new_health (2006-51)

That’s Stretching It

Endurance yoga is as intense as it sounds

by Wendy C. Smith

I'll admit it. When I read the heading for a class entitled “Endurance Yoga,” I laughed. Yeah, yoga is hard, if you do it right. Yeah, you get a good workout, if you work it. Endurance yoga? Puh-leez. Isn’t that reserved for the treadmill or the elliptical machine? I could just imagine the whole class going through the poses at breakneck speed over and over or jogging in place while doing a sun salutation.

I was wrong.

The class I went to was taught by Jodi Vance, who teaches endurance yoga at several places in Knoxville. She been teaching endurance yoga for one and a half years and yoga for three years, and has been practicing yoga for 17 years. Vance got her yoga teaching certificate at AAAI/ISMA (American Aerobic Association International/International Sports Medicine Association) and is certified in Yoga I and II. She had already done two classes (one group and one private) when she showed up for our class. I found that a bit comforting. If she could do two and show up for a third, how hard could it be? I soon found out.

Endurance yoga is quite difficult at first, but very satisfying. It’s done in a warm room, and there is no running around or moving quickly. It is called endurance yoga because the practitioners hold the poses for two to several minutes, engaging the muscles and breathing into the stretch. The idea is to hold the poses for a long enough time that the mind takes over for the body when the body says enough.

Like I said, I figured if she could do three classes, I could do one. Well, the first pose was a side bend. I stretched up, over and out, and waited. And breathed. And waited. And breathed. I was actually out of breath by the time the first pose was done and we hadn’t even done the other side. That’s when Vance explained the part about letting the mind take over. I practiced doing that and, oddly enough, after several poses, I started to get it and was able to get my mind to a place where I could breathe through the poses and take my body out of it.

Vance is a very soothing teacher. She explained the pose and what to concentrate on during the pose while breathing. Her reminders to keep certain muscles engaged at various times were very helpful and important. It’s difficult to think about how hard something is when your concentration is elsewhere. For example, if I just thought about holding Warrior One (a lunge pose with outstretched arms) for several minutes, it was hard. But if I spent those same minutes concentrating on planting my feet, then squaring my hips, then reaching with my fingertips and breathing the whole time, the degree of difficulty fell dramatically. My mind took over for my body and let me do the pose much more easily.

Every class Vance teaches is made up of a different series of poses. Each pose is built on the pose before it. When we bent one way, we then bent the other. Vance says the poses are designed to build energy and flow to the stillness of Shavasana (Corpse Pose). I had never heard it put that way, but it really resonated with me (especially when we actually did that pose).

This class was wonderful. I got a very nice workout that I felt two days later, in a good way. There were also two things in particular that I liked about this type of yoga. The first was the mind-over-body component. Vance’s words as we held the various poses were very soothing and made it easier to get to that state. The second was the last pose, Shavasana or Corpse Pose. Shavasana consists of lying on the back with the arms slightly away from the body and the feet loose. I’ve never been a big fan of this pose and only recently learned its purpose, but when I did Shavasana in this class, I really felt the stillness. My body was very tired, and my mind had been working. I felt completely at peace lying there in the heat and the music.

But don’t let me forget to mention the best part about my particular experience that day. After the Corpse Pose, we rolled up into a fetal position on our right sides and, when I rolled, I rolled into a warm, bright, beautiful sunbeam. Nothing could have been nicer.

Jodi Vance teaches endurance yoga, as well as other yoga styles, in classes and private lessons. She can be reached at (865)584-3864.