Mark Stephens wrote the book on yoga, literally
On average, full-time employees in the United States work about 1,700 hours a year. It’s no wonder, then, that many—20.4 million in 2012, and growing, according to the Yoga in America report—seek respite from the daily grind in yoga.
“We live in an incredibly stressful society and one of the noted benefits of yoga is that it helps people reduce stress,” says Mark Stephens, renowned yoga instructor, author, and owner of Santa Cruz Yoga. “I see it every day, people come into my classes from all kinds of different life circumstances and they walk out with a better feeling.”
But it’s not just a magical remedy, as Stephens points out—it’s a physical activity that when done incorrectly can lead to serious injury. That’s why Stephens began writing textbook-style books on how to teach yoga. His latest publication, Yoga Adjustments, is the third in a series of step-by-step guides to ensure that instructors know exactly what they’re doing to keep their students safe.
“A lot happens where you’re really working at the edges of possibility of your bodies,” he says. “I think it’s important to understand how the body works, functional anatomy, body mechanics and physiology. It’s a lot to take on as a yoga teacher and there aren’t a lot of resources out there to give guidance to teachers.”
This is why Yoga Adjustments details the subtle hands-on cues that instructors can give their students—for example, guiding a person with small movements to keep the joints around the hips, knees and lower back safe.
But yoga has been around for hundreds of years, so why is it only becoming increasingly popular rather than fading with time?
Because, besides the obvious health benefits—cardiovascular health, flexibility, and overall stress reduction—it’s evolving in ways that keep it exciting, says Stephens.
“There’s all kinds of creativity happening in the yoga world, people blending it with various types of dance or martial arts, or other forms of fitness or meditation,” he says. “It’s entered something of a cultural mainstream, and in doing so it’s become more legitimate in the eyes of 20-something million Americans.”
Yoga has found fitting partners in sports like rock-climbing and surfing. Even world-famous surfer Kelly Slater has publicly touted his love for yogiing. The advantage of combining the two, says Stephens, is that when you build tension in your muscles from one sport (like your upper body in surfing) you can release that pressure in yoga.
For Stephens, the rapidly evolving yoga landscape has created a need for books that not only describe how to instruct and work with students, but also includes all lineages and traditions. That’s why he’s chosen to take on a “brush-stroke” of yoga philosophies for his next book, which he is currently working on.
Teachers and students alike need to appreciate the intricacy of the human body, because when yoga is done correctly it can benefit anyone and everyone for one simple reason: “I think everyone can benefit from breathing way more deeply,” he said, “It’s probably one of the most profound things in terms of helping all of us be a little bit more awake, tuned in to our feelings and our needs and our ability to understand other people.”
Stopping to smell the roses—or, in this case, the yoga mat—may sound suspiciously simple, but it’s also why so many people feel lighter after a session.
“I think it’s about a sort of emotional self management,” says Stephens. “When you breathe really deeply, you feel more.”