by Lynda Bassett
Lois Parker Carmona first stepped into a yoga studio looking for better physical health. “I was doing hot vinyasa because I wanted to sweat. I wanted to feel better,” she recalls. Many people on a similar quest try yoga for the first time during September’s National Yoga Month (YogaHealthFoundation.org/yoga_month), founded by Johannes Fisslinger.
“This year, more than 2,200 yoga studios will offer informative public events or a free week of classes to new students to educate everyone about the health benefits of yoga and inspire a healthy lifestyle,” says Fisslinger. “Yoga and mindfulness are an essential part of America’s newly emerging health paradigm.”
Like many others, as Carmona deepened her practice, she discovered that yoga’s benefits transcend the
physical. Then she went further, becoming a certified Baptiste yoga instructor and co-owner of Melrose Yoga, in Melrose, Massachusetts. “Many of us are so busy and consumed with the constant motion of day-to-day activities that we lose complete track of who we are, along with the state of our bodies,” she says. “Yoga reconnects me with myself.”
One reason that people try yoga is to improve their flexibility. A recent report from Yoga Alliance, a nonprofit association based in Arlington, Virginia, states that it can improve flexibility and mobility and increase range of motion over time as ligaments, tendons and
muscles lengthen and become more elastic. It also helps relieve muscular tension throughout the body.
The Alliance’s Danica Amore notes that flexibility means different things to different people. “A senior might define flexibility as being able to pick up the grandkids, while young people might consider it essential to their athletic abilities.” Flexibility can also mean being able to turn around easily while backing out of the driveway or running with fewer injuries, adds Carmona.
Improvements in flexibility generally depend on an individual’s age, health and commitment to practicing yoga, as well as the style chosen. “There are so many different lineages of yoga, and each teacher has his or her own style. Plus, each individual progresses at their own pace,” Amore explains. “It’s really a question of where you want this personal practice to take you and how you embrace it in your private life.” The bottom line is that everyone’s journey is different.
Many experts concur that yoga can be effective in reducing stress. As students continue their practice, they feel less stress and an increased sense of peace and relaxation, along with other mental health benefits.
“Yoga gives you what is often called a ‘witness consciousness’,” says John Kepner, executive director of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, in Little Rock, Arkansas. “Being able to observe the external events around you, but not being caught up in the drama. In modern terms, it’s an increased ability to stay cool, calm and collected. After a good yoga class, your troubles can appear further away.”
When stress is reduced, an increased sense of calm tends to permeate all areas of one’s life, observes Kepner. “Based on my experience, yoga also helps improve relationships.” Hehas taught the same group of students for 10 years and notes their special relationship: “If one goes to the same yoga class regularly, a friendship tends to develop with others in the class, called Songhai. After a while, practicing together becomes one of the most valuable parts of the practice,” he says.
This beneficial, deeper sense of community—a major allure of a long-term yoga practice—develops mainly from the intangible sense of working together in terms of physical, mental and spiritual support.
Spirituality and Connectedness
“Even beginning students quickly realize how connecting with their bodies and their breath helps them in their everyday lives,” says Carmona. “It adds a transcendent dimension to everything you do in life.”
In addition to its more immediate tangible benefits, other long-term benefits experienced by students may be harder to define or quantify. Carmona observes, “People generally say that yoga has changed their life, physically, mentally and spiritually.”
Lynda Bassett is a freelance writer outside Boston, MA. Connect at LyndaBassett@gmail.com.