Are you interested in discovering yoga, and what it can do for both your body and mental well-being? Or maybe you have been a yoga fanatic for years, like me, and would like to check out new studios and explore different forms of the ancient practice.
Whichever category describes you, Labor Day on Monday brings the perfect opportunity. It's the 12th annual Free Day of Yoga Austin, a non-profit event dedicated to providing the gift of yoga to the community. More than two dozen yoga studios are participating, offering over one hundred yoga classes all around the Austin area - completely free to the public.
Free Day of Yoga began in 1999, as a way to educate the Austin community about the health and wellness benefits of yoga. Since then, the free event has expanded to Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and other cities. It's a great way for newbies to discover yoga without cost and in a comfortable, welcoming environment, and for experienced yoga practitioners to try new styles and instructors or to share yoga with friends and family. The day has grown so much that this year, a second Spring Free Day of Yoga was added in March.
The event kicks off on Sunday, September 4th at Whole Foods Market downtown. Beginning at 10 am, all sorts of vendors will be on hand, from yoga clothing and gear to snacks and massage services. The first 100 people will received gift bags filled with all sorts of giveaways. From 10:30-11:30 there will be three yoga classes from which to choose - beginner, intermediate and a children's class - all led by multiple teachers. Yoga instructors themselves get a lot out of Free Day of Yoga; it's a chance to interact with one another and further the practice in Austin.
MaryAnn Reynolds is one of those instructors, who has been practicing yoga since 1982 and can really appreciate an offering such as Free Day of Yoga. "There weren't many classes back then," she says. "I learned it from a book and from Lilias on television. After a car wreck in the mid-1990s, I found good teachers to work with." MaryAnn specializes in restorative yoga, a restful style that uses props to support the body in mostly reclining positions. She is teaching a Monday restorative class from 6:00-7:30 pm at Thrive Fitness, 3212 S. Congress. She also teaches private yoga classes, at her home or the client's.
"It's very passive and relaxing - no yoga experience is required," MaryAnn says. "It allows the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest, the opposite of fight or flight) to dominate, calming the body, broadening perception, and restoring energy." Restorative yoga is important because although humans are designed for activity, rest and sleep, most of us cut out the "rest" part in today's busy world. "It's no wonder that 90 percent of doctor visits are for stress-related conditions," she adds, highlighting a prime benefit of yoga. It's a practice as much for the psychological well-being as the physical.
Free Day of Yoga Austin offers so many different styles of yoga and locations that it requires a bit of planning to decide where to go. There are classics such as Hatha, Iyengar and Ashtanga; heated-room yoga; prenatal sessions; children's yoga; and plenty of gentle/beginners classes. There are even classes on yoga diet and lifestyle, that include a vegetarian dinner, and classes incorporating sound and meditation.
Desirae Pierce, who opened Breath & Body Yoga in March 2006, is a follower of Baptiste Power Yoga. This style incorporates a dynamic combination of strength, sweat and spirituality in a heated room, meant to detoxify, heal, and electrify. It's both accessible and challenging. "Yoga transformed my life," Desirae says. "I went from being unhappy, unhealthy and inauthentic to fulfilled, energetic and in love with life. This journey is incredible and using yoga technology we can all live to our fullest potential."
Breath & Body Yoga offers five classes for Free Day of Yoga, including three led by Desirae, at their studio located at 4800 Burnet Rd.
The Free Day of Yoga website has a complete schedule of all the classes offered on Monday, as well as an FAQ and information on the teachers and studios involved. If you want to know more of what it's all about, you can even watch a video of the 2010 event. The website also gives the following suggestions for making the most out of your Free Day of Yoga:
• Arrive early. Classes are well attended, so arriving early will ensure your place.
• Wear loose comfortable clothes to class so you can move easily.
• Have a stomach that is neither too full nor too empty.
• Most yoga classes are taught barefoot.
• Please bring a towel, blanket or yoga mat to class since some studios do not provide these.
• Do the best you can in class and don't overdo it. If it hurts, or you're "really gettin' a good burn" you may be taking it too far.
• Always, always go at your own pace and respect the limits of your body.