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Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009 07:04 pm

Yoga comes in many wonderful flavors

Instructor Robin Retherford leads her class in a flip during an AntiGravity Yoga Wings yoga class.

You can do it in the air. Or by sea.

You can do it if you’re young. Or old. Or in 100-plus-degree rooms (Bikram yoga).

Indeed, yoga, the ancient Hindu practice for the mind, body and spirit, has evolved from breathing exercises and meditative poses to physical therapy to aerial choreography to a new way to firm your face, calm your child or limber up while pregnant.

“The thing about yoga is it’s such a vast system, there’s a million variations you can do,” said Dayna Macy, spokeswoman for Yoga Journal, a monthly magazine. “Like any other pursuit in any other area, you can make lots of different judgments on what’s good, what’s not good, who knows, who doesn’t know.”

We tried out some of the more unusual yoga classes out there:

AntiGravity Yoga Wings

Like a high-flying circus act, with acrobats snaking up a rollicking trapeze, AntiGravity Yoga Wings promises the thrill of dance-defying gravity yoga in the air, albeit at a safer altitude.

Practitioners of AntiGravity Yoga Wings perform traditional yoga poses, or asanas, while suspended in a hanging fabric hammock.

“The class is a fusion of everything,” says Robin Retherford, a former dancer and fitness buff. Retherford teaches a weekly class at Crunch Fitness in Miami Beach, Fla. “It combines yoga postures, dance and Pilates movements that help align the body and really strengthen the body from the core out.”

It is also something else: not for the faint of heart.

For first-timers, moves like the monkey wrap (hanging upside down with legs wrapped around the hammock, palms free or touching the ground) can prove daunting.

There are occasional collisions, notes Dylan Giordano, an exceptionally flexible 16-year-old, who has found that out the hard way.

“It’s the perfect class to get exercise and relax at the same time,” said Giordano. “I’m not the scared type. You pick up on it. Even if you fall a few times, you get back up.”

Pre-natal yoga

Bending, stretching and pregnant bellies? In Elizabeth Bonet’s class, it makes sense.

Part yoga class, part group therapy session, the twice-weekly Pre-Natal yoga classes at Lisa’s School of Dance & Gymnastics in Plantation, Fla., appeal to pregnant women looking for a different yoga class.

Many have tried regular yoga and find themselves standing around much of the time.

“A lot of times the instructor doesn’t know what to do with them,” she said. Her class is “more gentle” than a traditional yoga session, but still offers health benefits like relieving pressure on the back, positioning the baby in the womb.

“It’s a pregnancy support group with fun exercises,” says Lindsay Stewart, who is more than eight months along. “It’s really nice to have that connection with people that you don’t have at home or work.”

Led by Bonet, a clinical psychologist who treats women and men suffering from postpartum depression, the classes begin with an informal chat. Seated in a circle, the soon-to-be mommies talk about what’s new in their lives. Bonet recounts recent birth stories from former classmates.

“She swam into the world weighing a whopping 8 pounds, 21 ounces,” begins the birthing story of baby Kate, delivered during a water birth just days earlier.

As yoga classes go, the poses are not particularly challenging — for those not expecting. The emphasis is on stretching and breathing, and an extended relaxation session at the end.

“Give these moments to your baby. Know that the birth that they will have will be beautiful no matter how it happens,” Bonet intones.

Says Erica Zarchin, 38, who is expecting her first child: “The yoga part — that’s the icing.”

Kids yoga

“Criss cross yoga sauce!” Vanessa Villa exclaims, signaling the start of another class.

“Who can tell me what one ding means?” she asks, striking the chimes once. (Hint: It’s a sign to pull on your magic string.)

“Two dings?” That’s classic lotus pose. And three dings is when you touch your “magic spot” between your eyebrows.

If the instructions sound childish, they’re supposed to. Villa’s oldest student is 10, her youngest, 4.

While their mothers and fathers were taking the intermediate class with Susie, or beginners with Anamargaret, the kids were practicing their best Superman pose. Yoga for children has become so popular, it’s being taught at some schools.

Villa incorporates various techniques into the routine — mooing like cows while in cow pose, for example.

“When you have all the kids mooing, and all the kids meowing, there’s a really great energy from it.”

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune

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