For overall health, give yoga a tryPerhaps one of your New Year’s resolutions is to get physically fit, but joining a gym, jogging, running or Pilates doesn’t interest you at all. One option to consider is yoga.
The Yoga Journal’s 2012 Yoga in America study found the number of people practicing yoga has increased by nearly 30 percent in the last four years. The initial 2008 survey accounted for 15.8 million adult yoga practitioners, but the latest figure has increased to more than 20 million who practice — about 8.7 percent of adults.
More than 78 percent surveyed said the main reason for beginning yoga was to increase flexibility. Others surveyed said they began yoga for overall conditioning, stress relief and improvement of general health.
Beaumont Hospital cardiologist and certified yoga instructor Kavitha Chinnaiyan, M.D., says yoga is not just a fitness activity.
“The primary goal of yoga is what the word implies,” says Chinnaiyan. “The word ‘yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj,’ which means ‘union.’ It is the union of all the different aspects of what makes us human.”
We are not just a body, a mind or intellect, she says. Yoga was discovered thousands of years ago and is meant to join all these aspects into one with the form of the asanas (postures).
“This is why there is a sense of joy and peace when you see people who have been doing yoga for a long time,” she says. “It also has a very attractive side benefit — it happens to work on the body.”
Additional studies have shown that yoga can decrease blood pressure, and help eliminate factors that lead to heart disease and other chronic diseases, Chinnaiyan says.
“It works on a glandular system, on the hormones and the kind of hormones that are responsible for stress,” Chinnaiyan says. “Modern life is really about high stress, always in a hurry, always on the run. So glands like the adrenals are constantly in this production-state of cortisol in addition to other stress hormones that keeps us on the fight-or-flight path.”
Chinnaiyan, who leads a yoga-based program at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, says another recent study found that when people are in a meditative state, stress hormones come down.
“The primary function of yoga is the meditative state that it induces,” she says. “If it is not doing that, it is not yoga.”
Compatible with all religions
One very common misconception about yoga is that it’s a religion. While it did originate in Hinduism, says Chinnaiyan, it has nothing to do with religion.
“It is compatible with all religions and all faiths. In fact it brings you closer to God,” she says. “Most of the people in my sessions are practicing Christians and other religions, and I can say that I am probably the only Hindu there.”
Anita Vasudevan is a Wayne State University sophomore and yoga instructor at the university’s Mort Harris Recreation & Fitness Center. She’s working toward a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and plans on attending medical school. Eventually she wants to incorporate yoga in her practice.
“I would use complementary and alternative therapies (namely yoga) in conjunction with traditional allopathic medicine in order to treat my patients with the best of both worlds,” Vasudevan says.
Over the years, studies have also shown yoga is effective at easing the process of bereavement and coping with terminal illness. Yoga practices also are being implemented in schools to improve students’ concentration and in prisons to help inmates let go of anger, guilt and resentment.
“These benefits can all be attributed to the spiritual aspect of yoga” she says.
Desire to serve, help others
Detroit native Yvette Cobb was in India during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, took more than 270,000 lives. When Cobb got back on American soil, two refrains echoed in her mind.
“How can I serve?” Cobb says. “And go home.”
After living in California for 20 years, Cobb returned to Michigan and opened Yoga for Life Center in Birmingham, which also serves as a holistic practice. It is one of the few locations she says that teaches a style of yoga called Kundalini.
“I have three certifications in yoga, including Hatha and Ashtanga, but I choose to teach Kundalini,” she says. “It is the mother of all yoga. It has a trinity effect. We have a vigorous exercise, meditation and relaxation. And our relaxation is to the gong. The gong is the most ancient instrument, very primal.”
Chet Wasilewski of Dearborn has been a student at Yoga for Life Center since September.
“I am in good health, a brisk walker, I go bicycling,” says Wasilewski, 61. “When I went to my first class I saw that I lacked a lot of things, like body strength. I gained a new respect for yoga.”
Some like it hot
Shekira Cooley had a gym membership that she didn’t use regularly, tried Zumba briefly and owns many of the latest workout DVDs. But it is Bikram yoga that has her rapt attention.
“In my opinion, Bikram is better than everything else because you see progress and improvement immediately,” says Cooley, 31, of Southfield.
“Every time you practice, you find that your body shows you that you can go a little further, last a little longer in each posture — its motivation.”
Bikram Yoga or hot yoga is practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees, which warms the muscles and joints and is said to reduce the risk of injury during stretching. Developed by Bikram Choudhury, this type of yoga consists of 26 postures, which boasts ridding the body of toxins and is beneficial for all the systems in the body.
Cooley was introduced to this style of yoga by Jenny O’Laughlin, co-owner of the Troy and Farmington Hills locations of Bikram yoga.
Like many new to Bikram, the first class is the toughest.
“My first Bikram class was a little overwhelming,” Cooley says. “The more I tried not to focus on the heat, the hotter I felt. When it’s over you feel relaxed, refreshed and a strong sense of accomplishment.”
O’Laughlin, who has been a Bikram teacher for more than 13 years, says Bikram is distinct for two reasons.
“Bikram is a set series of postures that never change,” she says. “One posture leads to the next and it is designed to work the body comprehensively. Another thing is that it comes from a therapeutic lineage.”
Choudhury, who grew up in Calcutta, trained at his teacher’s yoga school, where they would prescribed poses and breathing exercises to those who were either physically or mentally ill.
Before embarking on a Bikram class, participants need to hydrate the day before and make sure to drink water during the class. And less is more when it comes to attire.
“Modesty does go out the window. The body keeps its temperature stable when sweat evaporates from the skin,” O’Laughlin says.
“If you’re all covered up, you’re not going to have that cooling experience. … the more of the surface area of the body that’s exposed, the cooler your internal temperature is going to be.”
Something for everyone
The Yoga Shelter, with its five Michigan studios (including its newest in Midtown near Wayne State), offers a bevy of classes that blend traditional styles of yoga with unique twists. For example, Yoga Rocks is designed to make students sweat away pounds and toxins.
Slow Flow is great for those looking to experience a physically slower yet challenging class, where students focus on the breath and hold postures that cover the entire body. One unique offering is aerial yoga at the Grosse Pointe studio.
Aerial yoga uses colorful silk hammocks that assists students of all levels ingaining balance, flexibility, upper bodyand corestrength, says Nicole Yoder, chief operating officer of Yoga Shelter.
“Traditional yoga poses are combined with poses unique to the hammock to create a challenging and relaxing experience,” she says. “As each student uses their own hammock, they are encouraged to explore deeper backbends and assistedinversions. Students experience the exhilarationof going upside down and literallyfloating several feet off ofthe ground.”
Michael Castile of Grosse Pointe Woods says aerial yoga is as enjoyable as it is addictive .
“I signed up as soon as they offered it,” says Castile, 28. “With regular yoga there are a lot of push-ups, but in aerial it is pull-ups and upper body. It is hand strength, too. After the first class I woke up the next morning feeling a bunch of muscles that I didn’t know I had.”
Castile has practiced yoga for more than nine months, losing 75 pounds and gaining mental well-being.
“It totally balances me,” he says. “Yoga has done more for me mentally than physically.”
Read full article at The Detroit News and View Photo Gallery