[Om Girl: Ashley Bell]
Since moving to the Lowcountry in 1999, Mount Pleasant’s Ashley Bell has taught nonstop—first as an art teacher and today as a yoga instructor. “I have this habit that whatever I love doing, I ultimately end up teaching it,” says the Virginia native and mother of two, who took her first yoga class in 2001 as an effort to combat work-related stress. “It made me feel stronger and more balanced physically as well as mentally. I quickly realized the depth and breadth of the mind-body connection.” Within two years, she became a certified yoga instructor and has since taught at local studios, including Mission and Gaea Yoga, as well as at the College of Charleston. Next month, Bell will open the doors to her own studio, Reverb, in the new Pacific Box & Crate development on the Upper Peninsula. “I’m interested in looking at ways yoga and meditation can be demystified,” she says. “My goal is to make the practice more accessible physically, philosophically, and financially.”
Starting a yoga practice can be intimidating (warrior what?!). Here, Bell shares tips for novices:
Drop the preconceived notions. The top reason Bell hears for why people steer clear of yoga? “They tell me, ‘I can’t even touch my toes,’” she says. Though increased flexibility is a by-product of the practice, it’s neither a prerequisite nor the end goal. From heated, athletic classes to those that are completely restorative, there’s a yoga style accessible to almost everyone, she notes.
Ease in. Start with an introductory or level-one class, which will break down the yoga postures, or asanas, and move slowly. If you can’t find a beginner session that suits your schedule, arrange a one-on-one with an instructor. To cut costs, grab a few friends for a semi-private group class, suggests Bell, or partake in a community event like Bendy Brewski Yoga (bethcosi.com), which caters to all levels.
Arrive early. Like any exercise studio, you’ll need to sign a new-student waiver before your first class. Share any injuries or conditions that limit movement with the instructor so she can help you stay safe and supported throughout the session. Ask the instructor about any other studio specific details. The two top etiquette rules for yoga: take off your shoes before entering the studio and stay through the end of class, including savasana, the final relaxation pose.
Bring an open mind. The Sanskrit names for postures and other yoga terminology can be intimidating to new students. You might hear deep, audible breathing (called “ujjayi”) or end class with a collective “om” (a sacred mantra) and “namaste” (a reverent salutation). Respectfully observe different aspects of the practice and ask the instructor for clarification after class.
Shop around. Class styles vary from studio to studio, so if a class you took 10 years or two weeks ago didn’t resonate with you, don’t write the practice off altogether. Bell recommends testing out a few teachers or locations before purchasing a package.
A look at what to wear—and pack—for your first class:
Form-fitting clothing. Avoid baggy clothes or those that are uncomfortably tight, and be sure your ensemble offers full coverage when you bend over. For heated classes, opt for sweat-wicking garb.
A mat. Studios typically have these available for rent; however, if you plan to practice often, it’s worth investing in your own.
A towel. Hot yoga classes can leave you dripping, so bring along a mat towel (studios often rent these) or beach towel, or shop for a skid-less mat.
Charleston’s diverse yoga scene presents an array of options, from traditional to contemporary, highly philosophical to highly physical, energizing to grounding—although most marry all of these aspects in varying degrees. “The key is to decide what you need to cultivate in your life—be it increased strength, mobility, clarity, peace of mind, etc.—and find a studio that supports those intentions,” says Bell.
Vinyasa: The most widely practiced style of yoga in the U.S. begins with sun salutations—a one-movement-per-breath flow designed to create heat throughout the body.
Bikram: A 90-minute class of 26 set postures in a room heated to 105°F with 40 percent humidity
Yin: Designed to stretch connective tissue, the postures are done seated or lying down and are generally held for three to five minutes.
Gentle/Restorative: Although they may vary by teacher and studio, these classes are generally slower, softer, more relaxed, and supportive.
Meditation: This practice offers techniques to help steady and quiet the mind.
Bikram Charleston: $20 drop-in class; 1973 Riviera Dr., Mount Pleasant; www.bikramcharleston.com
Charleston Community Yoga: $12 drop-in class; 815 Savannah Hwy., Ste. 102, West Ashley; www.charlestoncommunityyoga.com
Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission’s Move IT! Program: $12 drop-in class; 2090 Executive Hall Rd., Ste. 170, West Ashley; www.ccprc.com
Charleston Power Yoga: $18 drop-in class; 557 King St.& Whole Foods Shopping Center, Mount Pleasant; charleston www.poweryoga.com
Gaea Yoga Center: $12 drop-in class; 730 Coleman Blvd., Mount Pleasant; www.gaeayoga.com
Holy Cow Yoga Center: $13 drop-in class; 10 Windermere Blvd., West Ashley; www.holycowyoga.com
Iyengar Yoga Charleston: $18 drop-in class; 716 S. Shelmore Blvd., Unit 102, Mount Pleasant; www.iyengaryogacharleston.com
Mission Yoga: $15 drop-in class; 125 Spring St.; www.wearemissionyoga.com
Redux Yoga: $25 drop-in class; 137 President St.; www.reduxyoga.com
Reverb Charleston: $5-$15 sliding-scale drop-in class; 1503 King St. Ext., Ste. 200; www.reverbcharleston.com
Satsang Yoga Charleston: $16 drop-in class; 320 W. Coleman Blvd., Mount Pleasant; www.satsangyogasc.com
Serenity Now Yoga: $15 drop-in class; 419 Hibben St., Mount Pleasant; www.serenitynowyoga.net
Urban Flow Yoga: $15 drop-in class; 484 King St., Ste. 207; www.urbanflowchs.com
There’s an app for that!
Yogis on the go, supplement your practice with these apps
MindBody: An all-in-one scheduling app that lets you find and book fitness classes (yoga, Pilates, barre, and on) as well as salon and spa appointments. Free.
Headspace: Perfect for those looking to start or deepen a meditation or mindfulness practice, this app leads users through daily 10-minute meditation exercises. Free.
Pocket Yoga: Lauded by Yoga Journal, it teaches the names of and gives tips for any and every yoga posture. $3.
Daily Yoga: Voted “Best Yoga App” by Healthline Media, it offers do-anywhere yoga sequences for practitioners of all levels. Free to download; in-app purchases vary.