Yoga. It always makes me think of a dairy concoction with fruit and live, active cultures. Like most people, I've figured out that the two are, though attractive in many cases to the same demographic, different. Yoga, the millennia-old practice of spiritual and physical exercise based on Hindu doctrine, is enjoying a very of-the-moment resurgence, while yogurt is simply becoming a snack food for kids. Yoga has fully replaced having a personal trainer on the starlet circuit (you know, stop eating meat, start smoking, date a star of a top 10 TV sitcom, release your single - or date a rock star and shoot your sitcom pilot episode - visit the plastic surgeon and get an imminently copyable cute hairdo. That
starlet track). Everyone from Madonna to my childhood next door neighbor swears by it. But what is it, really? When I got pregnant, all I kept hearing about was how good yoga was for pregnancy and its mysterious end, labor. Eventually, my fear that all yoga classes are really led by proselytizing instructors bent on spiriting you away from your loved ones, convincing you to wear skirts and pants together and say things like "chant with gleeful spirit!" was overridden by the fact that I couldn't breath or sleep. So I went. I'm not a devotee yet, but I'm interested enough to keep trying, especially since the breathing exercises took care of the whole oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange problem. But do I now know what yoga is? Not really. I keep being told what each position is and what it's for, but all I can remember is that I used to do most of these in kindergarten and first grade: sitting with the legs crossed, back bends, head stands, your garden variety playground causes of mishap. Maybe Elaine Hansen knows. Hansen, a Jersey City-based artist, turned her First Street studio into a yoga classroom in 1997. Familiar with the stretches of yoga from her own childhood, Hansen slowly imported elements of the practice into her life, but she wasn't really taking it seriously - that is, until she had a health crisis in her early 30s. In addition to a low-grade depression and exhaustion that just wouldn't go away, Hansen's turpentine allergy worsened to the point that her second career as an art teacher was threatened. Hoping that what friends had told her about the healing power of yoga was true, she headed to Integral Yoga in Manhattan for help. "I really started getting interested in the medicinal qualities of yoga," said Hansen, who credits yoga with curing what ailed her. Hansen got a teaching certificate from Integral, intending only to teach at the studio as part of its "Karma Yoga" program, working on a volunteer basis. Eventually, after seeing how Yoga could help the seriously ill - from cancer patients at Gilda's Club to heart transplant recipients at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital - Hansen decided to devote some of her creative energy, as well as her art studio space, to teaching. Four days a week, Hansen offers a variety of classes at her studio, located in Jersey City's art building at 111 First St. Classes are as small as two to three students, and never get larger than about 12 people. In this intimate setting, enhanced by mood setters like candles, incense and Hansen's soothing tones, spiritual and physical transformations begin. "It must be so boring, sitting there on the treadmill watching TV," said Hansen, theorizing why people turn to yoga for physical fitness and find success after the failure of more mainstream attempts. "If you're sweating and working so hard, if it's just to lose weight - I don't think many people have the will to do it. It has to be more gratifying." Here's where the gratification is supposed to come in: when assuming these poses, one can "turn off the logical analytical part of the brain and concentrate on the breathing," as Hansen puts it. This disconnect, in the world we've come to know as full of extra hours, longer lines, more communication/complaining, more than what we asked for, is a true value. And in that disconnect, a positive habit is formed. "Yoga can create a positive habit for the body," said Hansen. "It can help get rid of negative habits, whatever people want to let up on." It's the Zen approach to getting the monkey off your back, something lots of people find they enjoy along the way. And you can't mess with the track record: the oldest statue depicting the lotus position is 6,000 years old. Why isn't there an infomercial with a Lucy Liu testimonial touting the benefits of yoga on the air yet? Have we, theCurrent
community, learned what yoga is? Not exactly. We've learned yoga is a journey, not to be contained in a snappy phrase or even a semi-lengthy newspaper article, but rather achieved at our inner self's pace. And that we should chant with gleeful spirit!