Yoga brings our mind and our body together. How does it feel to be in this body, in this moment, with this breath? We use our breath to keep our mind and our body centered in the moment, and this is what makes yoga so relaxing and healing. We focus inward and let go of our hectic schedules, our stress at work, our worries about the future, and our fretting about the past. We can’t just walk away from our lives, but we can learn to let go of the stress. By being relaxed, our body is better able to heal itself.
When I think of wellness, I think of yoga. That’s a given, because I’m a yoga instructor, and many share my opinion. John Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., Dean Ornish, M.D., Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., Timothy McCall, M.D., Peggy Brill, P.T. are all medical professionals who have written informative books extolling the many health benefits of yoga and meditation.
Yoga is so mainstream that you may have practiced it and not even realized it. Yoga poses camouflaged by different names show up in physical therapy sessions, in popular magazines such as Men’s Health and Golf Digest, and aerobics classes. Even the founder of Pilates, Joseph Pilates, was greatly influenced by his study of yoga.
“Yoga… that’s just stretching right?” This is the single most common question that I have encountered when people inquire about my yoga sessions. Actually, no, there is so much more to it. Any yoga that involves movement is Hatha Yoga, which incorporates the idea of balancing all of the pairs of opposites within us (strength/flexibility, effort/ease, right/left, top/bottom, and front/back). So, yes, there is stretching and it is important because our muscles and joints tend to harden and stiffen as we age. But, we need balance between flexibility and strength because muscles that are too loose do not support our joints, and muscles that are too tight pull us out of alignment. And yes we are working (stretching, strengthening, twisting, balancing) all the parts of the body, especially the parts we may neglect in daily life, but we are never forcing and we always include restorative poses.
Yoga is also very much about alignment and posture, focusing on body awareness. Many people, myself included, came to yoga because of injuries caused by not being aware of their bodies’ needs. With yoga, we learn ways to be strong and healthy without further injuring ourselves in the process.
Any ‘body’ can do yoga! Yoga sessions range from gentle to intense. There are many instructors, all with different personalities and styles of teaching that emphasize different aspects. The beauty of yoga is that everyone, no matter what their body type or personality, can find the type of yoga that works for them. We do not have to join an ashram to enjoy the benefits of enhanced strength, flexibility, balance, and relaxation.
You can learn about yoga on your own through many excellent books, magazines and web sites, but yoga is something that has to be experienced. You may find many excellent DVDs, but nothing can replace the motivation of taking a class with a knowledgeable supportive teacher – especially if you are healing from an injury.
There are many opportunities for yoga in the local area through studios, gyms, YMCA’s, and Parks & Recreation Departments. It is a general suggestion to give yoga at least three tries; sometimes it takes awhile for the benefits to be felt. As a rule, do not try and force any change, but allow it to happen. If it feels a bit strange at first that is normal. If your first class makes you frustrated, try a different style or a different teacher. Remember letting yoga help you achieve a strong, flexible, balanced and relaxed body that is better able to heal itself is a healthy life-long investment!