Health & Wellness
Yoga 101

Yoga 101

Atlanta yoga instructors give advice and tips

The practice of yoga dates back thousands of years, and is still popular today for its physical and mental benefits. Yoga, which means "to join or yoke together," aims to stretch the body and spirit through measured breathing and different poses.

According to the American Yoga Association, the techniques date back more than 5,000 years, and the whole system of yoga is built on three main structures: exercise, breathing and meditation.

Newcomers to yoga will see many different benefits. "After just a few classes, yoga will begin to reshape the body, working towards optimizing strength, flexibility and tuning up all of the body's systems," explains Jeff Sousa of Ember Hot Yoga. "However, from the first class, and then all along the way, the main benefit is just how you feel after practicing. New students notice more energy, less stress and anxiety, and increased focus." John Merideth, the founder and director of OnlYoga adds, "Yoga can lower blood pressure, alleviate diabetes, allow better concentration, and improve overall fitness and well-being."

With all the different types of yoga out there, make sure you ask yourself why you want to try it and use that as a guideline to find the one that is right for you.

How to Choose: Assess Your Condition

Depending on your level of physical fitness and any medical issues you may have, it's best to shop around before deciding on a specific practice. Merideth explains that while many people want to achieve peak physical fitness, others are recovering from major illness and need a gentle practice.

"Choosing a style is more about exploration than anything else. Find a class and teacher that keep you coming back for more," says Meryl Arnett, a lululemon ambassador who teaches at Atlanta Hot Yoga and Ember Hot Yoga. "Not all yoga classes are created equal. I often see new students exploring yoga after injury. Look for something therapeutic or alignment-based."

As with any new fitness class, you are trying for the first time, make sure to speak with your primary care physician if you have any concerns about your health limitations. "Check with your doctor and talk about intentions so we can enter the journey safely together," says Lisa Agostoni of Charmed Yoga. "It's critical that new students tell instructors of any injuries, illnesses or medical conditions - past or present - so we can make modifications."

Yoga is not only being practiced inside studios, but also in parks and other outdoor venues making it even more accessible. "To see people come together in an outdoor community yoga environment is an amazing experience – it connects them and grounds them," says manager at exhale Atlanta, Anne-Marie Berte, a yogi who has taught and organized several outdoor yoga events. "I think more and more people are gravitating towards yoga because of the strong need to let go of stress, reconnect with themselves and also with others."

Yoga Over 40

Concerned that you've started yoga too late in life? Instructors say not to worry. According to Arnett, yoga is for all ages, body types and fitness levels. "The most common thing I hear is 'but I'm not flexible,'" she says. "I promise this does not matter. The purpose of class is to build flexibility and strength slowly and safely. There are as many variations of each pose as there are body types. Your teacher will find modifications that are right for you."

Agostoni believes breathwork is key for helping people of any age. "As a 40-year-old with cystic fibrosis, I recognize power and beauty in breath," she says. "Linking breath to poses builds endurance." There are two types of breathwork: three-part yogic breath, which helps to control breathing and increase lung capacity, and Kapalabhati, a traditional internal cleansing technique.

Trend Alert: Hot Yoga

The hottest new yoga practice is simply that. Participants move through poses in 105-degree temperatures. Arnett outlines pros and cons: "Hot yoga allows muscles to stretch more than in regular temperatures, so you can access poses more comfortably. Sweating also encourages detoxification. The hot room isn't always appropriate though." Those with high blood pressure may want to stay away. Low blood pressure can also lead to dizziness or lightheadedness. Take your personality into consideration too. "If you are high-stress, the hot room may pull you further out of balance. If you are 'go-with-the-flow' then a hot class could complement your personality," Arnett says.

Yoga Styles

If you still haven't decided which yoga is right for you, read on to discover the differences between Ashtanga, Yin and everything in between.

Hatha: The most common yoga in the United States, emphasizing poses with breathing and meditation.

Try it: If you're new to yoga and want to learn beginner's poses, relaxation and meditation techniques to help you become more comfortable with yoga.

Iyengar: May benefit those in need of physical therapy through props like blocks, cushions and straps.

Try it: If you are more practiced at yoga poses, but want to gain better alignment through the use of different props.

Vinyasa: Translated "to flow," constant movement through poses creating a high-energy workout.

Try it: If you find constant movement more exciting than simply stretching. This type of yoga will incorporate flow sequences like "sun salutation" into the class.

Ashtanga: Meaning "eight-limbed," a multi-pronged, demanding approach that suits ex-athletes who are used to moving quickly.

