Elena Hicks’ journey into yoga began in elementary school when it was more about story time and having fun with her sister and a few friends.
The fun is still in Hicks’ practice today, as the 16-year-old mixes handstands and arm balances with other poses on her mat in the studio where she now practices.
Yoga also provides a good balance to running for Hicks, who is a member of the Roosevelt High School cross country and track and field teams. A petite teen, yoga has helped Hicks make her muscles stronger and given her upper body strength she did not previously have, which allows her to pump her arms better and run faster to make up for her shorter legs.
She says yoga has also helped her become more in tune with her body and taught her how to deal with running injuries, aches and pains associated with her sports. Before she actively practiced yoga, Hicks had a track injury that she ignored until she could no longer walk up stairs.
“Now, if there’s the tiniest twinge of discomfort, I know to take care of it right away,” she says. “Without yoga, I don’t think I would have that body awareness.”
Hicks isn’t the only person who has discovered yoga, which has become more and more popular in the Des Moines area, with new studios opening and more fitness clubs offering the practice to their members. Many communities’ parks and recreation departments also offer yoga classes, and school districts often offer classes through their community education programs.
In time, yoga practice becomes more than physical workout for DM teen
At first, Hicks says she enjoyed the workout she received from yoga, but then she developed a sense of closeness and community with other yogis and began to appreciate the hour she was on her mat as her own time, a time away from her life as a busy teenager.
She had tried doing yoga from books and YouTube videos and experimenting with different styles. However, it was too physically difficult on her neck looking at videos while trying to practice, and she would often be interrupted by her younger sister or her parents. She also likes the structure of studio classes.
“I just really liked how it made me feel, and I liked how it was organized,” Hicks says. “I didn’t have to think about what to do. There was someone guiding it.
“I know that when I come (to the studio) it’s either to teach or take yoga or meet with people and build community.”
Hicks says even though yoga is another thing to add to her schedule, she feels as though it gives her more time because she has more energy to do other things once she finishes a practice.
“I think it makes me more productive,” Hicks says.
Desire to learn more about self, yoga leads Hicks to take teacher training
In November 2013, Hicks took yoga sculpt teacher training and began teaching in June. She completed a 200-hour power yoga training this summer.
She initially took the training to deepen her own yoga practice and learn more about proper alignment and form and how various muscles work in poses. But as she took training, Hicks realized it helped her break free of her shell.
“I’ve always been kind of socially awkward or shy, but I don’t think that’s the case at all anymore,” she says, adding that learning to connect with others in yoga helped her in school and with her sports teams.
Hicks taught a chair yoga class to a group of seniors at an assisted living facility. She’s also taught sculpt classes to her track team after meets.
“It was a really good way to get the word out and experiment with (yoga) knowing the girls there had no idea and were complete beginners,” she says.
Hicks wants to get more teenagers interested in yoga. A lot of them have misperceptions about yoga and have thought she was weird because she practices, she says.
“I want to get other kids to understand why it’s so great, and that it’s not weird,” she says.
“We’re in a time where we really need it,” she continues. “There’s a lot of stress and over-scheduling and doing things just because it looks good on a college scholarship. I think people need to take time for themselves.”
West-side Des Moines woman’s perception of yoga changes through course of her practice
Mary Kay Smith first tried yoga through home videos and some studio visits several years ago. She had hoped the practice would help alleviate back and hip pain.
“My initial perceptions of yoga weren’t that great, actually,” she says. “I found it really boring. I was used to faster paced workouts, and I didn’t want to ‘waste’ my time taking a class where I wouldn’t see physical results. I wasn’t in the right mind frame for yoga at that time in my life either.”
A year ago, she found a new studio in Des Moines that offered hot yoga through a more physical practice. It was in that first class at the new studio where Smith says the mind-body connection often referenced when talking about yoga finally made sense to her, and she discovered yoga was a much more challenging workout than she initially believed.
“Ever since I have started practicing yoga on a regular basis, my life has changed so much,” she says. “I have a sense of peace, of compassion, more patience, happiness and gratitude for my life that I didn’t have before.
“I come back to my mat, as that is where my spirit is rejuvenated, where I am able to find sacred space and connection to myself,” she continues.
Smith decided she wanted to share that “aha” light bulb moment with others and became a yoga teacher. She describes the 10-week training as an intensely physical and emotional process where she learned a lot about herself.
She decided she wanted to share with her students all of the benefits yoga could bring them both physically and mentally. She does it with a light-hearted approach.
“I always tell my students that yoga doesn’t have to be super serious,” Smith says. “You can laugh and enjoy your practice. Yoga is practice, not perfection.”
Easy college credit course turns into regular practice for Des Moines woman
Mary Kathryn Daugherty first took a yoga class her sophomore year of college as a way to earn easy credit hours and for exercise.
“After the first week, I knew two things: Yoga was way more than stretchy pants and smelly mats, and that downward facing dog was my new enemy,” she jokes, saying that she’s now overcome that pose, and crow pose, an arm balancing inversion, is now her new “enemy.”
Daugherty says she kept coming back to her mat for the mental and physical benefits she received. She practices between three and five times a week. While she admits not every practice makes her feel like a new person, she says the great experiences outweigh the not-so-great ones. She recently completed a 200-hour teacher training program.
Physically, she says her arms and other areas of her body have tightened, she is more limber, and she feels less bloated than before she began practicing.
“The mental and emotional benefits go hand in hand for me,” Daugherty says. “My brain is less foggy after a good flow, which in turn, makes me a more pleasant person. I feel like some days/weeks there is so much going on that I can’t do anything to the best of my ability. Yoga makes me stop and think about one thing at a time.”