Given its contemporary image featuring boastful Instagram and Facebook posts by celebrities showcasing their flexibility via challenging poses like the handstand scorpion, plus pricey high-end boutiques and intense “power” classes geared toward competitive types, yoga has come far from its Eastern origins, which date back several thousand years.
Yet despite its modern glamorous profile as one of today’s trendiest workouts, yoga still can be a pathway toward heightened physical and mental connectedness and improved overall health for people at every fitness level. According to a 2013 Forbes article, companies such as Google, Apple and Target, among others, have encouraged yoga, mindfulness and meditation as part of their corporate culture, citing scientific evidence that indicates such practices improve concentration and self-control.
Yoga experts agree. Anna Riehl, studio manager at YogaWorks Westchester in Irvington, says there are numerous benefits to practicing yoga regularly. “A consistent yoga practice can create space in the body and the mind so that the nervous system can help us to restore our whole beings closer to the original state which we came into the world,” she says. “The health benefits are numerous and varied for each individual but can include weight loss, reduced stress, lower heart rate [and] more suppleness in the muscles and the mind.”
The American Osteopathic Association, which advances osteopathic medicine (practiced by physicians who promote “whole-person” health care and have special training in the musculoskeletal system), lists several additional health benefits, including increased flexibility; improved respiration, energy and vitality; and improved athletic performance.
Yoga practices generally combine breathing and meditation techniques with a system of poses that stretch various muscles in the body and can range from gentle to positively grueling. Some classes may include chanting; others are accompanied by music (everything from harmonium to pop and funk). In the most contemporary of settings you’ll find gymstyle moves like push-ups packed in between traditional yoga postures.
Techniques and Classes
So with both stress reduction and improved fitness ranking as high priorities for juggling parents, yoga sounds like the perfect undertaking, and yoga studios have cropped up everywhere in recent years in response to the practice’s surging popularity. But have you looked at a studio menu lately? The assortment of techniques and classes available, the Osteopathic Association notes there are more than 100 types of yoga, might make your head spin. So how can a novice yoga student know where to begin?
Riehl suggests seeking expert advice before jumping in. “It is best to do a needs assessment with a yoga professional who can recommend a method of practice that best suits the student’s fitness level and lifestyle,” she says. Citing YogaWorks’ mantra that “yoga is for everybody,” she adds that the studio boasts “a variety of styles and levels to offer something to anyone seeking to make this practice part of their daily lifestyle.”
Terri Prettyman Bowles is a Westchester-based writer, editor and content producer.
STYLES FOR EVERY BODY
Yoga styles and classes are available for a wide variety of needs:
Hatha yoga is described by the American Yoga Association as “what most people associate with yoga practice,” physical movements and postures plus breathing techniques. Riehl says her studio offers a Fundamentals and 60-minute Hatha level 1 class, which she calls “a great introduction to the practice of yoga and all its benefits, including postures and mindfulness.”
Vinyasa yoga is for more advanced practitioners. Riehl says this is a more vigorous form of yoga featuring a synchronized series of poses that flow one to another, or advanced students can try “a more static Iyengar yoga class [another form of Hatha],” with its focus on alignment of the body and the use of props.
Pre- and postnatal yoga. Expectant or new moms can also benefit from classes that help energize the body for delivery or rebuild strength after birth. At YogaWorks, pre- and postnatal classes, plus Baby & Me classes can ease the motherhood process and help foster closeness between mom and baby.