Try it: If you are more independent and like to move quickly through your day, but still like to maintain order in your life, this athletic form of yoga is for you.

Restorative: Incorporates the use of props to assist in relief of chronic stress, illness and injury.

Try it: If you want to combine yoga with other athletic activities, and also need to stretch out sore muscles. This type of yoga uses props such as blankets to help you maintain a yoga position for 10 to 20 minutes.

Yin: Highlights deepening postures, stretching connective tissues, and creating greater flexibility.

Try it: If meditation or relaxation is your goal, this is the yoga for you. It is similar to restorative yoga in that the poses are held for long periods of time; however, in Yin yoga, the goal is deeper meditation.

Jivamukti: This practice can involve music, scripture reading, and chanting. The emphasis is more spiritual than physical.

Try it: If yoga is a more spiritual path for you than athletic, and if chanting while doing yoga doesn't bother you. This type of yoga has been adopted by celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Russell Simmons.

AcroYoga: This yoga practice builds on communication, trust, and concentration to achieve acrobatic yoga sequences with two or three people.

Try it: If you work well with others, are experienced in yoga, and want more of a challenge, this is the new yoga class for you. Namaste.


Adrenaline Fitness
Aerobics Yoga &
American Yoga
Atlanta Hot
Atlanta Polarity & Intuitive Yoga
Balance Yoga
Body Awareness
Ember Hot
exhale mind body
Healing Hearts
Kashi Atlanta Urban Yoga
Peachtree Yoga
Sacred Garden
Tough Love
Yoga By

2012 Readers' Choice/Facebook Faves

neda-draupadi-honarvarNeda Draupadi Honarvar, E-RYT

I am the owner of Tough Love Yoga, the creator of Metal Yoga and a current yoga ambassador for Lululemon Athletica. My love for teaching is second only to my passion for learning, and believing that being a student of yoga has and continues to transform the capacity and potential of my mind, body and heart. I have studied yoga for over 12 years and have completed 200 hour certifications in Classical Hatha yoga and Kali Natha yoga, and have completed Anusara Immersion and Level 1 Anusara Teacher Training.


What other types of life improvement do you practice?
Yoga and meditation are my true loves, but I also love hiking as an alternative means to ground through my body and clear my mind.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
Yoga is a practice. It's a lifelong relationship that will nourish and transform you, but just like every other relationship, there are challenges. Don't give up. Be open, have fun and try not to take yourself too seriously or give yourself a hard time, especially when you're doing something that's difficult. Try to approach your challenges with excitement rather than frustration. Stay devoted and work through them. I promise it's worth it.

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
A Native American wise man once said there were always two dogs inside of him fighting–a good dog and a bad dog. When asked, 'Which one wins?' he replied, 'The one I feed.'


helen-novielloHelen Noviello

I received a B.S. in health and physical education as well as numerous fitness and yoga teaching certifications, and have been working and teaching in the health, wellness and fitness industry for 35 years, teaching yoga for 25. I teach yoga at my private studio, Yoga By Helen. My very eclectic flow style of teaching is non-competitive, spiritual and nurturing. In addition to how incredibly centered teaching yoga makes me feel, the biggest joy of sharing my love of yoga is seeing the bliss it creates in my students.

What other types of life improvement do you practice?
In addition to practicing yoga and meditation, I live a very holistic lifestyle including organic, whole food nutrition, organic natural cosmetics, supplements, herbal teas, aromatherapy and alternative health. I feel it is a must to get into nature for a walk everyday.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
Yoga is about what feels good for you. Do not compare, do not compete. It is important to find your own expression of yoga and not worry about what others are doing. Yoga is a blissful practice that should always feel good.

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
Words I strive to live by: "Have a smile in your heart, love and compassion in your intent finding gratitude in the gifts of each and every moment."


pam-sharpePam Sharpe

I am an Atlanta native and have enjoyed teaching yoga for over 20 years. My certifications include: Kripalu yoga (200 hours), and additional 500 hour certification through Esther Myers of Toronto, Canada. I especially enjoy working with singers, performers and seniors. Yoga is a lovely gift to be shared with each unique individual.

What other types of life improvement do you practice?
I am an accomplished singer, actor, artist, reflexologist and master's swimmer. I am also the proud mom to two beautiful golden retrievers and a cat, and wife to my great husband, Ken.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
I would say find a very experienced teacher, start slowly and have fun. If it isn't fun, it isn't worth doing.

