my yoga class attendance increased and my mileage decreased, I began to understand that there was much, MUCH more to this practice than some poses in a hot room.
Fifteen years later, I am still discovering the complexities and depth of this ancient practice. The fact that it makes my body feel good is the icing on the cake.
So what is yoga? Let’s break down some of the common beliefs:
Is Yoga meditating?
The practice of yoga includes meditation, but that is just one part (limb) of a yoga practice. What we practice and teach at 502 Power Yoga is the limb called “Asana,” the physical practice of yoga. We include meditation (dhyana) and breathing exercises (pranayama) in some of our classes. There are eight limbs along the path of yoga, and just as one climbs a tree, you ascend the limbs along your journey, and you must reach one limb before you can climb to the next. As one of my teachers once told me, the asana (poses) are the only part of yoga that can truly be taught, especially in a group class setting. The other limbs must be studied, practiced, and attained individually.
Is Yoga just stretching?
I don’t know why this is a misconception, but it’s the one I hear most often. Yes, there is a lot of stretching in a yoga asana class. Yes, you will become flexible if you practice yoga. But how you are stretching is the misunderstood part. In any yoga class—from gentle to power—you will be dynamically and actively stretching: Creating length in your muscles while simultaneously balancing, strengthening, meditating, and focusing.
I might get some crap for this, but yes, undoubtedly. However, if you’re looking for quantity over quality calorie burn, you’d be better off doing a cardio exercise like running or cycling. But one can burn up to 600-700 calories in a 60-minute class, depending on your body type, constitution, how hard you push yourself, etc.
But unlike cardio, in a yoga class, you will also get toned, strengthening not just the vanity muscles like your abs and your biceps, but also the less visible (but more important!) muscle groups like your hip rotators, the intrinsic muscles in your feet, and the tiny muscles supporting your shoulder blades. A well-rounded yoga asana practice focuses on healthy, dynamic movement, creating agility and mobility.
The reality is that most people get hooked on yoga because they like the calorie burn and they like how sore they are the next day. Over time, people realize that the benefits go far beyond the physical. So while it is a great workout, it is not just a great workout.
Is Yoga a spiritual practice?
As I said above, most people come to a yoga class because they want to get in a good sweat, stretch out, and tone their bodies. However, the practice of yoga Asana is deeply rooted in centuries of spiritual wisdom originating in ancient India, and it’s hard not to pick up on some of those things. The ritualistic format of classes could be likened to a religious service: We typically begin classes with an “om,” we bow to each other at the end, and it sure as shit makes you feel connected to a universal vibration.
I have never considered myself a spiritual person. I grew up Catholic here in Louisville but stopped attending mass as a teenager. I was disenchanted with the dogma and rigidness of the services, and frankly, how boring it all was. I found a new appreciation for spirituality when I began attending yoga classes. It allowed me to feel as though there were a higher being out there, it created peace in my body and mind, and it created a connection between me and the people in classes with me.
No one is going to force you to bow to Hindu gods or give up your existing religious beliefs. But I believe that if you are seeking a spiritual practice, you could find that in a yoga practice.
Is “Power Yoga” really yoga?
We think so 😋 Yoga is a profound journey of self-discovery that has been through many evolutions as it’s been adopted by and adapted to new cultural contexts globally. Power Yoga is a relatively modern form of this practice, but our aim remains the same as that of the ancient yoga masters: To calm the mind to be better humans.
One of our favorite frequently asked questions (FFAQ): What kind of yoga mat should I get?
You could ask a room of 30 yogis this question and you’ll get 30 different answers 😅
When deciding what type of yoga mat you should get, keep these principles in mind:
There are many different types of yoga, and certain mats are better for certain styles of yoga. A mat that is great for a “Hot 26” class might not be great for a Power Vinyasa class.
You get what you pay for
Your ability to enter a state of flow will be hindered if you are constantly sliding around or having to adjust your mat
A yoga mat is pretty much the only equipment you really need as a yogi, like a good pair of running shoes, you want to invest where it matters.
