More and more people are trying yoga for its health promoting effects;  greater strength and flexibility are the most obvious benefits, but research also shows that regular yoga practice can help with weight maintenance, bodyfat loss, blood pressure reduction, blood sugar stability, and mood stabilization.  Yoga is being taught in prisons and homeless shelters, to children and older adults, in health clubs and private homes.  Group classes can be as short as 30 minutes and as long as 3 hours (workshop intensive, anyone?). 

For example, I teach a course at University of Maryland Baltimore County twice per year (summer and winter sessions) for credit to students who must take a physical education class in order to graduate.  Two sections fill up with 30 students each, most of whom have never taken a yoga class before.  Some are athletic, others barely exercise, and one young woman is attending this summer who uses a scooter for mobility as she cannot walk (but don’t call her disabled, she gets herself in and out by herself and modifies the postures to the best of her ability and by the end of the six week course she could briefly stand without assistance!).  These students are attending twice per week for 2  hours in a 6 week session and make amazing progress in that short period of time (some have even gotten their legs behind their heads!  Your results may vary…).  Those who must write a paper on their experience (because they’ve missed a class and couldn’t make it up in the other section) consistently remark on the effect the classes have on their mood and become acutely aware of the effects when they skip a home practice session.  Many resolve to continue practicing once the course is over, and quite a few have repeated the course and recommended it to their friends.

Even taking a class once per week (especially if combined with other healthy exercise options like walking or biking) can bring tremendous benefits, as the principles taught can be applied elsewhere like at work or during rush hour.  Yoga teachers often teach in a way that students can begin to develop their own daily practice at home, beginning with simple sequences repeated in each class which are then varied over the course of the session.  A sample routine might begin with a sun salutation, a series of poses (asanas) that flow smoothly to warm up the muscles, move the bones and joints through a wide range of motion, elevate the heart rate and respiration, and get the sweat flowing.

Standing postures might challenge balance or progressively open the hips and shoulders to prepare for a “peak” pose like an arm balance while seated postures could establish and develop a theme such as back strengthening.   Perhaps props are used to  give support, perhaps no props are used in order for students to feel how the body needs to strengthen or relax properly to attain balance on its own.

Yoga teachers typically take extensive training courses with teaching masters and have practiced on their own for many years in order to develop their signature styles and routines.  Observation of their students’ movement habits and abilities help a teacher make personalized recommendations for each individual while making generalized directions accessible to all in the class.

This may seem rather dry and technical but just as we learn the alphabet and basic math skills in elementary school so that we can write The Great American Novel later in life, in yoga we learn the basic postures and combinations so later we can “write poetry” with our bodies while our spirits “sing” with the joy of a body free from distractions of aches and pains. 

Come sample the Healing Power of Yoga for yourself!  Tuesday Evenings, Yoga 2, 6:30-9pm.