This is the first in a series of interviews with the people who teach yoga in Greenbelt. Read more about it here.
Laura Bonkosky teaches the Lunchtime Yoga classes Tuesday and Thursday through the Greenbelt Department of Recreation. Here’s the Rec Dept Activity Guide; yoga is on pages 16 and 17. Laura moved to Greenbelt in 1984 and has been teaching yoga for the Rec Department since 2010.
Q: What types of yoga were you trained in?
My principal training is Kripalu yoga,
and I also have a 500-hour certification in Integrative Yoga Therapy,
which has early roots in the Kripalu tradition. Kripalu means compassion, and Kripalu yoga is the yoga of compassionate awareness. That said, I think I’ve picked up many useful techniques along the way from nearly every teacher I’ve ever studied with and from every training I’ve ever attended.
Q: I’ve been told they’re all the same poses, just different ways of teaching; is that correct?
The answer is a qualified yes. The postures arise out of the same tradition, and there are many different teaching methodologies and styles, many different ways to sequence a class and lots of variations in elements of a class to include and emphasize. This is a good thing, because there really is not a “one size fits all” yoga and not everyone is looking for the same experience.
Q: Is there a source you recommend (preferably online) where people like me can read up on the type of yoga you teach and/or the individual pose names? What I’m curious about is what each pose or action is doing for/to our bodies, and the benefits. Text or an illustration or video of what’s happening to the muscles and other body parts would be helpful.
If you look at the teacher training information at the Kripaul website,
there is some information about Kripalu yoga. There are also some wonderful on-line classes and short practices available on the website.
Another amazing source for yoga anatomy is Leslie Kaminoff, and he has some Youtube videos available online and a fabulous book called Yoga Anatomy.
The Prince George’s County Library has some copies and it’s a very detailed book if you are interested in diving into the anatomy of yoga.
As far as benefits of the poses,
of course you can read about them, but in my humble opinion, the best source for that information
is listening inward to your own response to the practices. There are so many levels and layers of ourselves that experience the postures and practices – physically, energetically, emotionally, intellectually, etc, and it can be different for each individual. Yoga encourages experiential knowledge above all.
Q: Is there a particular philosophy you follow and/or teach during your classes?
Mmmm… good question! I do try to weave in a thread of classical yoga wisdom in every class, and I very much try to follow that in my life, essentially the idea that yoga, when taken as a whole, is a path to liberation and integration, a path to connection with the self, each other, our world and the divine. My personal influences include Insight Meditation,
and I find that there are some very useful tools from the Buddhist traditions that can be woven into the context of a yoga class and into my personal practice.
Q: Is there a Buddhist or Hindu teacher locally you recommend, in person or online? For example, the Insight Meditation talks by Tara Brach, etc, archived as podcasts)
I love Tara Brach!
I don’t see her much because Bethesda is just too far away on a weeknight, but I have studied with her husband, Jonathan Foust who happens to be a yogi in the Kripalu tradition, as well as a very skilled and deep Insight Meditation teacher. He shares teaching with several others at St. Marks Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill on Monday nights, still a haul but not as bad as River Road. (Local insight meditation class info here
Q: Are you blending Pilates into your classes? Lots of great core work!
I have never formally studied Pilates, but the core work I teach and do is more from the yoga tradition and emphasizes awakening, stabilizing and strengthening the core both physically and energetically. Yoga invites us to find and move from our center, both metaphorically and literally.
Q: Any recommendations for weights or other work-out activities to supplement yoga?
Yoga can be a pretty complete form of exercise for strength and flexibility, depending on how you practice it and how often. The aspect that yoga is missing for overall conditioning is cardio, and that could be anything from walking, swimming, cycling, dancing- whatever you enjoy that elevates the heart rate and the spirits! For many people, some weight training or strength training can be a helpful addition to yoga. About 3 times a week using either weights or your own body weight to strengthen major muscle groups is good from the standpoint of overall fitness, maintaining a healthy body composition, and maintaining bone density.
Q: What do you recommend your students do at home, yoga-wise, between classes?
I encourage students to do at least a little home practice every day. Everyone’s needs and schedules are different, but some simple movements that could be incorporated into a daily routine would include actions that move the spine in all 6 directions: flexion, extension, lateral flexion (side bending) right and left, and rotation (twisting) right and left. There are so many ways to do this – on a mat, standing, in a chair, or various combinations, and it doesn’t have to take that much time. So for example, the cat/cow poses, some flowing side bends and twists would be a great way to warm up for other poses or to do on their own to maintain flexibility and stay energized.
Another approach is to take a few poses that appeal to you and use the poses themselves as warm-ups by flowing in and out of them before attempting to hold them. For example, you could practice a Warrior Two pose by flowing in and out of it until you felt warmed up and ready to hold it a few breaths.
Our bodies need to move, and the way many of us live and work doesn’t always provide enough healthy movement, so fitting a little yoga in throughout the day is so beneficial. I also encourage at least a few minutes a day of the full yogic breathing (dirga pranayama) because it is so good for us on so many different levels.
Q: Any recommendations about foods that complement your classes?
I usually don’t offer specific dietary recommendations, but yoga encourages us to treat ourselves with love and care, and healthy eating is a vital part of that. Some commonsense guidelines that are standard in yoga would be to generally practice on an empty stomach and refrain from alcohol before practice.
Many yoga practitioners interpret the ethical principal of Ahimsa, or non-harming, to apply to our dietary choices, and that suggests vegetarianism, but this is not a universally held belief. My belief is that as we become more adept at paying attention to our bodies and to our own inner wisdom and deepen our sense of connection with the world around us, we naturally seek out dietary choices that support our well-being as well as the well-being of other beings and the earth.
Q: Anything else you’d like people to know about you or your classes or about yoga in Greenbelt?
I believe that everyone can benefit from the practice of yoga, and I offer classes that are welcoming and non-competitive. My goal in offering yoga is for my students to discover practices and techniques that can help them live fuller, healthier, more joyful lives.
There has been a great deal of support for, and interest in, yoga in Greenbelt. Making yoga affordable, available and convenient has been a personal mission of mine, and the Recreation Department has been instrumental in making that happen. We are so fortunate to have such great facilities here in Greenbelt.