Now let’s compare some types of mats:
BASIC CHEAPO YOGA MAT ($10-20):
While these mats might be great for the budget, you will find that it isn’t very grippy (especially once the sweat starts pouring off your body), it slides around on the floor, and after a couple of uses, they will start to shed little rubber flakes everywhere. Resist the temptation to save a buck and pass on these.
MID-LEVEL YOGA MAT ($40-50):
You’ll find some durable, plush, stickier mats when you increase your budget. This is where I would suggest you begin your yoga journey. Depending on usage, you may get a few years out of it. You may need a yoga towel to help with the sweat, and you’ll know it’s time to upgrade when it starts to shed.
LULULEMON REVERSIBLE “THE MAT” ($78-90):
This is one of the two types of yoga mats we sell at our yoga studio because they are great for a heated power vinyasa practice. They are super grippy right out of the packaging and they soak up sweat immediately so you don’t spend the whole class sliding around. The price point is tolerable but be warned: These mats lose their stickiness over time and will need to be replaced every 1-3 years depending on how they are used. By the way, do not wipe these mats down with your lavender towel after class: The oil in the towel will break down the special surface on the mat and it will lose its grippiness faster.
MANDUKA PRO OR PROLITE MATS ($100-150):
The other type of mat we carry, and my personal fav (Cat), the Manduka is the priciest for a reason. They have a lifetime warranty and they only get better with age. My first Manduka ProLite is still kicking after 12 years of heavy use! The downside is that they take a while to break in (they are pretty slick when brand new), and for a really sweaty class, a mat towel may be needed, and some people don’t like having to deal with a towel. By the way, we carry these mats in extra long for our tall friends!
YOGA MAT TOWELS ($40-50)
As mentioned above, a yoga mat towel can be helpful if:
your mat is lower quality and feels pretty slippery
you identify as a heavy sweater, and/or
the class you’re taking is extra hot.
These towels are yoga mat sized and lay directly on top of your mat, and they are specially formulated to actually be grippy when wet. I’m going to say that again, louder for the people in the back: These towels get grippy when wet. When they are dry, they slip and slide worse than a wet mat! If you use a mat towel to accompany your practice, I recommend keeping it folded at the top of your mat until the moisture from your hands/body makes you slip and slide. Or, drizzle some of the water from your water bottle onto the top and back of the mat (think where your hands and feet would go in downward-facing dog).
Still not sure?
Clear as mud, right? When in doubt, give a mat a test run. We offer Manduka mats, lululemon mats, and mat towels as rentals ($3 each) so you can give them each a try at the studio.
What type of yoga mat do you prefer for a heated vinyasa flow yoga class? Tell us why you love it in the comments below!
Guest post by Lara Macgregor, founder of Hope Scarves. Hope Scarves is 502 Power Yoga’s Karma Partner for the month of January.
Breath in. Be fully present with this breath. Breath out. Your breath exists in this moment. Each breath grounds you to this time and place…
When I was diagnosed with stage 4, metastatic breast cancer each breath was a struggle. I was suffocated by the future.
Stage 4 breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer (MBC) is when breast cancer cells move beyond the breast–often to the bones, lung, liver or brain. When people die of breast cancer they die from stage 4, MBC. The life expectancy for a MBC patient is 2-3 years. There are treatment options, but no cure.
I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. In 2014 it returned in my bones, making me a metastatic breast cancer patient. I was terrified. My kids were 5 and 8. I was 37. How could this be happening? I was consumed by terrifying questions about our future. How would my disease progress? How long do I have? How can I cause so much pain for my family?
I couldn’t face the day because I lived in fear of what was coming. But then I found yoga which helped me release these fears and focus on the day before me.
502 Power Yoga became a place of peace and power. When I come to my mat, I let everything else fall away. I focus on my breath and I focus on the strength I have today. My body is responding to treatments and the cancer hasn’t grown in three years. Three years! I am what they call an “exceptional responder.” I have a hunch that my response is connected to the way I live my life.
