This story is part of a January series exploring mind-body practices. Coming up next week, mindful eating.
When it comes to mind-body practices, yoga has America’s full attention.
Nine out of 10 Americans are aware of the presence of yoga, and 75 percent believe “it’s good for them,” according to a 2016 survey by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs.
But its wild popularity has muddied its true purpose. Current trends tie yoga to expensive clothing lines, young women in stunning poses on Instagram, “hot yoga,” classes offering beer and wine and others that provide cats and goats in the room, for some reason.
Contemporary Western culture has materialized yoga and made it a physical practice, a far cry from its beginnings roughly 5,000 years ago as a philosophy to still the mind to find the true self.
Built from a rich background of ethics, philosophy and anatomy, yoga is a subject that never ends, said Jeri Hudak, who has taught yoga in Moscow for 30 years.
“I don’t know why you have to have goats. It’s interesting in and of itself.”
Hudak, 60, owns what is likely the region’s longest-existing yoga studio, the Moscow Yoga Center. As yoga spread in the U.S., it splintered into 1,000 different kinds, some rooted in ancient traditions, others far removed. Iyengar yoga, which is the former, is taught at the center. It’s named after B.K.S. Iyengar who had a major influence on how yoga is practiced in many studios around the country today.
“Iyengar is responsible for the use of props — blocks, belts, chairs and ropes. Their purpose is to help everybody to achieve the pose, despite their limitations,” said Hudak, who studied with Iyengar and his son in India and the U.S.
Iyengar also emphasizes proper alignment more than many other types of yoga, Hudak said. This allows people to safely hold poses for awhile, she said, “long enough to make subtle adjustments and feel it and go inward.”
Unlike yoga classes in which students follow along by watching what the teacher does, in Iyengar yoga the teacher directs the class verbally and is hands on, walking around the room looking at how students’ bodies are aligned and occasionally adjusting them.
Hudak first discovered yoga in a book, “Richard Hittleman’s Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan,” she said, with a laugh. She attended some classes, but in 1985 went to her first class where the teacher adjusted students.
“I never knew you could do it wrong. It really opened my eyes to the complexity of yoga,” she said.
Later that year, she went to Seattle for a weekend Iyengar workshop “and that was that,” she said. It wasn’t long before she was asked to teach and was hooked.
People often think flexibility is required to do yoga, but that’s not true, Hudak said. “Strength, I think, is first.”
Flexibility will eventually come, along with other benefits like, “awareness going inward,” she said, “feeling your muscles and bones and aligning them; done properly it becomes meditative.”
Hudak oversees five other teachers at the Moscow Yoga Center, located on the second floor of a Main Street building since 1991. The center offers classes for beginners that are slow, easy and progressive. It also offers classes for more advanced students. In addition there is a free, weekly class open to anyone from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays at the Latah Recovery Center.
“You don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with,” Hudak said about any yoga class.
Over the years, many people have told Hudak they never knew how to relax before they learned yoga. She was shocked the first time she heard that; now she knows it’s a common need.
“You can learn relaxation,” Hudak said.
IF YOU GO
WHEN: 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays
WHERE: Latah Recovery Center, 531 S. Main St., Moscow
OF NOTE: The class is offered by the Moscow Yoga Center. Information about the center and its class schedule is available online at www.moscowyogacenter.com, by calling (208) 883-8315 or emailing email@example.com.