Posted on January 27, 2015 at 6:00 am
While we first met over 30 years ago, it wasn’t until our daughters became friends that Erin Wert became a dear friend of mine. Now our girls are nearly the age as we were when we met. Over these last five years I have watched Erin’s sincere passion for yoga grow and develop into her beloved occupation. She is now a skilled yoga instructor, and the testament to how yoga changed her life is a powerful reminder that following your bliss can lead to success.
For much of the time we’ve been friends, I’ve battled neck problems. A pinched nerve causes my arm and hand to go numb. Poor Erin has listened to me complain and stress and cry about it. She always offers her sweet smile as I gripe. She gently suggests I try yoga and I moan that I don’t have time or money. She pleasantly tells me that just five to ten minutes is all I need to make a difference. I ignore her suggestion and we repeat the conversation the next time my hand goes numb.
Last week, I decided it was time to take her suggestion a little more seriously. I asked Erin for an interview and demonstration for this blog. I wanted to know more about how people like me—office workers who are in front of screens for the vast majority of waking hours—can benefit from yoga in just five to ten minutes a day. I should have guessed that Erin would find a way to be my friend even in a formal context. I expected to take pictures of her perfect poses, get a little background information, and write it up with a promise to try it all later. Instead, Erin made me the demonstrator and gave me a personal office yoga class, and answered some of my questions.
I have to say, she’s right, it took less than ten minutes and I felt better afterwards…at least I felt better until I realized I would have to post the pictures of me getting my asana (yoga poses) on. Despite my embarrassment, I share them, and our conversation, to demonstrate how ten minutes of easy office yoga can make a difference. I invite you to try it, too. Pictures of your poses are optional.
How long have you been practicing yoga?
I began practicing in 2001 at Harmony Yoga—which happens to be the longest running yoga studio in Spokane. At that time, I was looking for a way to relax and reduce stress. I was instantly drawn to the practice. I liked how it made me feel, but at that time I had lots of things I was interested in and only attended classes weekly. I also had long stretches of time when I didn’t go at all.
In 2006, I started working in a new corporate environment. The employer offered yoga in the employee gym so I took up the practice again. It was convenient to go to classes at lunch so I went regularly. I also liked the instructor. A good instructor makes all difference in yoga. My job was a stressful and corporate position, so it was even more important for me to find ways to reduce stress and yoga helped.
How did you become an instructor?
When I was pregnant I started to practice almost daily. I had always been conscience of staying healthy, but I took on a new seriousness about it during that time. I realized that taking care of myself was more than just eating healthy food. It was making healthy choices for both body and mind. The mindfulness I gained through the practice of yoga began to extend beyond the yoga mat and integrate into my daily life. After the birth of my daughter, practicing yoga also helped me deal with the stress of being a new mom.
About three years ago I learned that a long-time teacher of mine was offering a 200-hour yoga teacher training. I decided to participate solely to expand my own personal practice. I wasn’t intending to teach at that time. However, the training had a requirement to practice teaching. I discovered that I loved sharing my passion with others and decided to teach. I’ve been teaching ever since and currently teach back at Harmony Yoga where I first started. (Please click here to see a schedule.)
You talked about yoga helping physically and mentally. How so?
When I started I wasn’t particularly flexible even though I was just 23 years old. I was much less flexible than I am now. It is a common misconception that young people are more flexible and will be better at yoga. That hasn’t been my observation. I see a lot of 20-somethings with hunched shoulders and very tight hamstrings and I have to assume that is related to poor posture and time spent looking at screens and smart phones.
Physically, I have become stronger and more flexible. My posture has improved, as well as my balance. The core strength I developed from yoga has improved my other athletic pursuits. And, I know longer suffer from the numbness in my hands and arms which I suffered throughout my twenties.
As a philosophy, the goal of yoga is to quiet the fluctuations of the mind. You practice the yoga postures (asana) to keep the body healthy and strong. You practice mindful breathing and breath exercises to calm and center yourself (pranayama). Both contribute to a quieting of the mind (thoughts, emotions) and greater self-awareness. As I’ve deepened into the practice, I learned to be less reactive and more reflective. In yoga, you’re training the mind to not always follow the same thought patterns, but rather to see that you have a choice in how you react or interpret a situation.
