Some lie with their feet together, toes pointed straight in the air. Others keep their feet apart, toes pointing to the sides. Some have cloths covering their eyes, and others have brought their own essential oils to rub on the neck’s pressure points.

It’s relaxation time in the Kokomo Sports Center’s power yoga class and here, as during the workout portion of the class, everyone performs according to their own abilities.

I, for one, dropped out way before the cool-down. It was the Crane position that did me in: a sort of inverted Superman squat in which you place your hands flat on the floor and then lift your curled-up body off the ground — knees pressed against the backs of your upper arms, feet what looked to me to be a dangerous number of inches from ground.

In the succinct words of Sports Center student Nikki Frazier, “It’s not a sissy sport.”

That much was made clear to me in the first minute of class, when we moved rapidly from the Plank pose (like stalling at the apex of a push-up) to Downward Facing Dog (bending at the waist to make a triangle, with the floor as the third side, hands flat on the ground shoulder-width apart, feet flat on the ground) and then thrust our right legs out into the air behind us.

It was made abundantly clear to me when we did Warrior III (balancing on one leg, straightened, the rest of your body perpendicular to that leg, both arms thrust out in front of you, other leg creating a smooth line with the rest of the extended body) at which point I decided it was probably best to do something I was more capable of, such as Mountain pose (stand straight, arms loose at your sides).

This position allowed me to glance around the room to see how my classmates were fairing in comparison.

Better, much better.

I’ve done a little bit of yoga, but power yoga was an entirely different thing.

According to Rebecca Manring, assistant professor of India and religious studies at Indiana University Bloomington, yoga is part of an ancient Indian tradition dating to third century B.C.E.

The second of the scriptures outlining its tenets states that yoga is control of mental fluctuation, said Manring. Focus, concentration, awareness, consciousness — clear your mind of all distractions and stresses and you have already, in a way, begun to practice yoga.

Breathing, then, in yoga, is not a matter of instinct.

“There are certain poses which just aren’t possible if you’re not breathing properly,” said Nedra Hollingsworth, who teaches a blend of yoga influenced by classical/traditional yoga and the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Breathing properly means that you have to concentrate on the movement of every breath, something that I can tell you a lot harder than it sounds.

I found that drawing air in through my nose down into my diaphragm, feeling the expansion of my ribcage and then exhaling through the back of the throat and controlling the contraction of my abdominal muscles was just as much of a mental activity as a physical one.

That kind of integration of the body and mind means that even the littlest activities and sensations can take on a greater importance. To be able to move your arm and feel the slight breeze against your skin, said Hollingsworth, is quite a sensation. Which apparently means that even my old standby, the Mountain pose, holds some clout as far as yoga is concerned.

“I tell people that they can do yoga at the grocery store, just by standing on their own two feet,” said Hollingsworth. “Just in standing you can create tremendous strength.”

That’s because yoga works to develop muscular strength through the repetition and holding of positions (or asanas) such as the Crane and Mountain. The amount of holding you do on each position depends, however, on the type of yoga you do. Hollingsworth, with her classical approach, encourages her students to hold their positions as long as they are comfortable.

Renee Westbrook’s power yoga class at the Sports Center, however, has students moving from position to position at a rapid pace designed to get the heart rate up. She started doing yoga after seeing Madonna on the Rosie O’Donnell show “looking amazing” and attributing it all to yoga.

And even though Westbrook taught step and body sculpting classes for years before starting yoga, she saw “more of a physical change [in my body] than with anything I had done in years.”

Indeed, despite the fact that yoga has been on the radar in the United States since the late ’60s, the extent of its health benefits are only beginning to be understood. A study led by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and published in the July/August issue of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that yoga practice “may help prevent middle-age spread in normal-weight people and may promote weight loss in those who are overweight.”

Tom Burns, one of the Sports Center’s power yoga students, knows about that first hand. He started doing yoga three years ago because he needed to lose weight. He has and he’s never felt better mentally or physically. “I’m a yoga fanatic,” he said. “A lot of men are probably afraid of taking a yoga class but I love it.”

Westbrook has had a lot of men take her classes but none of them are as dedicated as Burns. “It’s hard in the beginning,” she said, “and a lot of men [at the Sports Center] lift weights, which shortens your muscles, while yoga lengthens your muscles.”

I’ve got some friends who do yoga, some more religiously as others, and those who do it more often see it as just that: a religion. But even for people who are just concerned in the fitness benefits of yoga, practicing it becomes a lifestyle, the breathing and concentration a not-unwelcome ever-present reality. For some, that’s a plus, a characteristic that comes to define days and how the hours within them are spent. Burns, for example, tries to do a yoga class or stretching every day. For others, however, yoga’s religious roots, are too hard to get past.

“When I first started the class, I had to write ‘No meditation’ at the end of the description,” said Westbrook. “There was a girl who refused to take the class because she thought it was against her religion.”

Yoga was developed as a way to get closer to God, but what god that may be and even whether you must connect to a higher power during the practice of yoga is, clearly, entirely up to you.

After choosing the kind of class you want to take and the kind of person teaching it, everything from the time you want to devote to yoga and the way you point your toes during relaxation can effect the way you experience the benefits.

“Every day that I do yoga I walk out of here feeling the effects a little differently,” Westbrook said. “Different muscles are sore, different stresses have been released.”

I, for one, can safely say that I am sore. [ f]

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