I have learned to take the principals from my yoga practice and live them out in my daily life. Living a life of intention, I embrace this time of health. Instead of being consumed with fear of a perceived future of sickness, I focus on what is certain right before me each day. My breath reminds me I am living. I live a rich, full life. And the other day I even “flipped my dog into full wheel.” (You 502 Yogis will get how exciting that is!) Perhaps the only piece of goodness that comes from the pain of this diagnosis is this perspective of how fragile and beautiful life is.
I breathe in each moment. Letting go of that which I can’t control.
Each Sunday there is a $5 Karma Class at 502 Power Yoga from 5:30-6:30 PM. Money raised supports local community organizations. In January the Karma class supports Hope Scarves. I founded Hope Scarves in 2012 as a way to turn this scary experience into something positive to help others. We collect scarves and stories from cancer survivors and pass them on to others in treatment. We have sent over 6,000 scarves to every state and 12 countries. The scarves and stories connect us and help us find common ground. After my metastatic diagnosis, we started a research fund to help accelerate the discovery of treatment options for people like me facing this terminal diagnosis.
I look forward to seeing you on a Sunday afternoon to support Hope Scarves. Thanks to those who have already been a part of the class.
I am grateful to have found a place that helps me live the healthiest, most hopeful, intentional life I can.
Pushing 200lbs, I remember once struggling to run 8 minutes without stopping in Iroquois Park. At the time I was a caregiver to my parents: mom with cancer and dad with Alzheimer’s. The stress of this situation wasn’t helping my own health – I was eating my way into a size 18.
Then, my niece, Emilie Dyer, invited me to a free class at 502 Power Yoga. In the past I had used yoga successfully to stop smoking, so I figured it could also improve my overall health. At one point in my first class, I remember the instructor said to “kiss your knees;” I couldn’t do it. It really hit home then how big I had gotten. I’m going to have to work to get this off, I thought.
Rather than feeling intimidated by others at 502 Power Yoga, I was empowered by this community. I decided to take on the Sunrise Challenge in 2014, and also completed the 40 Days to a Personal Revolution program. Through these experiences, I gained insight into my emotional eating. I learned to be aware of what I was putting into my body and why. I gave up sodas and coffee, and today I only drink green tea, water and sometimes black tea. I have sweets as an occasional treat, and not with every meal as I had in the past. I witnessed these physical and emotional transformations slowly change my body. Over time, I saw cellulite on my knees diminish. I was able to do my first Flip Dog with Mimi’s instruction. I was inspired, and I fell in love with the community.
After some time, it seemed like my daddy was doing fairly well, or maybe it was me. Maybe I had learned to move with the universe instead of work against it. Yoga had become my retreat from all the drama of hospitals and doctors with my parents. I truly believe my yoga practice helped me stay calm throughout every situation and provided me the opportunity for self-care.
I can see how life has come full circle for me. The beginning of my transformation was the Sunrise Challenge in 2014, and more than a year later, after the 2015 Sunrise Challenge, I’m a size 8. My faith in God, my program of recovery and daily asana helped me physically and emotionally through those trying times. I feel those previous limitations fading behind me and conquering Iroquois Park is next on my list!
Week One is behind us, and last week we had a recipe for Vegan Chili (did anyone get a chance to try it? Leave a comment about what you experienced!) This week is a Quinoa Salad with Peanut Sauce (optional). This dish is light and high in protein. Feel free to get creative with this since it is easy to customize.
Quinoa Salad with optional Peanut Sauce
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups water (for cooking the quinoa)
1 cup shredded red or green cabbage
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup carrots, shredded or finely chopped
2 cups edamame
1/4 – 1/2 cup green onions, sliced
Fresh cilantro (optional)
Cook the quinoa by placing it in a pot with the water and bringing to a boil; turn to low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed.
Transfer the cooked quinoa to a large bowl, and combine with the remaining prepared ingredients.
At this point, you can serve as is, or make the peanut dressing from the below recipe to stir in. (If you have a peanut allergy, try almond butter, cashew butter or sunflower seed butter!) Enjoy!