Cheryl Green took her first yoga class more than a decade ago and was hooked.
“I was so drawn to yoga that I immediately felt that I would love to teach yoga and share the wonders and benefits of it with others,” Green says. Nine months after her first class, she began her yoga teacher training and has been leading yoga class at 24 Hour Fitness ever since.
“My principal teachers for the last 10 years have been Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee. I have taken several teacher trainings with them, including the Urban Zen Integrative Therapist program, which focuses on integrating restorative poses with breath awareness, aromatherapy and in body meditation. I continue to study and practice with them,” Green says.
24Life asked Green why everyone should consider cultivating a yoga practice and yoga moves to do for everyday health and well-being.
24Life: What drew you to yoga at the very beginning?
Cheryl Green: I remember being curious about yoga, but I felt apprehensive about taking a class. Ten years ago, yoga was not as popular as it is today. Yoga was still considered sort of “woo-woo” and mystical at the time. I remember taking my first class at Bally Total Fitness (now 24 Hour Fitness). I was working a full-time job, raising a son and also helping my aging parents, so I was quite busy and somewhat overwhelmed.
One Saturday morning after I had trained with my personal trainer, I decided to take a yoga class. After the class, I felt like a new person, full of energy and ready to take on whatever the day had to offer. I had not felt that good in a long time, and I attributed this sense of well-being to having taken the yoga class. I was hooked. I had undergone chemo for breast cancer five years before and had numerous health issues after that. For the first time in five years, I actually felt great and wished I had had a yoga practice during my treatment. I wanted to share the magic of yoga, so I became a teacher.
24Life: How frequently do you practice yoga and why?
CG: I generally practice yoga five days a week, and often seven days a week. With a consistent practice, I find that I have a general sense of well-being. It helps me tune in to my body’s needs and maintain mental clarity. I’ve suffered with back pain, plantar fasciitis and other issues in the past, but with a regular yoga practice, I have been able to eliminate these problems. My yoga students frequently ask how often they should do yoga, and I quote Judith Hanson Lasater, a well-known yoga teacher, author and physical therapist: “Only on the days you want to feel good.” This is so true.
24Life: What do you love most about yoga?
CG: The practice of yoga is truly a mind-body-spiritual practice. While yoga keeps me physically fit, it also helps me feel mentally centered and grounded. Yoga has awakened my spiritual side by teaching me to be more compassionate to everyone around me. Yoga wakes us up to living in the present moment. We live in a very fast-paced world where we, as a society, have become both mentally and physically so stressed that we are not living healthy lives. Yoga allows us to slow down, focus and take notice of what is important to live a healthy and happy life.
24Life: How should we use restorative yoga as a part of our weekly workout regimen?
CG: Restorative yoga is a great form of self-care. It gives us a chance to slow down, both mentally and physically, focus on our breath and quiet the mind. It is now a well-known fact in the health community that by taking a few quiet minutes a day, we can help lower our blood pressure, slow down our heart rate, reduce our anxiety and ground ourselves so that we can feel revitalized. Restorative yoga has long-term positive effects on our general state of mental and physical well-being.
24Life: How often should we be doing yoga?
CG: I think we should practice some form of yoga on a daily basis. Some days, we can have a more active physical practice of 30 to 60 minutes, with restorative poses and meditation on the in-between days. Even if you can’t get a full practice in, I would suggest doing some Sun Salutations and then any poses that come to mind. As you get more familiar with yoga, your body will tell you what poses it is craving.
24Life: What are a few ways to modify popular moves if you don’t have props on hand?
CG: I tell my students that less is better. If you are in a lunge position, side plank or even Chaturanga and you find it too challenging, lower your knee(s) to the floor. If you are in Warrior I or Warrior II and it is difficult to hold the pose, don’t bend the front knee so deeply. In Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana), if you cannot get your hand to the floor, place your elbow on your knee. There is no purpose in forcing yourself into a pose at the risk of getting hurt.
A good indicator that you are doing too much is when you notice that your breath is not flowing freely and that you are holding your breath. The moment that your breath is no longer flowing with ease, that is when you are no longer able to listen to what your body can and cannot do. So less is better.
24Life: Are there any yoga poses that we should be doing to keep us healthy and limber as we age—are there any specific poses we should do every day for overall health?
CG: Our muscles have been called our organs of longevity because they help support and keep our other organs healthy. Peak muscle mass and strength usually occurs at 25 years old. As we age, our muscle mass gradually decreases by 8 percent per decade, but we can slow down muscle loss by doing weight-bearing exercises.
My personal practice and classes generally focus on weight-bearing standing poses such as the Warrior poses, Triangle Pose, balancing poses and weight-bearing arm poses such as Chaturanga, variations of plank, side plank and forearm plank (also great for the core). I also like to include variations of hamstring stretches such as Standing Forward Bend, Head-to-Knee Pose and Seated Forward Bend, which can reduce back pain when done correctly and modified, if necessary. Twists help maintain a healthy spine, Crescent Lunge and Dancer’s Pose help stretch our psoas muscles, which tend to get short and weak from all the sitting we do, which contributes to lower-back pain. Cobra Pose, Upward-Facing Dog and Sphinx Pose are great poses for maintaining back strength for good posture. There are many great poses to help us create and maintain overall good health.
24Life: I want to work on flexibility for the long haul. What moves can I start practicing regularly?
CG: Yoga is not just about flexibility. Many people think of yoga as stretching, but it also builds strength. As one muscle contracts, its antagonist muscle stretches. I love doing Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara) A and B because the poses target most of the body’s muscles. Sun Salutations involve a sequence of poses that flow from one pose to another and are coordinated with the breath. After a few rounds of Sun Salutation B, one can vary the poses by substituting other poses such as Triangle Pose, Pyramid Pose or Side Angle Pose where you would normally do Warrior I.
24Life: Should I do yoga in the morning, at night—what’s the optimum time to do yoga?
CG: In today’s busy world, any time you can fit a yoga practice into your busy day is a plus! I think it is a personal choice. I prefer to practice in the morning. For me, it gets my blood pumping and wakes up my body and mind to start my day. I feel energized and ready to tackle whatever comes my way. They say the hardest thing is getting to the mat, so whenever you can get to the mat, that is a good thing. There are yoga practices that involve poses that are better for getting your day started and others that are geared toward winding down your day. Certain poses are very energizing, so they are best practiced in the morning, such as deep back bends like Upward-Facing Bow Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana). Poses with forward bends are more calming, such as Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana), so they should be incorporated into an evening practice.
Photo credit: Mark Kuroda, kurodastudios.com