Yoga: a workout for mind, body

Photo by Caitlyn Massy | The Collegian Izabela Ragan, graduate student in veterinary medicine, and Sean Charvet, graduate student in security studies, stretch at the beginning of the All-Levels yoga class on Sept. 3, 2014.

As yoga becomes an increasingly popular method of exercise, several schools of practice have emerged that cater to all levels of expertise and styles. As with all forms of activity, it can be confusing to know where to start or which type is best for you.

In general, the goal of yoga is to calm the mind and to achieve increased synchronization between the mind and body in order to live a healthier life. There are many forms of yoga, but the one most people are familiar with is Hatha yoga, or the focus on physical movements, postures and breathing techniques.

Yoga is an intricate system that provides a complete philosophy for living a healthy life and as such can become overwhelming for beginners. Those without previous yoga experience may be uncertain of what to expect or how to adapt it to meet their individual needs.

“The hardest part is walking through the door,” said Jessa Voos, owner and registered yoga teacher at Orange Sky Yoga, located at 227 Blue Earth Place. “Some people think yoga is too hard, too easy or intimidating. Just walk through the door.”

According to YogaWorks, a national yoga school, people who practice yoga regularly can experience mental benefits such as balanced and happier mood, improved sleep, better focus at work and a calmer mind. Physically, yoga increases energy, encourages weight loss, decreases back pain and enhances athletic ability.

For some, results and effects of yoga can be felt immediately.

“My first time doing yoga … I felt so relaxed when I left,” Alyssa Lally, senior in mass communications, said. “I’m definitely going to try and make a habit of it … to hold myself accountable and take my health more seriously.”

Among the unfamiliar with yoga exists a misconception that the act of practicing yoga means you have to or should use it to replace other regimens or exercises. However, in many cases, yoga can actually be a complementary aid for other forms of physical activity.

“Yoga is a great companion for other forms of exercise,” Voos said. “Running tends to tighten the hamstrings, and yoga helps heal and bring your body back into balance. It’s very beneficial.”

Another misconception about yoga is that practicing it will require adherence to certain religious or spiritual beliefs. Although yoga can certainly evoke elements of spiritual growth, it is not customarily used as a medium for religious beliefs.

“Yoga really is for everyone,” said Lauren Klein, junior in nutrition and kinesiology and a registered yoga instructor at the Chester E. Peter’s Recreation Complex. “I lean towards a more traditional style of yoga and try to incorporate yoga throughout the day. You can do that by being mindful of your breathing and where you’re at physically and mentally.”

For many instructors, the act of teaching can be just as rewarding as practicing, if not more.

“Every time I walk through the door, I’m happy,” Voos said. “I love teaching beginners. Once they get through that initial barrier, they become so open to trying new things. I also love teaching the harder classes because you get to play.”

Talking with the instructor of a yoga class you want to take can help beginners and even seasoned yogis better understand the goals for that session and what it will entail. They can answer questions that will help you understand the physical demands. Asking if meditation or chanting is included will provide insight to the mental and spiritual aspects. Answers to these questions will give you a better idea as to if the class is vigorous or more meditative.

“The all-levels (yoga) class (at the Rec) is a good way to start building a good foundation,” Klein said. “Gentle yoga is another way to ease into it.”

Above everything else, those who teach emphasize that practicing yoga is different for everyone and that no two people will experience it the same way – nor will they progress at the same rate. They encourage all to be patient and at peace with whichever stage they’re at in that moment.

“Yoga is whatever you want it to be,” Voos said.