Everybody Say Om

Hit the mat for a killer bod and a less stressful walk to the altar.

YOUR TO-DO LIST RUNNETH OVER. YOU’VE GOT THE venue to find, caterers to try, a guest list to whittle down—and, we know, a picture of your gown pasted to the refrigerator reminding you that if you want to float down the aisle looking the way you’ve always imagined, you’ve also got some toning up to do. Oh, and did we mention that all of this somehow has to fit in around your nine-to-five job and the rest of your pre-wedding-planning life? Welcome to the year leading up to your Big Day. With the flurry of activity that sets in right after the first ring-worthy manicure starts to chip, it’s easy to be swept away by the pressures and endless tasks involved with planning your most important day—all of which can leave you with little time to work out.

But what if there was one exercise that would not only strengthen and lengthen your entire body, but would act as your (much-needed) therapy session? There is. And we’ve devoted the following pages to helping you de-stress and get wedding-gown ready, all at the same time.

“Yoga is a total-body workout,” says Jessica Lopez, mind-body concierge at The Sports Club/LA in Boston. “It will tone the arms, flatten the abs and improve your posture. Emotionally, yoga works to decrease stress, anxiety and fatigue—what could be more perfect for a bride-to-be?”

Even if you’ve never thought of yourself as the meditating type, don’t rule this one out. Yoga has been around for over 2,000 years for a good reason—it works. “I think at first people are looking for the physical benefits—better body tone and a long, lean [look] to their muscles,” says Alicia Sauer, mind-body coordinator at Healthworks Fitness Centers for Women’s four Boston locations. “But many people stay with yoga because when they’re finished, they feel much better than when they walked in. You’re using the body to get to a state of relaxation. So even if you’re working the body very vigorously, you’re icreating a sense of balance.” And with all the responsibilities you’ll be juggling, a sense of balance and calm will go a long way to keep you from morphing into the Bridezilla you’ve sworn you won’t become.

Iron-free Toning

IF YOU’RE NOT INTO SPENDING HOURS AT the gym lifting weights or doing hundreds of crunches, but are craving a little feminine definition, you’ll enjoy a flow form of yoga, such as vinyasa or power yoga. Here, the moves are continuous—and you end up sneaking in a lot of arm-toning moves. “You’re often lifting or supporting your own body weight, which strengthens the arms a lot,” says Bo Forbes, clinical psychologist and founder of Elemental Yoga in Boston. “In weight lifting, you’re lifting weight, but it’s not an allover movement. Yoga helps you not only become leaner, but it also it makes you longer and stronger. You don’t want just big muscles, you want those muscles to be able to stretch and be long.”

So how do you get those shoulders and arms toned for that strapless gown? Lots of chaturanga dandasanas—which, in nonyogini terms, is a posture done within a flowing sequence that’s a lot like the bottom of a push-up—except you’re so busy focusing on your breath and how great it feels to stretch your body from head to toe that you hardly notice you’re eliminating any unwanted arm jiggle. “You’re really using your arms to pull your body through,” says Sauer. “It’s a nice way for women to tap into that, rather than doing 30 push-ups. It’s different because you’re moving the spine, you’re flowing into movement, you’re flowing out of movement—it ends up being very graceful.”

Lopez agrees that all those downward-facing dogs will pay off big time in toning up your arms for your sleeveless dress: “[Yoga] tones the triceps like no other and that will come in handy when you throw that bouquet—no flabby arms!”

Bye-Bye, Belly; Hello, Beautiful Back

THE MORE TIME YOU SPEND ON YOUR mat, the more changes you’ll see in your body. “By working the deep intrinsic core muscles, both the lower and upper abdomen become stronger and more toned,” says Forbes. “It’s not just abdominal crunches, but working those muscles even underneath that.” And for those endorphin-craving, iPod-blasting types—you’ll definitely be challenged. “People are surprised how hard it is,” says Forbes.

Although you may not see physical changes the day you start, you’ll definitely feel them. “People really feel stronger in their bodies. And it’s not like, ‘Oh, well my butt feels so much tighter,’ or, ‘My abs feel so much harder.’ It’s an overall body tone,” says Sauer. “People feel taller, they feel they can breathe better—a little more elongated, a little more powerful.”

