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Y-O-G-A spells relief

Ancient art brings together mind, body and soul

POSTED: July 21, 2014 1:00 a.m.
J.K. DEVINE/The Times

Kelsey Williamson breathes deeply in a seated position on the floor during a restorative yoga class in the studio at Flip Your Dog Yoga in Gainesville. It was her first yoga class.

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What does human anatomy have to do with the Sanskrit language? They have two things in common. One, I know nothing about either of them. Two, they are very common in the practice of many forms of yoga.

Yoga itself is also a foreign concept to me, and as Flip Your Dog yoga studio owner and instructor Merrie Benham tossed out words like “pranayama,” “asana,” or “dhyana,” in class, all I could do was smile and stretch.

After class, I learned that was what I was supposed to do. According to Benham, yoga should cater to exactly what a person wants and needs at any time.

Since I elected to take a restorative yoga class for our health and fitness series, I got exactly what I expected. The studio offers yoga for all levels, including hot yoga, Ashtanga yoga and more.

I walked into the studio full of nerves until I met Benham, who is cheery, full of life, passionate and laid back. A smell of incense surrounded me as we chatted about my lack of yoga experience. Then she led me into the darkened studio and helped me choose a mat, two blocks, a bolster and a blanket I would need for the class.

Once we made it through a couple of seated “asanas,” which I learned was the Sanskrit word for poses, I started to realize I didn’t have to mimic any of the experienced yogis and did what my body felt capable of.

“Go ahead and move the bolster to the side for now,” Benham said. “We might need it again in a minute, but I never know exactly what I’m going to do until I see you guys move a little bit.”

In the restorative yoga class, Benham watches each student and observes motions to see where tension lies, what is comfortable or uncomfortable, and read what the class needs to focus on to cleanse the body, mind and soul.

A few minutes after we moved the bolster pillow, Benham asked us to place it under our lower backs with our bottoms on the mat and lay back with our legs in whatever position felt comfortable. For some, it was straight out, for others it was bent. For me, it was a butterfly position to stretch my hips.

I and the four other women in the class held each position for longer than a normal class would to loosen the muscles more and focus on releasing tension. Benham noted sometimes what aches may be caused by something else, and the restorative class helps find and fix the issue.

“Focus on finding any tension in your body,” she said. “Usually what is talking to you is not always the problem.”

After another stretch of the arms and some deep breathing, we moved into different poses to stretch the hips. We also focused on methods of breathing up through the pelvis to the upper lungs and controlling the rib cage before allowing our legs to dangle across the pillow. Next, Benham placed cool, mint-scented washcloths across our foreheads while another student, a certified massage therapist, walked around and massaged everyone’s shoulders.

Then, as if waking from a slumber, we sat up slowly, stretched our arms once again, and a quiet “namaste” ended the class.

The class felt shorter than an hour, but I felt relaxed, my mind was clearer and I was ready for a nap.

Benham mentioned some people feel relieved after a restorative class, while others feel energized.

“At the end of a yoga class, what you feel is usually what you need to feel,” she said. “If you feel like you need a nap, your body probably needs one.”

I feel like I’m ready for a good sleep. And perhaps another yoga class.


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