Yoga, it seems, is everywhere.
From gyms to yoga studios, people are turning to yoga for its physical, mental and spiritual benefits.
Urbandale residents explain the significant impact yoga has made on their lives.
Yoga: Personalized to each individual
Jolene de Bruijn was introduced to yoga back in 2000.
Her life was a whirlwind then — she had a stressful job, was attending massage therapy school and buying her own home.
She decided to try out a yoga class that was being offered at her school, not knowing much about it. de Bruijn found that not only was it a satisfying physical workout, there were other benefits, too.
“I felt really good after I did it,” she says. “I felt — not worn out — but still like I had done some movement, done some exercise. It just made me more centered, to settle in for a bit and not be running from one thing to the next. I just really fell in love with it right then and there.”
It was totally different from the cardio and step aerobics workouts she was accustomed to. She wasn’t very athletic, but was flexible, de Bruijn says, and yoga felt like something she could do.
She began taking classes regularly at a studio in St. Louis, where she lived at the time. Then she got married and had two sons. During both pregnancies, she began taking prenatal yoga classes, which focused more on meditation and breath work.
“It was a way to keep my anxiety about the pregnancy down,” de Bruijn says. “It helped me be less anxious about everything.”
She continued practicing yoga after moving with her family to Iowa in 2007. In 2011, de Bruijn began teaching it. She describes the yoga she practices as “freestyle hatha.”
What she enjoys about yoga is that it can be tailored to a person’s individual needs, whether it’s during a specific phase in their life, on a day-to-day basis or even during a yoga class.
“It can be what you want it to be,” she says. “It can change to your energy level, your physical capabilities.”
On days where you’re feeling under the weather, you can do a lighter practice and “still get the benefits of focus and meditation and moving mindfully without compromising your well-being or health,” de Bruijn says. “You can tailor it to however you’re feeling energetically, physically or mentally.”
During a class, she tells her students they can “amplify or modify,” thinking before they move into the next pose how much they want to push themselves.
In the 15 years she’s been practicing yoga, de Bruijn has experienced many of its benefits, some that were pleasant surprises.
Since she began teaching, she’s lost 15 pounds and has been able to maintain that for several years. The weight loss came as a side effect of doing yoga more often, along with eating more mindfully and healthfully, she says. de Bruijn tries to eat foods that are grown organically, locally, and in season.
She’s also been able to form close, personal relationships through yoga.
“I’ve just made really wonderful connections and wonderful friends that I can count on,” de Bruijn says.
Benefits beyond the mat
Noah Beacom turned to yoga in 2011 as a way to help address mental health issues he was facing at the time.
“I wanted something that would gently move me out of my funk kind of thing, without having to go to a gym and lift weights,” Beacom says. “I wanted something that would be gentler. I had heard about the spiritual and emotional benefits (of yoga), and I wanted to tap into that a little bit.”
At first, he was hesitant to try it. The church he was a part of was skeptical about yoga, he says, with the thinking that it may lead individuals away from their faith or to do things not in line with the religion.
“But as I tried it, I came to see it as super helpful,” Beacom says.
He initially tried a “heated, power yoga,” which was very physically demanding.
“I fell in love with it right away,” he says. “What appealed to me was that you had this thing called a mat. And it was a safe place where I could try new ideas and get to know myself.”
Then, he expanded those ideas to the world around him.
Beacom describes the experience as “invigorating.”
“And the sweat was cathartic, to help me get out some of the fears, the toxins that I had built up,” he says. “I left each class with kind of a newfound sense of strength and possibility, especially initially because it’s new and you get this new energy and it’s kind of cool.”
Yoga, he recently read, is a “very long-term process, a long-term investment.” He has seen its cumulative benefits the last several years, including improved mood, reduced anxiety and “clearer intention and focus with regards to life’s directions, and the ability to face obstacles and challenges, and move through them,” he explains.
Yoga has expanded his horizons internally, and “with that internal change comes greater external efficacy and power,” Beacom says.
It’s also made him think more about his health, helping him to be more physically active. He admits his diet could be better, but yoga has helped him be “almost in the area of a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index),” he laughs.
Another benefit has been the individuals he’s met through yoga.
“They’re oftentimes people who are creative, speak in authenticity; they pursue passion and joy,” Beacom says. “They’re not free from suffering or struggles, but they don’t add the extra misery of dwelling in it that I think sometimes we get caught in.”
He describes the type of yoga he practices today as “classical hatha,” which is “moderate physical activity level with additional focuses on breath work and the meditative aspects of yoga, in addition to the postural and pose elements.” He stopped doing the heated power yoga after experiencing some injuries and pains.
Beacom graduated from yoga teacher training in December. He steps onto the mat three or four times a week.
“Beyond that, yoga is still a daily practice anytime I’m attentive to my breath or mindfully appreciate my emotions,” he says. “That’s all yoga to me.”
If you’re interested in giving it a try, Beacom suggests visiting two or three different studios to find the right fit.
But don’t shy away from yoga because you think you’re not flexible enough or unable to stretch in that way, says Beacom.
“That’s not really what yoga is about,” he says. “Yoga is about accepting where you are and finding a way to truly be there, and then taking a small, gentle step to going where you want to be. I would just encourage people to keep that in mind. I think yoga can benefit everybody.”
Learning to be “still”
The pace of Lynette Wagner’s life was fast and furious.
She was teaching group fitness classes, participating in spinning and kickboxing and trying to keep up with four kids.
“I thought, ‘You know, I need to do something that’s maybe not as intense,’ ” she recalls. That something was yoga, which she seriously got into about six or seven years ago.
Wagner began practicing yoga with goals including relaxation and increased flexibility and balance. While it’s had its physical benefits — including helping to build strength and lengthening and toning her muscles — she’s come away much more than that. Wagner has learned to be still and more present in her life, developed a deeper connection to God and become more aware of the blessings she has.
Today, whether she’s taking or teaching a yoga class, or working on her personal practice, “I always feel like I’ve just received a gift,” Wagner says.
“So it’s a very grounding experience for me,” she goes on. “And it’s really been a journey for me to learn that you can be still and quiet, even when things are moving around you at 100 miles per hour.”
Wagner says it was when she realized that she could take what she learned on the mat and incorporate that into the rest of her life that she really made the connection with yoga.
Learning how to be still in a particular moment became spiritual for her, she says, and deepened her connection with God. Yoga has also helped her to be more present in the life she lives, giving her full attention to whatever is happening at that specific moment.
It’s taught her to be “authentic,” that what she can do or be right now is good enough, she explains.
“We’re bringing the best that we have and doing the best that we can, and are trying to stop being more,” says Wagner. “Those were really big lessons to me.”
Yoga is accessible to anyone, Wagner stresses, from triathletes to those in wheelchairs.
“I’d invite everyone to try it for themselves and see what it can do for them,” she says.