And because not an inch of your body comes away from a class without being used, you’ll also see the flip side of your bod getting toned. “Yoga helps to stretch the back, both in forward bending and back bending, so it becomes really supple,” says Forbes. You’ll also enjoy the newfound mobility when it comes time to celebrate your vows. “The added flexibility in your back from poses like bow, wheel, bridge and camel will let you show up everyone on the dance floor,” says Lopez. “Look out limbo fans.”

Um, I Can’t Bend That Way

PERHAPS YOU’VE STAYED AWAY FROM the yoga room at the gym because you’re not Gumby material. But hitting the mat isn’t all about impossible poses. “Yoga is not about touching your toes and twisting yourself into pretzel-like positions—although that can be helpful on the honeymoon,” says Lopez. “It’s about finding a quiet place within your world where you use your breath to free up the tight spots in your body.”

And if you stick with it past the first few classes, you’ll be happy you did: “There seems to be a breakthrough where things that were very difficult become much easier. People who couldn’t touch their toes can touch their toes, hamstrings start to loosen and there is a greater sense of ease in the movement,” says Sauer.

We’re not saying to stray completely from your favorite cardio machine, but, especially when you’re stressed, pay attention to how you feel: “A lot of people hop on a machine with a television or a magazine in front of them and allow their minds to sort of check out while their body is doing the work,” says Sauer. “What’s really great about yoga is that you’re asking your mind to be very involved in the process. You’re engaged in both the mind and the body, and using the breath as a connector between them.”

And, if you happen to become a yoga addict, you don’t have to wait a day between sessions as you should with weight lifting because you’re not tearing muscle fibers. “Your muscles do not need the recovery time that they need from your weight training routine,” says Lopez. “The more often you practice, the more results you will see—both on and off your mat.”

Om My, I’ve Got A Lot To Do

MANY BRIDES-TO-BE STRUGGLE WITH TRYING to juggle not only the physical list of things to do, but the emotional one as well. “There are a lot of decisions to be made during the wedding process,” says Edi Pasalis, a yoga teacher and owner of I Do Yoga in Watertown, a business she started when her yoga students started asking her to officiate their weddings.

Yoga can help you make decisions that are true to yourself by allowing you to take a step back from all the busyness of the wedding and concentrate on you. “When I get stressed, I can sort of lose focus and also forget what is really ultimately important,” says Jennifer Riggs, a yoga teacher at Back Bay Yoga Studio in Boston who planned her entire wedding in six months. “There was a lot to do, and my fiance and I pretty much planned it all ourselves. My yoga practice was very grounding—it helped me make some of those difficult decisions.”

As you go through the poses, concentrating on your breath and how your body feels, you’ll begin to feel all that wedding stress melting away—and when you step off that mat, you’ll be more in tune to what you really want. “Yoga helps you stay centered,” says Pasalis. “It helps you get clear on the inside so you know what’s true.” And with all the extra input you’ll undoubtedly receive (both welcome and not), being able to sift through the opinions to find what you truly want will only make your day more authentic to you and your soon-to-be husband.

You’ll also see improvements in how you relate to your loved ones. When you’re stressed and out of touch with what you really want, your family’s needs, wants and expectations can certainly take a toll. “Getting married is a time of transformation in your relationships,” says Pasalis. “You’re changing your relationship to your mother and father, your siblings, your friends, your partner and yourself. Yoga helps people see the tension that arises as part of the transformation. Instead of, ‘Oh, my dad is being a pain with the menu selections,’ you can see this more from an inner perspective and manage it more mindfully. So brides and grooms end up with relationships being strengthened.”

Just Breathe

LET’S FACE IT. ALL THIS PLANNING IS FOR one day. And from the moment you open your eyes until your head finally hits a pillow late that night, you’ll be on the move. With so much importance and expectation surrounding every monumental moment—getting dressed, the walk down the aisle, your first kiss as husband and wife, and then the celebration with family and friends—brides often describe it as one big blur.

“What everyone told me before I got married was to really be present and to really pay attention to everything that happens that day,” says Sauer. “It’s a very busy day and there is a lot going on, so it goes by so quickly. Having a practice like yoga where you’re really awake and aware of what’s going on can sort of slow time down for you a little bit—you can really enjoy the day and not get swept away in the things that have to get done.”

As you stand at the altar, looking deep into the eyes of the man of your dreams—and looking amazing, thanks to all those yoga classes—you’ll want to calm the nervous chatter flitting around your mind so you can embrace the moment and feel the love that brought you two together. Yoga lets you do just that—on and off the mat.