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
In the words of yoga teacher, Vanda Scaravelli, "For simple!"


jacob-mcLendonJacob McLendon

I am a Nesta and BodyFlow certified yoga instructor and have been teaching for over eight years.  My teaching style is a mix of Ashtanga and Vinyasa.

What other types of life improvement do you practice?
I am an avid participant in CrossFit as well as other fitness programs and the owner of Adrenaline Fitness and CrossFit AF.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
Don't rush it. Take your time and the changes will come.

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
"Life, its choices and its practices are relative to the practitioner."


cindy-olahCindy Olah

I have been practicing yoga for 15 years and became a 200 hour registered yoga teacher in 2002. I received my Anusara Inspired Yoga license in 2010 and I'm also a Reiki Master. I opened Sacred Garden Yoga in 2003, which is where I teach and practice. This beautiful practice has empowered me and cultivates a teaching style that is dynamic, heart opening, grounding and transformative.

What other types of life improvement do you practice?
I run about 20 miles a week and my husband and I have been avid salsa dancers for 12 years. I also meditate and journal regularly.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
Do not get discouraged! You are never too old, too out of shape, too stiff or too bad to start a new endeavor. Give yourself time to learn and get better because you are worth it.

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."
—Marianne Williamson


rebecca-gallaRebecca Galla

I took my first class on a whim 12 years ago. Yoga offered me this wonderful way to move my body and get my mind to stop thinking so much. In 2004, I completed a teacher training program recognized by the National Yoga Alliance. I also completed a YogaKids Foundations course to teach children's yoga. I currently teach Vinyasa flow style yoga at Balance Yoga and love every minute of it.

What other types of life improvement do you practice?
I meditate on a regular basis and try to perform random acts of kindness daily. I also love to bake and cook.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
I tell new people who stop by the studio requesting information about our classes just to come- we will take care of the rest.

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
—Maya Angelou


astrid-santanaAstrid Santana

After practicing yoga sporadically for the past 17 years, Astrid got serious about her yoga practice about seven years ago. Inspired by the profound personal growth and well-being she was able to cultivate from her work on her mat, Astrid became a certified teacher in the Pranakriya lineage. She currently teaches at Decatur Yoga and Pilates, Ember Hot Yoga, exhale spa and Tough Love Yoga.

What other types of life improvement do you practice?
In addition to yoga, I also enjoy hiking, backpacking, camping, and generally exploring any forests, rivers, or mountains, all the while enjoying the company of my two rescue mutts, Leo and Loretta Lynn.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
If you are a first timer, congratulations on making it to your mat!  This is the beginning of your journey. Our destination is not the "perfect pose." We're already perfect just where we are. The practice of yoga is a way of remembering that taking joy in where we are each day and embracing our own divine nature.

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
"It's better to be a first rate version of yourself instead of a second rate version of somebody else."
—Judy Garland


eleanora-liptonEleanora Lipton

Eleanora Lipton, Registered Polarity Educator and founding director of Intuitive Yoga believes, "If you can breathe, you can do yoga!" Intuitive Yoga, energy principles of Polarity Therapy combined with Hatha yoga and 30 years of practice is taught at the Atlanta Polarity & Intuitive Yoga Center, Park Place, and Living Foods Institute.

What other types of life improvement do you practice?
I walk a lot. I walk with friends, clients and by myself.  I grow plants, lots of them.  I love most all outdoor activity. I meditate a lot.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
Find a teacher you know will hold your highest interest and safety above all else.

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
"Breathe into the tension, smile into your body/temple."


jeff-sousaJeff Sousa

I found yoga in 2008 and dedicated much of my time since then to intense study. I received my certification to teach yoga from Sri Dharma Mittra in 2010 and now teach traditional Hatha Raja yoga and dynamic flowing Vinyasa classes. The light along my yogic path is made brighter by every student I come in contact with, that inspires me to teach every day.

What other types of life improvement do you practice?
I am vegan. I also do some trail running, play drums, sail boats and love being on the ocean or in the mountains.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
Constant practice is the key to success.

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
"Be the change that you want to see in the world."


ashley-bohanonAshley Bohanon

Yoga is refreshing for me, helping me feel strong inside and out. There is nothing better than sharing that! I've trained at Peachtree Yoga Center with grounded kids and study alignment-based yoga. I teach employees at CHOA as well as campers at Camp Strong4Life. I also teach at studios, schools and give private sessions.

