Fitness

Practice Makes Perfect

Stretching for the truth at yoga

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Yoga is a tough thing to break into. It has its own language, even beyond all of the Sanskrit names you hear thrown around like they’re totally understandable to the layperson. Despite the fact that you do most of it lying down, yoga can be really rigorous, and leave you as sore as if you had thrown around kettlebells instead of warrior poses. If you don’t already know the language of yoga, it isn’t so easy to decode. Because there are so many different kinds of yoga – bikram, vinyasa, hatha – and each appeals to a specific need (like relaxation and meditation, or, on the other end of the spectrum, power and strength training), picking your first class can be a tricky thing. If you’re looking to om it out and get some peace of mind, a 90-degree room full of people doing crow pose – where you lift your entire body off the ground using only your hands – probably isn’t right for you.

The thing is, and this sounds trite, there really is a class for everyone. you can use yoga to clear your mind without breaking a sweat, or in place of circuit training. I stumbled into the right class for me a year ago, fell in love with the practice and haven’t looked back. But still, every studio has its own language. No two kinds of class are the same. So, I set out to explore the offerings at Raffa Yoga, a huge yoga haven in Cranston.

I had been to Raffa before, and loved the Urban Sweat facility (which is a series of wet and dry sauna rooms designed to have specific health effects, and which is a fabulous way to spend the day. I still dream about that eucalyptus steam room.) But I hadn’t taken a lot of classes there. I strolled into beginner Power Yoga thinking that I could roll with the best of them. Remember how I said it’s hard to tell what you’re going to get before you get to a yoga class? I found 50 people ready to rock at 9am on a Saturday morning, led by the human equivalent of a ball of energy, Christine Raffa. The class was 90 minutes of constant movement, taking us through the more achievable poses for beginners (like warrior one, warrior two and sideangle bends), but at a fast cardio pace. The practice used downward facing dog – a challenge pose in other classes – as its rest pose. Needless to say, it was a challenge, but the kind that feels great afterwards. My hamstrings were sore for two days, but it was good pain.

Yoga, for me, is about clearing my mind. I love a class that’s nice and slow, and lets me empty all the stress and clutter from the day. That’s exactly what my next class was: Yoga Stretch. The minute I walked into class, Stefany explained what we could expect: a class that would leave you stretched out and blissed out, but without breaking a sweat. Yoga Stretch is more like in yoga, which focuses on quality of stretch over quantity, holding poses for several minutes to retrain the muscles to be leaner, more flexible, more ready to stretch out. I loved it. Stefany explained that it’s a great practice for novices, but also for athletes who are looking for increased flexibility. It was the perfect intermediate choice between Power yoga and what was next, which would literally have me flying through the air.

Anti-Gravity yoga is tough. I’m going to say that right off the bat. It requires a level of upper body strength that you can generally get away with not having in other yoga classes. But it’s so much fun. There are two of these classes at Raffa: beginner, and all-levels. There are a lot of differences, but no matter how good you are at yoga, you should start with the beginner. Each student gets a hammock that’s hanging from the ceiling: in the beginner class, it’s about a foot off the ground; for all-levels, it’s about three feet up. Valerie, my instructor for both, was incredibly inspiring, both because of the explicit way she went through each pose, and the grace with which she did it. In the beginner level class, the hammock was a tool to enable better stretching, especially when it came to spinal stretches. In the all-levels, it was a way to hang like a bat, suspend yourself inside a womb, swing through the air like a kid. I may have been sore after, but I had more fun exercising than I ever have in my life. And I’m not exactly a person who goes to the gym for fun.

My last class was Mindful yoga, taught by Sherry late on a Sunday afternoon. This class, Christine explained to me, was a blend of the meditative and physical aspects of yoga. While those 90 minutes (at 90-degrees) were challenging, especially the killer series of sun salutation asana towards the end, there was plenty of time to om out during the class. Usu- ally a class is either/or for me: mindful, or intensely physical. This was both. I loved the blend. It was a perfect way to close out a weekend, and a yoga adventure. 19 Sharpe Drive, Cranston. 463-3335.

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