Yoga benefits go beyond flexibility | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Yoga benefits go beyond flexibility

Rhonda Beckam / For the Tahoe Daily Tribune

I just completed my fifth class at Mountain Yoga. I’m already noticing an improvement in my flexibility. Even though I regularly practice the Pilates method and get extreme stretches working out with Rose Marie Ottman, I still have limited flexibility.

Flexibility is one of those traits that seems to be handed down from our parents. Of course you can improve upon what your genes dictate, but either you naturally have it or not. One of the instructors told me she will begin complementing her yoga with Pilates because she has suffered injuries from having too much flexibility and not enough core strength. The two disciplines complement each other nicely.

It feels good to be able to touch my toes without a thought. I love to be able to reach my fingers together behind my back.

But yoga isn’t just about increased flexibility. Other advantages you can expect:

n Pain prevention: Increased flexibility and strength can help prevent the causes of some types of back pain. Yoga also improves your alignment, both in and out of class, which helps prevent many other types of pain.

n Strength: Many yoga poses require you to support the weight of your own body.

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n Muscle tone: As a byproduct of getting stronger, you can expect to see increased muscle tone. Yoga helps shape long, lean muscles. Yeah!

n Better breathing: Most of us breathe shallow into the lungs and don’t give much thought to how we breathe. Yoga breathing exercises, called Pranayama, focus the attention on the breath and teach us how to better use our lungs.

n Mental calmness: Yoga asana practice is intensely physical. Concentrating so intently on what your body is doing has the effect of bringing calmness to the mind. Yoga also introduces you to meditation techniques, such as watching how you breathe and disengagement from your thoughts, which help calm the mind.

n Body awareness: Doing yoga will give you an increased awareness of your body. You are often called upon to make small, subtle movements to improve your alignment. Over time, this will increase your level of comfort in your own body. This can lead to improved posture and greater self-confidence.

n Stress reduction: You’ve heard me say many times that physical activity is good for relieving stress and this is particularly true of yoga.

Dr. Wayne Dyer proclaims that one of his yoga teachers told him that after you’ve practiced yoga for a few months, you will naturally choose healthier foods. You see it’s not just exercise, but a way of life. It becomes a lifestyle because every time you practice you center yourself and get in touch with the inner you, the wise you.

Mountain Yoga has a beautiful, cozy studio in the Tahoe Keys business complex. It’s a great location because it’s quiet; you get a view of the marina as well as the neighboring wetlands. I like to focus on the brilliant red, orange and yellow willow nearby.

According to About.com, the word yoga means “union” in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India where yoga originated. We can think of the union occurring between the mind, body and spirit.

What is commonly referred to as “yoga” can be more accurately described by the Sanskrit word asana, which refers to the practice of physical postures or poses. Asana is only one of the eight “limbs” of yoga; the majority of which are more concerned with mental and spiritual well-being than physical activity. In the West, however, the words asana and yoga are often used interchangeably.

Each limb relates to an aspect of achieving a healthy and fulfilling life, and each builds upon the one before it. You might be surprised to hear that only one of the limbs involves the performance of yoga postures. Lorilyn, Kris, and Audrey all have unique modes of teaching which keeps things interesting. There are several styles or types of yoga. Mountain Yoga offers a great deal for beginners. You get unlimited “basic” or “basic-plus” classes in a two week period for $29. I was able to find a class on almost every day of the week that fit into my schedule. Actually, I made my schedule fit around yoga class because I really wanted to make a dedication to this new way of life.

It makes for a wonderful way to start or end the day as you take the time seriously just for yourself to quiet the mind and take a “vacation” from the ordinary stressors of life. I find myself calmer immediately after and slightly throughout the rest of the day. Maybe it’s because of the slow, methodical moves directed by a super soothing voice. Maybe it’s the mini-nap we get at the end of every class. Namaste.