Easy On the Namaste

Yoga instructor Todd Jackson

Yoga instructor Todd Jackson | ToddJacksonYoga.com

For the past three months, I’ve put my body through the sweaty, back-aching wringer. I’ve done what I thought was previously unimaginable. I can leap three feet onto boxes! I can hold a plank for more than two minutes! I can run more than a block without falling over!

But for all my development and discipline, I still ain’t the most limber dude. My muscles are tight. My body is sore. The post-workout stretches are almost as exhausting and excruciating as the exercises themselves (especially when using a foam roller, which I’m certain is a torture device). Stretching, of course, is crucial to recovery. My trainers recommend I spend 30 minutes a day stretching. Much like going to the gym, I had a hard time motivating myself. Sure, I could easily stretch while watching Daredevil, but I don’t want to miss a split-second of Rosario Dawson. Yoga, I thought, might be the solution.

I’ve never had an interest in yoga in the past. Aside from the fact that my lazy ass couldn’t be bothered with it, I’m also not the biggest fan of cultural appropriation. I just couldn’t see myself getting down with someone teaching me an ancient Indian practice. But there are greater crimes in the world than non-Indian folks getting om tattoos and mispronouncing namaste. It was time I got off my holy cow.

I decided to check out Sin City Yoga, located at 1231 S. Main St. in the Arts District. It’s got good ratings on Yelp, and I imagine serious Yelpers to be the type of people who take their yoga seriously, too. The studio offers a variety of classes, from early morning Bed Head Yoga to Restorative Yoga, which involves holding poses for five to 15 minutes. The studio also offers special workshops and events, such as yoga camping retreats. The space itself is intimate. The lights are dim, the music is soothing, the people seem chill.

I opted for the Vinyasa Flow class. This particular type of yoga is designed to link your breathing with your postures to help reduce stress. It sounded like the easiest of options. (There’s also a Power Vinyasa Flow, which has “challenging” written next to it on the schedule—no thanks!)

My instructor was Todd Jackson (@toddjacksonyoga on the ‘Gram), a former professional hockey player-turned-poker pro. The former career got him drafted to the Detroit Red Wings and sent him all over the globe to play for international teams; the latter brought him here three years ago. But after years of getting knocked around on the ice, he started feeling a constant pain and discomfort.

“I felt disconnected from my body. Whenever I took yoga, I felt good,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot of breathing techniques and things that would have cleared my mind as a hockey player.”

Yoga, it turns out, is also handy for poker. It helps Todd synchronize his breathing with his movements so there’s no deviation from his actions, giving him a calm-ass poker face. “Poker can be an emotional game. I had to find a way to stabilize my reactions to losing and to people,” he says.

I didn’t realize how powerful the simple act of controlling your breathing could be until my first yoga class with Todd. I thought I’d mastered the whole breathing thing when I came out of the womb breathing like a fucking champ. Not so.

For the first 10 minutes of class we just laid there, inhaling and exhaling for four seconds each. I damn near fell asleep. That’s because the more relaxed your are, the more you engage your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your “rest and digest” state, according to Todd and high school science teachers whose classes I cut. It slows down your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure and puts you in a state of calm.

“Your muscles can’t heal unless you access this state,” Todd explains. “It trains you how to better analyze stress. A pure workout isn’t going to address that side of it.”

Next came roughly 40 minutes of yoga poses and sequences that created a “flow” through movements. I can’t remember the names of all of the poses (except for warrior; it looks and sounds badass). We’d extend our bodies with inhales and collapse with exhales. “You’re using your anatomy in the way it’s meant to be used,” Todd says.

I can’t front like it was easy. During some of the stretches, it felt like my muscles were slowly being ripped away from my bones. Others were just awkward positioning. That was followed by another resting period laying on our backs. I dozed off for real this time. I think Todd even offered us blankets. Talk about comfort!

It was a lot for a first-timer to take in, but Todd allowed us to go at our individual paces. And as calming as it was, I couldn’t quite get into the spiritual stuff. I’d grown up reluctantly saying om shanti and sitting in the “lotus pose” (which was just the proper way to sit) during prayers at the Hindu temple back home, but here in this yoga studio it felt ironically foreign. I wasn’t a fan as a kid; I’m less of a fan now.

I explained this to Todd a few days after class. He admits he’s not the most spiritual dude himself, but he takes from yoga what he finds to be the most beneficial for him. I should do the same.

“The most powerful thing is incorporating it into your daily life,” he says.

I’ll take the breathing techniques and the poses I enjoyed. Y’all can keep the namaste.

Vegas Seven