"Look at your hands," Elka said, as she grabbed my hand and held it up, fingers spread. "Take a good look at your hand. What do you see? Most people who do this look at only their fingers and completely forget about the space between them."
Yoga is an ancient practice that creates a sense of unity between the mind, body and spirit. It brings balance that we can take to other parts of our daily lives. Recognizing the distinct connection of the mind, body and spirit is the first step in yoga. It's the philosophy.
Elka Hauck is the owner of Namaste Yoga Center in San Diego. But she wasn't born a yoga guru. "I used to be a 'gym girl.' I would push my body when working out and had no recognition that the mind and body were even connected. I never cared what I put into my body, nor did I properly take care of myself," she said. "I didn't eat right, was always stressed out and had loads of anxiety."
Seven years ago she took her first power yoga class. "I started with power yoga because it grabbed my attention. I wasn't interested in the spiritual elements of yoga," said Elka. "I wanted a tough workout and a good stretch."
Power yoga gave her just that -- and much more. She began attending class regularly and soon realized that the benefits of yoga went well beyond its physical advantages.
"It made me a better person and brought me perception in life," she said. "When I started practicing yoga, I started thinking before acting. I started living in the present moment, instead of worrying about the past and the future."
"Yoga brings the awareness that the present is the most important thing to appreciate and recognize," said Elka. "Too often we look outside ourselves for peace and happiness. But it is present within us -- we just need to learn to live in the present."
As her time in the studio increased, she decided to train to be a teacher. After rigorous practice, she got her license and students followed her around town. "I started teaching yoga outside on the bay," Elka said. "When summer was over and the temperatures began to drop, my students begged me to find a place to teach indoors. Three months later, Namaste Yoga Center opened."
As yoga became a huge part of Elka's life, she began studying other forms of holistic healing to complement her practice. She will graduate this year from the International Professional School of Body Work, where she will receive her license to practice massage and various forms of energy healing, including reiki, a non-invasive form of Japanese energy healing.
Elka enjoys how these practices complement one another. "Massage and energy work bring me more connected to a person. I facilitate healing through touching the body and releasing energy. It's really connected to yoga."
What do you have to lose?
Yoga offers a myriad of physical, psychological and spiritual benefits. Besides the inherent physical benefits that yoga creates -- overall strength and flexibility -- yoga also improves sleep quality, alleviates pain, prevents injury and balances metabolism. Yoga also trains us how to quiet the mind, create positive energy, relieve stress, eliminate depression and develop awareness of ourselves and the world around us.
"Yoga is overflowing with rewards. It opens our minds. It teaches us how to better deal with ourselves and others," said Elka.
"More than any other reason, students tell me that yoga helps them deal with stress." she said. "This ultra-fast pace world offers so much stress -- yoga brings people the calmness they need. Even those people that only come to work out recognize they are now able to cope with their emotions better and handle stress."
You can practice yoga everywhere, not just in a class. This is especially true of breathing. Learning to breathe properly is an important tool. Once you learn to breathe when faced with anxiety, depression or a stressful situation, you learn how much it can calm you down.
"Giving yourself a moment just for yourself -- just to focus on your own being -- helps us solve internal struggles," Elka said. And it doesn't take long to learn. "Start with meditating just 10 seconds a day. Keep yourself in the present for just those 10 seconds. Little by little, increase your meditation by 10 seconds a day. That's all it takes."
She read a passage by Thynn Thynn from her book of inspirational quotes that she often reads from at the end of her classes. "Why do we think we have no peace of mind? Experiencing peace is like looking at our hands. Usually, we see only the fingers -- not the spaces in between. In a similar manner, when we look at the mind, we are aware of the active states, such as our running thoughts and the 1,001 feelings that are associated with them, but we tend to overlook the intervals of peace between them."
"We all need to look at that space -- in life -- look at the missed perceptions. Be conscious of what we do everywhere...on and off the yoga mat," Elka explained.
"The world we live in today is challenging. There will always be struggle," she continued. "Our purpose is to find peace amongst the struggle. Yoga can help us reach this goal."
As her voice trailed off, students came in and began setting up their mats and towels. Elka welcomed each student with a hug, a smile and some positive energy.
Elka Hauck is owner of Namaste Yoga Center in San Diego. She teaches a variety of yoga classes each week and offers massage and various forms of energy healing. Visit her Web site at www.OBNamasteYoga.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Melissa Eisler