Q: Can you tell me about your yoga journey? Why you started, what you've gained, and why you've started teaching?

A: I started practicing yoga about 3 years ago because a friend of mine who was also a Pilates instructor taught yoga as well and encouraged me to try her classes. I was pretty much immediately hooked because it made my body feel so good. As a former ballet dancer, I was used to moving my body in unnatural ways that left me with damaged ligaments and tendons years later. Moving with purpose and attention with the asanas (physical yoga postures) just felt right. I felt like I was healing a lot of the damage I had inflicted on my body from nearly two decades of rigorous ballet training. I also just felt better mentally. Being a type A personality and naturally anxious person, the feeling that I got at the end of a yoga practice was something I couldn't explain, but I knew I wanted more of it. My stress levels dropped significantly and by learning to breathe through tough postures, I learned how to breathe through challenges in my life as well. I decided to become a teacher last year because the changes that I went through in my life were astounding and I thought that if I could share that with people, what a gift it would be. I completed my 200 hour Registered Yoga Teacher Training at Vibe Yoga in Bloomington, Indiana this winter and have been teaching as much as I possibly can!

Q: What separates a good yoga teacher from a bad one?

A: I have yet to come across a "bad" yoga teacher. I think that--assuming the instructor is properly qualified--there really is no good or bad, just what you as a student need or want. I have many friends who are yoga instructors that I love dearly as people but I choose not to practice with them because what they offer is not what I need. And vice versa! Plenty of yoga instructors at my studio are regulars in my classes and some aren't. And that's ok! I'm not offended if someone doesn't feel me as an instructor. We all bring different experiences and teaching styles to the studio so finding the instructors you feel comfortable with is important. Sometimes challenging yourself to take a class you may not typically enjoy is exactly what you need too! Honoring what you need day to day is important. Some days you may need a teacher with a loud speaking voice and tons of energy and other days your body or your mind might need a more relaxing, quiet class. Becoming aware of your needs is important and seeking out different instructors and styles of yoga is a great thing to do.

Q: Any tips for beginners?

A: My advice for beginners is to just try it! Don't worry if you're not flexible. We all start that way! So what if you can't touch your toes, you know? Remember that yoga is a practice and not a performance, and know that each day is a learning experience. Sometimes those days that are bad for your ego (where you fall on your face or can't balance, etc) are actually great for your soul. We don't start out our yoga practice being able to do perfect handstands and crazy looking back bends, but by putting in the work you eventually get there. There's no fun in being the best at something you have just started because there's no challenge, nothing to look forward to, nothing to achieve. So be okay with being a beginner, embrace each part of the journey and know that no one in a yoga studio will judge you for anything.

Q: Are there any groups people who you'd caution against practicing yoga or is it beneficial for all?

A: I wouldn't caution anyone against yoga. There is a type of yoga for literally everyone. There is chair yoga for the elderly or handicapped, prenatal, even prison yoga for those who are incarcerated! If you have any issues, I would certainly do some research and seek out a type of yoga that is appropriate for you, or at least let your instructor know what's going on so he or she can guide you through class safely. At my studio we have a blind woman who practices some pretty intense vinyasa classes several times per week. As long as someone guides her into the studio she is good to go! It's really remarkable and I am in awe of her. So yes, yoga is for all.

Q: I tend to avoid yoga because every time I've done it I'm incredibly sore the next day. What can one do to avoid soreness and injury?

A: Soreness is a natural bodily response and as long as its not debilitating, it's not harmful. Drinking lots of water to help flush the lactic acid out of your system will definitely help quell the soreness and by continuing to practice, you will be less and less sore. Sometimes some gentle stretching or a leisurely walk can help out with soreness as well. A lot of the injuries that I see in the studio are completely and totally avoidable. Knowing your body and what it is and is not ready for is important. Maybe you really want to get up into a headstand but your shoulders are not quite strong enough. This is a great example of when you should back off and not let your ego get in the way. Build your strength, then play. Most yoga postures are very safe but there are a few that can be dangerous, the headstand being one of them. Listen to your instructor, but most importantly listen to your body and practice patience when something doesn't feel right. If an instructor tries to force you into a pose or adjusts your body in a way that doesn't feel good, it's your right to let them know and/or take a child's pose and skip something that isn't working for you. Remember it's your practice, your body and you are always in control.

Q: Any yoga tips for women with lower back or neck pain? What about those with ankle or knee pain?

A: I could literally write a book on lower back pain. I think this is the number one complaint I get. A lot of lower back pain, especially in men, is due to tight hamstrings so yoga is perfect for that. There are definitely tons of other reasons but by moving the spine in all directions like we do in every yoga class, it will help to keep the spine supple yet strong which helps alleviate low back pain as well. You should be careful with neck pain you should be careful with. Always get the "okay" from your doctor when dealing with neck issues. That said, just being careful with shoulder stand, headstand, or any other poses with lots of flexion (forward bending) or weight bearing on the neck is important. Modifications are available for all poses and qualified instructors will know how to cue those modifications in class for any type of injury. Just make sure to let the instructor know! Remember also that blocks, straps, bolsters, blankets and straps are your friends.

Q: We all want to look like the svelte, sexy yogi advertised in brand ads (or better yet, you!) and so we invest in classes, mats and clothing. Many women are familiar with lulu lemon, but which other yoga clothing brands have you come to appreciate and why?

A: Lululemon is definitely a favorite among yogis because of the quality of the product, attention to detail, fun colors and great fit of the clothing. There are some other fantastic brands out there as well. My favorite yoga pants are from a brand named Teeki and they have the most fun prints! The pants are made from recycled plastic bottles too which I think is so cool. They are incredibly comfortable and fit really well. Hardtail has a really cute yoga line as well. Some other brands I really like include Onezie clothing, Lucy Activewear, and Zobha; Shakti Activewear makes the most adorable tops and bras! Lately I've been scouring Etsy for homemade yoga clothing and have found some really great, unique pieces. On a budget, Target has been coming out with some pretty awesome stuff lately and TJMAXX always has a great selection as well. I love the coziness of Alternative Apparel's hoodies and sweatpants for post practice.

Q: What kinds of considerations should one take into account when shopping for yoga clothing? Any tips for avoiding the dreaded camel toe?

A: I tend to avoid wearing shorts because I mainly practice heated vinyasa classes and with all the sweat it makes it nearly impossible to do arm balances on slippery, sweaty legs! I really like the Wunder Under Crops from lululemon because they're not as heavy and hot as full length pants but the material is long enough so there's traction to balance. Unfortunately, I am not endowed with big awesome boobs, but I hear lululemon makes an awesome sports bra (The Tata Tamer) for big busted women. For the most part, my Teeki and lululemon pants hide the camel toe. Looking for a diamond or triangle shaped gusset in the crotch of the pants will help alleviate camel toe. Additionally, I like to wear tops that are not super skin tight just as a personal preference, but I don't like tops so baggy that when I'm upside down, they're in my face. I'm a big fan of the no limits tank from lululemon, as well as the basic tri-blend racer back tanks from American Apparel or Alternative Earth.

Q: Where can we find you?

A: I teach hot power vinyasa classes at Vibe Yoga and Pilates Studio, vinyasa flow at Hoosier CrossFit, and private and group equipment classes at Lotus Pilates all in Bloomington, Indiana. Ellie has 600 hr. Comprehensive Pilates Certification, as well as, the 200 RYT mentioned above.

Follow Ellie's pages on facebook and instagram (@eatwithellie).

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