What other types of life improvement do you practice?
I think it's important to constantly learn and grow in different areas. Lately I've been learning about meditation, healthy cooking, tennis, chess and recently signed up for my first half marathon.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
Relax. This is for you, and no one is watching you as much as you feel like they will.

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
—Howard Thurman


mandy-wrightMandy Wright

I discovered yoga and began my practice in 2003. In 2006 I was certified as a teacher. I am currently teaching at Atlanta Hot Yoga and Yoga Samadhi. I am trained in Vinyasa yoga and teach hot and power yoga as well. Using an applied knowledge of both anatomy and yoga, I also teach yoga to athletes at CrossFit Atlanta and CrossFit RX. People who practice yoga inspire me to do what I do, teachers and students alike. We share this practice and learn from one another as we make the journey. That is my inspiration.

What other types of life improvement do you practice?
I do CrossFit and, from time to time, I still consider myself a runner.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
Be fearless.

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
"Run my dear, from anything that may not strengthen your precious budding wings."—Hafiz


malia-hilliardMalia Hilliard

I fell in love with yoga at 15 when my father took me to my first yoga retreat after I severely injured my back. The practice was Iyengar-based, therefore both powerful and therapeutic. Lyengar remains my greatest inspiration and after 10 years of studying, I developed my own teaching style that's fluid, powerful, inspiring and fun. Now a Yoga Alliance Certified E-RYT-200 instructor I teach at several studios and host workshops and retreats globally. I am continually honored to witness the transformational power of yoga in my students and in myself.

What other types of life improvement do you practice?
Having grown up in Hawaii, I live for the outdoors. I rock climb, paddleboard, swim and hike at every chance I get.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
Get out of your head. Feel your way through the practice, don't think your way through. Don't let your inherent need to be good at everything get in the way. Only then will your practice be safe, meaningful and fun.

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
"If you don't like your circumstances change your attitudes."
—Ben Franklin


damian-vieraDamian Viera

I discovered yoga as a massage therapist looking to learn more about alternative medicine and it immediately taught me how to care for myself in ways that no one had ever taught me before. I dove even deeper when meeting Baron Baptiste in 2000 and then Ana Forrest shortly after, two teachers who I am guided by today as I share my journey in yoga with my own students. I received my 200 hour yoga certification through YogaWorks and teach a Power Vinyasa Flow in several studios around Atlanta.

What other types of life improvement do you practice?
I love riding motorcycles, rock climbing, playing capoeira and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. My main source of exercise is walking my amazing dog, Jane. I'm also a frustrated chess player.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
Everyone starts at the beginning. Enjoy the process, every time you get on the mat you will be going to new places in your body.

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
A quote that continues to teach me to do more by doing less is from Ancient China. "Before enlightenment chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water."


john-meridethJohn Merideth

John is the director of onlYoga and teaches vigorous, creative Vinyasa flow and Ashtanga.  As a swimmer and distance runner, he was drawn to yoga because of its demand for a perfect balance of strength, flexibility and endurance. With more than 22 years of personal practice and 20 years of teaching, John believes that yoga is meant to be a dynamic psycho/spiritual journey as much as it is a physical passage. John is continually inspired to teach by the profound transformation he sees in his students. He teaches at onlYoga, Exhale Spa and Ember Yoga and leads numerous trainings, workshops and retreats.

What other types of life improvement do you practice?
I love to swim, run, climb, surf and play Frisbee and ball with my Jack Russell terriers. I also enjoy the intersection of yoga and technology, especially Apple Tech.  I love to cook and garden. I am an education/research junkie and use sites like to explore new areas.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
Learning is a lifelong process; if you can remember this every time you step on your mat you will avoid two of the biggest stumbling blocks: believing that there is a goal and taking yourself too seriously.

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
—Steve Jobs


althea-lawton-thompsonAlthea Lawton-Thompson

I have yoga certifications from Equinox, AAAI and YogaFit, and have been practicing since 1997. I lead instructor training, Anusara classes and guided meditation at my studio, Aerobics, Yoga & More. My sixth video in the Altheatized series is Soul Stretch, a gentle yoga routine. I am inspired by freedom and nature - I often practice outside.

What other types of life improvement do you practice?
I practice Sajido martial arts,Tae Kwon Do and Pilates weekly, I mountain/nature trail hike monthly and I meditate and study philosophy daily.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
Be patient, listen to your body, and close your eyes (no competition with others or yourself).

