Interviewer: Gail Edgell
Gail Edgell: A lot of people are hearing more about yoga. First of all, what is yoga?
Amy Friese: It is simply a way to live your life. I think that there is a big misconception out there that yoga is a religion. Yoga is not a religion. There are different “limbs” of yoga, so to speak. The two on which we spend most of our time here in Western society are the poses, which are called asana, and the breath work, which is called Ramayana. These two parallel each other. They’re a way to calm yourself down, to get yourself stronger and more flexible, and to be present. This is kind of challenging in our culture these days.
Gail Edgell: Could you tell me what yoga is not?
Amy Friese: Like I had mentioned, yoga is definitely not a religion. It’s not a cult. It’s not something that you have to do all of the time. But yoga is not something that you can do one day and then get back to it a week or month or year later and forget everything you’ve learned. Your spirit, which is something we talk about in yoga in general, is always there. But when you start to move and breathe, you become more in touch with that, especially when your body is changing in all of these different stages of life.
Gail Edgell: Why is it important for perimenopausal and menopausal women to concentrate on yoga at this time in their lives?
Amy Friese: As your body changes, you rediscover it in different ways. When you are able to stop, breathe and really be present in how your body is moving, then you can better appreciate and re-educate yourself, rediscover what is truly going on. When you were active back in your teens, 20s, 30s and 40s, you were able to do many different things. Yoga allows you that time to stop and really pay attention to how your body has been changing over your lifetime.
Gail Edgell: I think that one of the biggest questions women are going to have is, “What if I am inflexible? Can I still do yoga?”
Amy Friese: That is by far the most common question that I get. If you are inflexible, yoga is exactly what you need. We start from a very basic level. Some people have a hard time sitting tall. For example, as women get older, they have a tendency to hunch over. We work on sitting and standing taller. We do simple things like side bends or folding forward from the hips, very easy poses — sometimes just as easy as sitting in a chair. Those are very basic things. But when muscles lengthen and become more flexible, that allows for more circulation. In becoming more flexible, regardless of where you are in that whole spectrum, you ultimately are becoming healthier.
Gail Edgell: There is one thing I’d like to say. I do take yoga myself. If you are taking yoga practice with a group of individuals, do not compare yourself to the person on the left, right or in front of you. There is always someone in the classroom who can literally turn themselves inside out. You’re looking at them and saying, “Oh, my gosh! Am I supposed to be like them?” Really, you’re just growing from the point where you started and saying, “Hey, can I do better today than I did last time I was practicing?”
Amy Friese: Absolutely. Every day that you do your yoga practice is different. It’s much like waking up on a Tuesday morning — it’s going to be different from a Thursday morning, although some things are going to be the same. Even when I teach the most basic poses to a person who has been practicing yoga for years and years, I always come back to this fact. Remember, it’s just as basic or complicated as you want it to be. It’s such a personal, personal practice. Your brain, heart and spirit are in different places than those of the person next to you. You have to give yourself that freedom and ability to do it for what you need that day and not compare. You will never be that person next to you.
Gail Edgell: How does someone begin practicing yoga if they’ve never done it before?
Amy Friese: Everyone is different. If you are a person who gets more energy from other people, or you enjoy being in a group, find a group and try a couple of different classes. There are a lot of studios around the country that offer a free session or some sort of promotion. Maybe you can get a couple of friends to take a class together. You can call and ask questions as well.
For those of you who are a little bit shy and would like to try something on your own at home, simply buy a tape or a book. You can experiment at your own pace. This tends to lead you to that studio or gym. You may even want to seek the advice of a professional yoga instructor and, if you’re fortunate enough, have him or her come to your home.
The important aspect is your posture. Seriously, if you can sit tall, lift from the sternum or the top of your head — imagine you have a crown on your head — and practice your breathing, you’re essentially practicing yoga. It’s building upon that very basic beginning.
Gail: When can instructors begin practicing? I know we talked about studios. The biggest question I would have going to a yoga studio, or even looking for a videotape, is regarding the qualifications or experience these instructors should have.
Amy Friese: That is a very good question. There are certifications that require a licensed yoga instructor to study and teach classes for 200 hours. There are licensures above that, for 500 hours and so forth.
You want to look for someone who is a registered yoga instructor or yoga teacher. Simply make that phone call to the studio. The majority of yoga studios require their instructors to have that licensure. At some health clubs, they will have to go through a certain number of hours of training, depending on the requirements. But they don’t always have to be registered yoga instructors.
It’s always about asking questions and continuing to ask questions. We owe it to ourselves to make sure that we are getting guidance from someone who truly knows what he or she is doing. In our self-discovery, in learning how our bodies move, we want to work with someone who has experience in working with people like ourselves — for example, perimenopausal and menopausal women. Our bodies are changing. We want someone who is knowledgeable, but also someone we can connect with and appreciate, someone we can really respect and trust. Trust is very important as well — that gets you into a different realm of trying different instructors. It’s not always going to be the best fit the first time through. Give yourself that freedom and that time to really find a good match.
Gail Edgell: Just to clarify, a licensed yoga instructor has at least 200 hours of training. Is that correct?
Amy Friese: Correct.
Gail Edgell: Is there anything else that you would like to add regarding yoga?
Amy Friese: I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and say, “I’m inflexible” or “I’ve always been afraid to try yoga. What do you recommend?” I just say, “You know what? You just have to give it a whirl.” Pick up an issue of Yoga Journal. That is a great, great place to start. The articles in that magazine are absolutely fantastic. I get it every month, and I always find something that is interesting.
Step outside of your comfort zone; that is another opportunity to grow. Try something new; try yoga. You’ll be reminded of how simple it is to breathe.
Gail Edgell: I know that there are different types of yoga, hot yoga or cool yoga. How do people know which one is better for them?
Amy Friese: That’s a good question. The hot yoga, which we sometimes call Bikram yoga, is a 90-minute class. Instructors have to go through very specific, strict training. For example, I am not trained in Bikram; therefore, I could not teach a Bikram class. This class is taught in a room that is 105 degrees Fahrenheit, which sounds kind of scary. But my experience was incredibly cleansing and very interesting.
For the most part, Hatha yoga is practiced in the United States. Hatha yoga is your basic yoga. Again, when you are making those phone calls or doing research online, make sure you are asking those questions and finding those answers.
Note: This article is an edited transcript of an audio interview. Changes have been made.