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Please welcome our 14th Hottest contestant, Sara Ivanhoe, to the competition. Sara's resume is pretty impressive. She's been teaching yoga since 1995, was featured in the documentary Titans of Yoga, came out with an instructional yoga DVD with Russell Simmons and has been quoted everywhere from Shape to the New York Times. She's smart, she's extremely flexible and she's also pretty damn attractive. Here's what she had to say about getting involved with the practice, what makes yoga different than every other type of exercise and the only mat you'll ever need.
How did you get into yoga?
"Actually, it was taught at my high school. I grew up in Northern California, in Mill Valley. At the time, Marin County was a hippie area. So we learned it in school. Then I went to NYU for performance art and we had a lot of yoga as part of that physical training. By the time I graduated college and had that typical post-college what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life crisis, I'd already been doing yoga for ten years. So it was an easy transition to make. I started teaching in 1995."
What kind of yoga do you teach?
"I teach a Vinyasa yoga. It's a little tricky when it comes to styles of yoga. Every yoga in which physical movement is involved is a form of Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga just means you're moving. Within Hatha yoga there are all these different styles. Those have just been teachers who have put the movements together in a certain sequence and have branded it [with] their own name. Most of that has been done within the last hundred years. Lyengar, Ashtanga—[they were created] mostly [by] men and mostly within the last hundred years.
That being said, I've done six different teacher trainings and I try to study the different types of yoga. At this point I've been teaching for 17 years so I have a way I like to do it. Teachings vary but what's unique about the practice of yoga is the focus on the breath. Not only does it strengthen the lungs, the breath is why yoga affects our attention span, our mood and our negative thoughts. So I love to make the breath a real focus."
What's the hardest thing about what you do?
"I don't know if this is the right, appropriate answer for what we're doing, but probably the most challenging part of it is that every time I go to work, on some level, I do feel like my body's being scrutinized. God forbid I'm up five pounds one day. Any tiny thing that might be going on with me personally, it's all up for public scrutiny. And that's challenging. But you asked for the hardest part—everything else is great."
What's the best thing?
"Even if somebody comes into yoga and they are overweight and out of shape and they haven't done anything and they're hating themselves because of it, by the time that they're done with yoga, you may not look any different but you feel better. You feel good about your body. It makes them happier. What's better than that?"
What mistakes do you see people making in class?
"This is with the caveat that in yoga, there are no mistakes. In yoga, it's just you doing the best you can and nothing is quote unquote wrong, but I do see people doing things that could cause them to injure themselves down the line. And most of that comes from totally sincere effort. There's sincere effort to want to be a good student or to try hard or to be better at it. People often push themselves into positions they shouldn't be in. But I also have to say that it can be ego-driven. Like oh, I'll look cool if I can do this pose. Or oh, I want to be able to do a handstand. Why? So you can show everyone you can do a handstand? For yoga, the main thing you need is a sense of humor and the ability to get over yourself."
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?
"Look, the number one thing is to really give yourself a break. And to set small goals. And to not create drama when you don't do something. Setting small, doable goals helps us build trust in ourselves. Which is the most important thing for your body, your mind and your soul. Setting small goals and building trust in ourselves I believe builds a foundation for a lifetime of healthy living."
How can people use yoga to attain a flat stomach?
"There are basic yoga postures that do a lot for the belly. But the main thing for a flat stomach is your diet and staying hydrated. If you're not drinking water everything just gets stuck. So fiber and water. The rest is pretty simple. Yoga has some incredibly challenging poses. All arm balances are belly-engaging, but they're a lot more fun than just doing sit-ups. When it comes to the belly, it all has to work together."
Where do you shop for yoga gear?
"I'm wearing some Lululemon because they've been giving me some stuff. I like tank tops from the Gap. There are these leggings I have been really liking from Nux. There's also a brand that's got some really cute tops called Aaluuka. Michele Bohbot of Bisou Bisou just came out with some yoga stuff and I've seen some good things in there. The best yoga mat is by Manduka. I should mention Jade, they have a really good eco-mat. However, Manduka mats are really incomparable. They're expensive—sometimes three or four times as much as other mats—but it's really the only mat you'll ever need. I've got one Manduka I've had for like 15 years. I believe it was created by a yoga teacher out of the material they use under astroturf."
What do you like to do when you're not at the studio?
"I'm actually going back to school this fall. I'm getting a master's degree in yoga philosophy at Loyola Marymount University. I started yoga when I was 14 and now I'm 41, so I've been doing it long enough that it's made me want to learn and ask questions.
As far as fun, I love riding my bike on the beach and reading. And I travel a lot to teach, which is really fun. I just became the yoga spokesperson for Weight Watchers. We just shot some DVDs last week and that will be coming out in stores in December. It's so good to be able to team up with a company that's done great things for people. I'm excited that they want to bring yoga to people who would not normally trust yoga."