Are there other common misconceptions about yoga?
I hear two all the time. The reasons people tell me they don’t practice yoga are that they aren’t flexible and they don’t have time.
There is a joke I like to repeat in response. “Saying you’re not flexible enough to do yoga is like saying you’re too dirty to take a bath.” Besides improving flexibility, yoga builds muscle strength, increases bone density, lowers blood pressure, promotes relaxation, increases blood flow, helps you focus, and can even make you happier. It is being taught to military veterans as well as prison inmates to treat PTSD. Personally, it changed my life around and laid the foundation for a healthier lifestyle.
As for the time it takes, a person doesn’t have to commit to a daily class or long weekly class. Even five minutes out of your day could make a huge difference in how you feel.
Okay, my friend, the time has come. Show me how.
First, sit on your chair with both feet firmly planted on the floor. Try to sit tall without resting against the seat back. Soften your shoulders down away from your ears and feel open through the chest. Close your eyes and take a few gentle breaths in and out through your nose. Let the sound of inhale and exhale bring you into the present moment. Try to let go of the to-do list in your head and be present with your breath.
Still sitting tall, slide your left hand under your left buttock with fingertips facing in. Rest your right hand to your left ear or just above it and gently draw the right side of your head toward your right shoulder. Try to relax through the left side of your neck and shoulder. Resist your right shoulder down away from your right ear. Try to breath slow and smooth through the nose. Try tilting your chin a little closer towards your chest and see if you feel a stretch through the back of the neck. To come out, slide your left hand away and before lifting your head, bring your right hand to your cheek and raise your head without using your neck. Repeat to the other side.
Turn so your right hip is parallel with your seat back and plant your feet firmly on the floor. Sit tall. Places both hands on the seat back and soften your shoulders down away from your ears. On an inhale, lengthen up through the top of your head, on the exhale, begin to rotate your torso to the right. Continue to lengthen up through the spine as you turn your belly, ribs and chest towards your seat back. Finally, turn your head and neck to look to the right (only if it feels okay). Breath into this spine twist. Release gently after 5 full breaths and turn so your left hip is closest to the seat back. Repeat the twist to your left this time.
Sitting tall toward the front of your seat, interlace your hands behind your back with palms facing one another OR if hands don’t reach, take hold of the outside edges of your seat. Draw both shoulders down away from your ears and both shoulder down your back and then feel them begin to press forward to open your chest. If you can, straighten the arms and further lift through the chest. Keep your spine long and feet grounded. Continue to breath slow and smooth through the nose.
Sit upright with feet planted firmly. Cross your right ankle on top of your left thigh. Have your right foot flexed and resting your right hand on top of the right knee, gently let the knee soften toward the floor. Stay with this for 5 full breaths in and out through the nose. Draw your shoulder blades down your back. On the exhale, begin to fold forward from your hips over the right chin. Try not to round through the back too much. Stay with the forward fold for 5 full breaths. Come up on an inhale and lower your right foot down. Repeat on the other side.
Come back up from the forward fold and once again sit tall. Rest your hands on your thighs and relax your shoulders away from your ears. Close your eyes and return to resting your awareness on the breath. Take 5 full breaths, letting your mind quiet. Gently open your eyes.
If you’re looking for more yoga resources from the library, click here.
About Erin Wert, RYT 200
My exploration into yoga began in 2001 with Alison Rubin, and I am a graduate of the 200-hour teacher training at Harmony Yoga. The serenity and joy I experienced after practice instantly drew me in and I continued to study with Alison for a number of years. Her focus on alignment melded with yogic philosophy set the foundation for the strong practice I now have.
In 2008 I began studying Forrest Yoga, an intense and therapeutic practice that truly resonated with my body. It was through this practice that I began to uncover that place of wisdom that resides within each of us. I completed a 30-hour Baptiste Foundations of Flow training in April of 2014 and continue to practice Forrest Yoga, as well as Vinyasa Flow, Bikram and Iyengar-based yoga. My style of teaching incorporates an eclectic mix of core work, breath awareness and vinyasa flow—a moving meditation to access the mind-body-spirit connection. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook.