Yoga and its mental, physical and spiritual practices and disciplines can be traced back to 400 A.D. By the end of the first millennium, hatha yoga — the type of yoga that uses physical postures and is popular in the west — had emerged.
With its combined focus on mindfulness, breathing and physical movements, yoga brings health benefits with regular participation. Participants report better sleep, increased energy levels and muscle tone, relief from muscle pain and stiffness, improved circulation and overall better general health. The breathing aspect of yoga can benefit heart rate and blood pressure.
In the last few decades, yoga has become an extremely popular discipline, emerging in studios and exercise facilities throughout the country and here in Iowa. The 2012 “Yoga in America” survey, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Yoga Journal, shows that the number of adult practitioners in the U.S. is 20.4 million. The survey reported that 44 percent of those not practicing yoga said they are interested in trying it. These Ankeny residents have tried it, and now they’re hooked. They say yoga is really for anyone, and anyone can come to love it as they do.
Beth Colwell left her job three years ago, which gave her extra time to try something she’d been curious about — yoga. She had always been physically active, and she’d tried many different kinds of exercises and exercise regimes. When her son was young, she ran regularly. For her, it was a bit of an escape, but she says she never really loved it.
“It just made me think, ‘I’m hot. I’m tired. When do I get to go home?’ ” she laughs. “Then it got to a point where it was just too hard on my joints.”
But when she found yoga, it was love at first pose. She says it’s different than other exercises because of the connection between body and mind, and the quiet it brings to your mind.
Friends Chelsea McKinley and Jill Buesch agree. They both started doing yoga after a friend held a fundraiser for the March of Dimes at one of the local studios. There were multiple kinds of exercise classes offered, but they both agreed that yoga was the one that made them want to come back.
“It’s a great way to clear your mind and give back time to yourself,” McKinley says. “For me, it’s very calming, and it’s a great way for me to relax. I’m very high strung, and my job can be very stressful, so this allows me to do that. Jill and I meet up there and do yoga and socialize, and it’s a great atmosphere.”
McKinley says she’s also been very active. She tried yoga on her own at home but admits she didn’t like it at all. It took the group atmosphere and a trained teacher to show her the benefits.
“Then I fell in love with it,” she says. “It was the class setting, and when (the instructor) teaches the poses, she talks about them. She tells you what the poses are for and what they help your body do. If my hips are tight after a run, I do a couple of poses or stretches that she’s shown us based on where my tightness is, and it really helps.”
Buesch is a health care professional, and practicing yoga has allowed her to take some techniques back to her patients as a physical therapist. She says yoga also allows her to have a pain-free workout after hip surgery.
“I love that positive energy you get from being there and working out with a group,” she says. “Before, I went and biked and did stuff in my gym in my basement, and it gets really boring after a while. In the winter it’s really hard to get motivated, so this will be good to have something different to do.”
Giving it a try
One of the major benefits to yoga is that it’s appropriate for almost anyone. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what your size or physical shape is. Modifications are taught for the poses so anyone can take advantage of its benefits.
Bethanie Lafferty teaches a hatha yoga class through a local community education class. She says she took her first class 10 years ago, and she’s been hooked ever since. She emphasizes taking care of yourself and going at your own pace — no matter what your physical ability is.
“Yoga is so much more than the physical poses (asanas). It’s about connecting mind, body and spirit. We do a bit of meditation and breath work in each class, too. It’s about listening and tuning in to that inner voice and really getting to know who we are and to take what we have learned on the mat, off the mat. It’s about accepting who and how we are right now.”
Colwell says it’s human nature to be self-conscious when taking on any new physical challenge. She says she spent much of her first class with her eyes closed. But a good teacher will help a participant remember that the experience is their and theirs alone, she advises. That’s also part of the discipline that happens with yoga, too.
“It’s one of the great gifts of yoga, that there’s something for everybody,” she says. “At our studio, we have people in all different levels and age ranges. Sometimes the more challenging poses, as you get older, they can be a little more difficult. But yoga teaches you to respect your body, and sometimes you can do things one day that you can’t do the next. Just let go of it and that’s OK.”
Buesch echoes her sentiments.
“There are all makes and models in our classes, so to speak,” she says. “Some people are really physically in shape, and there are others who it might be their first time working out. They take you from the beginning poses through advanced. Listen to your body, and do what you can do. Your best is good enough.”
Those in Ankeny who are interested in giving it a try can attend a free yoga class at Wagner Park each Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m. Yoga in the Park features different local instructors each week, and a freewill donation is taken to benefit the Children’s Miracle League.
Both McKinley and Buesch say they’re hooked on yoga now, and they intend to keep practicing it for the foreseeable future. Buesch says, for work, they were doing a wellness challenge, and everyone read the book, “How Full is Your Bucket?” After class one day, she told her instructor that she filled her bucket (received something positive) that day.
“I told her that I have so much energy, and I’m relaxed and positive, and I can focus better on my family and my work,” she says. “It’s such a good relaxation tool for me.”
McKinley says they’re both considering going on a cruise that one of the local studios is planning so they can do yoga under the stars.
“Jill and I were talking about getting our husbands to go on this, and we’ll just tell them it’s a vacation, and you don’t have to do any of this stuff,” she laughs. “We’re going to tell them they’re doing their own thing, but I’m sure they’ll be doing it with us.”
Colwell wants to take her training a step further, and she’s enrolled a in teacher training program that starts this month.
“For me, whether or not I ever teach is sort of immaterial,” she says. “Mostly I’m doing it for me. I want the information, and I want to take my own personal practice to that next level, and I think it’s a great way to achieve those goals. If someday I do teach, that’s super. If I get that courageous, I’d enjoy it, and I’d love for yoga to mean as much to someone else as it does to me.”
She says she’s already seen many benefits from doing yoga. She’s lost weight since becoming attuned to her body. She enjoys the fact that yoga is about the experience, not just about winning a race or counting how many repetitions you can do.
“There are people who are very purist about yoga and stay close to its roots, and then there are others where it’s morphed into more of an athletic adventure instead of the whole mind/body experience,” she says. “Each person can take from it what they want. I wasn’t prepared for that — the mind part of it. It gives you some peace.”