At the start of each new year, we are often inundated with messaging about diet and exercise. Several times, I have fallen into the trap of thinking that I have to completely revamp my lifestyle in order to fit it within a tight definition of "healthy." In years past, this may have meant cutting certain things out of my diet completely, or running or cycling a set number of miles or minutes each week. Sometimes, these all-or-nothing spurts can feel tiresome instead of energizing. So, what to do if you want to improve your health and wellness, but are not sure if you have the mental or physical time and energy to pound the pavement? Perhaps it's time to consider yoga.
Yoga is an ancient practice of exercise and meditation that has become more and more appealing to busy people, as it provides a strengthening and calm space away from the stress of everyday life. According to a Harvard Health publication, yoga delivers several benefits including better body image, more self-awareness, increased mindfulness, a boost to weight loss and maintenance, enhanced fitness and positive cardiovascular effects.
I spoke with two local yogis and studio owners about what personal benefits they have noticed from regular yoga, the types of yoga available and what advice they have for anyone considering beginning a yoga practice.
Beverly Hopkins of Flow Midwest Yoga and Meditation, 1921 W. Iles Ave., cites help with back pain as one of the benefits that she has gained from yoga, and says that her clients have also had an array of benefits from practicing yoga. For some, it is about gaining flexibility, while others who have arthritis might use the practice to keep themselves moving.
Betsy Link of Aah Yoga, 2201 W. White Oaks Dr., agrees that the benefits are innumerable and often unique to the individual. As a runner, Link credits yoga with preventing injuries and increasing overall strength.
Both Hopkins and Link agree that yoga has the power to lower blood pressure, manage stress and mood and reduce anxiety, and that it can be an important coping tool to use while living in an uncertain world.
Since there are several types of yoga, a beginner might feel unsure as to where to start – but not to worry, as there is truly something for everyone within the yoga practice. Classes such as yin yoga, gentle yoga and chair yoga may benefit someone hoping to increase strength and flexibility while reducing tension and stress.
Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga classes are sequence-style yoga classes that allow a practitioner to connect breath to movement while gaining flexibility and balance. These classes may feel a bit quicker than yin or gentle classes, and focus is put on strengthening and challenging the mind and body to the extent that the yogi is comfortable.
Hot Yoga, or Bikram Yoga, is held in a heated room, sometimes up to 100 degrees. The heat in a Bikram class is said to have a detoxifying or purifying effect.
Yoga sculpt is also a popular yoga offering that combines yoga flow with weight training, either with light weights or by utilizing body weight strength moves.
Link's advice to a yoga newcomer is to "always remember that it is yoga – there is no test at the end of class, you won't be kicked out or judged if you forget the name of the posture or can't do a specific pose. It may be challenging at times, but it shouldn't be painful or stressful, So, let go of your ego and have fun!"
Hopkins adds that the first step in becoming a yoga practitioner is finding a practice that works for you in an environment that provides a welcoming and safe space. She encourages those curious about yoga to go ahead and "allow yourself the experience."
Pamela Savage is a freelance writer in Springfield who took her first yoga class in college and still enjoys practicing yoga at home, some years later.