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
"Confidence is the sexiest thing a woman can wear."


swami-jaya-devi-bhagavatiSwami Jaya Devi Bhagavati

I started practicing yoga and meditation from a book when I was 14 years old and found my first yoga teacher in my early twenties. I am certified in Hatha yoga, Kundalini yoga and Kali Natha yoga. I have taught all over Atlanta, and opened my own yoga studio, Kashi Atlanta, in 1998. I am an "urban yoga monk," having taken sanyasin (monks) vows, dedicating my life to the path of yoga philosophy and to selfless service to our community. I am inspired by my students every day. I also get inspired by leading our Yoga Teachers Training Course - I love teaching the teachers. My own teacher, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, inspires me with her courage and humor.

What other types of life improvement do you practice?
I love to meditate, chant, give, love and serve. At Kashi Atlanta, we have a Street Meals Program which feeds 20,000 people each year. We also have a Kashi KidsArt Program, where we go into the Atlanta Children's Hospital and do art projects with the kids. And our Prison Yoga Project takes yoga and meditation into local women's prisons. I find that so many people can benefit from the stress reducing practices both yoga and meditation offer.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
To find your rhythm, stay aware of your breath, and do not judge, yourself or anyone else. And to enjoy the practice. Yoga is about opening up and finding your deeper connection to your heart and your spirit. Use your practice to cultivate calm presence, so you can be happier on or off the mat.

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
"Learn to drink as you pour, so the spiritual heart cannot run dry and you always have love to give."
—Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati


jason-andersonJason Anderson

A Former UF and pro basketball player turned 500 RYT, 200 ERYT (Hatha yoga), Jason is the senior instructor and director of teacher training at Atlanta Hot Yoga. Practicing for six years, Jason is inspired to enhance the mind, body and spirit through yoga.

What other types of life improvement do you practice?
Swimming, vegan diet.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
Come to the mat without expectations, comparisons to others, listen and do your best.

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
Everything is perfect, and nothing is permanent.




leah-culbersonLeah Culberson

As the Managing Director of Atlanta Hot Yoga, LLC and 500HR Yoga Alliance Certified Instructor, Leah's 11 years of teaching yields a unique blend of expertise and focus. Her signature teaching style embodies a keen attention to detail and anatomic focus, intermingled with her emphasis on breath flow as the source of strength and depth in ones practice and evolutionary unfolding. Leah is inspired to teach by her belief in the healing modality of yoga - one she's personally witnessed through her own 14 year yoga practice.

What other types of life improvement do you practice?
I participated in various competitive sports as a gymnast, diver, tennis player, college cheerleader and distance runner. I am a purist and also flirt with vegetarianism with 95 percent success rate. I seek moderation as a way of life and being. I am also an avid reader and seeker of knowledge and wisdom.

What piece of advice would you give a first-timer?
My advice for first timers is to jump into the practice with deep reverence and belief in the innate desire of the body, mind and spirits' desire to express, be known and heal. The practice lends itself to improvisation, which is its risk, responsibility and strength.

Favorite inspirational quote, mantra or saying:
"The truth will set you free."

Healing the Body - balance, energy, flow and meditation

mindy-strichEnergetic Healing: An Alternative Path to Wellbeing

Those in search of healing are turning to alternative sources when traditional medicine alone falls short. Energetic Healing practitioner Mindy Strich, founder of Healing Hearts, LLC promotes this holistic approach as a complement to conventional Western medicine. Energetic Healing is based on the idea that the human body radiates energy in a three to four foot cocoon surrounding itself. Thoughts, experiences, emotions and belief systems originate in this field and are stored in our cells. Depletions and distortions in the flow of energy can manifest as disease, illness and anxiety. Stritch says, "When you balance the flow of energy, the body uses its innate wisdom to heal itself." Energetic Healers are trained to balance this flow by redirecting energy to areas that need it most.





leslie-claytonMeditation: Centering the Mind and Body

Meditative thinking is often overlooked in our busy schedules. However, just a few minutes of meditation per day can have positive long-term results. Leslie Clayton of Body Awareness Studio says that when we meditate even just 12 minutes each day, "we increase our memory and stimulate the area of the brain that is responsible for happiness. At the same time, we are decreasing the chemicals that cause stress and depression."

Clayton suggests meditation through movement as a form of exercise. Many exercises such as yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi and Qui Jong can be practiced while meditating. Create an environment that allows you to simply be with yourself and focus while moving through these exercises. Engage in breathing through the movements. Breathwork helps practitioners achieve centered focus, Clayton says, and "from this place we can truly bring our own essence and presence forward."