Magazine Writing, Uncategorized

Wild Card

Yoga: More than just a pose

Valerie Cook

Athens, GEORGIA (April 20, 2016)– It was 1997—a time when home workout videos were popular among fitness fanatics. Debi Garrett, an aerobics instructor and self-proclaimed workout junkie, rented a VHS tape of yoga and remembers feeling an amazing sensation, “I was hooked.”

What started out as a fun workout option turned into a lifestyle for Garrett. She is now a certified yoga instructor at Five Points Yoga in Athens. It became such an ingrained part of her routine; she finds that if she doesn’t practice yoga, even for a few days, she doesn’t feel as good all around.

“Yoga gives you everything you need: strength, flexibility, balance,” says Garrett, “There’s also the mind-body connection that you don’t find in any other form of physical exercise that I have experienced.”

That mind-body connection is one of the reasons so many people keep coming back to yoga after they try it for the first time. Shannon Ball, co-founder of Five Points Yoga, highlights the importance of connecting the body and mind, especially in relation to health issues.

“Yoga is an amazingly powerful way to reconnect inside, to move energy in our body in a culture of overweight, stagnant people,” says Ball. She is concerned about the inactive nature that people are demonstrating in their daily lives. However, Ball notes that as people are able to relax and get in touch with themselves, they tend to make healthier choices in their everyday lives.

Dr. Rebecca Marshall, a professor at the University of Georgia who specializes in yoga and mindfulness meditation research, stresses the importance of a healthy mind leading to a healthy body. She has based her research on analyzing the effects that yoga and mediation can have on the mind.

Her researched focused specifically on breath work and how it can help change the mind. Alternate-nostril breathing is a breath technique used in yoga and mediation, which requires breathing in and out through one nostril at a time. It is believed to balance the hemispheres of the brain. Marshall studied this technique in people who have had a stroke and found it increased their verbal fluency. In her studies, which included stroke victims and controls, she found that it helped both groups with depression, anxiety and had an overall calming effect on both the body and the mind.

Marshall feels that yoga is becoming increasingly popular because people are starting to notice all of the benefits associated with it. When people were not as familiar with the practice of yoga, the general attitude towards it was skeptical.

“People said like, somebody from India is coming to do yoga,” Marshall notes of the hesitancy to put stock in an unfamiliar practice, “but now it’s like actually in research journals. We know that it can change executive function.”

Increased flexibility is a common aspect associated with the practice of yoga. Marshall recalls that flexibility issues are the reason she got involved with yoga originally.

“I was in graduate school I couldn’t touch my toes, and I was in my 20’s and I thought that’s wrong,” she says with a laugh.

Garrett notes there are common misperceptions about flexibility in yoga, “you don’t have to be flexible; that’s a total myth.” It is more important for someone who is not flexible to practice yoga, in order to keep his or her knees and back healthy.

A rising trend in the world of yoga is that it is now being used as a form of medical therapy. In addition to already having a yoga instructor certification, Garrett is now pursuing an advanced yoga therapy certification. She has seen firsthand how yoga can help people with physical ailments. She currently works with a client who has Parkinson’s disease.

“He swears by his yoga once a week to help him manage his symptoms,” says Garrett.

She believes that yoga therapy can work well alongside Western medicine practices and is finding that an increasing number of people are coming into the Bikram Athens studio on the recommendation of their healthcare providers.

Jolin Conine, an instructor at Bikram Athens, is also familiar with the medical health benefits of yoga.

“I woke up one day and started having chronic neck and back pain and didn’t really know why,” she recalls.

Conine ended up in the hospital where she learned that she had four herniated disks, “I tried all of these different ways of trying to relieve the pain.”

It wasn’t until she tried hot yoga, also known as a Bikram practice, that she started being able to manage her pain and stress levels. Bikram yoga is a series of 26 poses practiced in a heated room designed to work the whole body. What started out as a way to relieve pain from her herniated discs turned into something more.

“You realize there’s so many other benefits that your body and your mind are getting, that it keeps you coming to the yoga,” says Conine.

Conine has recognized the increasing number of athletes that are now taking her yoga classes. She notes that some of the football players from the University of Georgia have come to practice yoga; she feels that yoga is now an accepted part of an athlete’s training regime.

While most yoga calms the mind and has health benefits, there are specific practices that are aimed at achieving different goals.

Ball says that most styles can be modified to work with a lot of populations. She primarily teaches restorative and vinyasa yoga. Restorative yoga is beneficial for anyone who needs to slowdown and restore, hence the name. Vinyasa is also known as flow yoga because of its fluidity from one movement to the next.

“Vinyasa is a wonderful option for so many, but seems especially effective for people who need to move a bit to help their minds settle and relax,” says Ball.

With so many different styles of yoga and the complexity of the different poses associated with them, the certification process to become an instructor is lengthy. The process varies, depending on the style of yoga and how much time you are willing to invest. However, there are standards set by a governing body called Yoga Alliance that those who train yoga instructors must abide by in order for their students to be considered registered instructors. The minimum requirement to be considered a registered yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance is completion of a 200-hour training program. From there, it is important that they gain teaching experience in order to become a more qualified instructor.

The 200-hour certification process can be completed in various time frames. Some ways that certification can be completed include a full month of intensive training at an ashram, a secluded retreat where yoga is practiced, or at two-week intervals. Conine believes that the more time invested in learning the practice of yoga, the more that instructors will gain and improve their practice. Regardless of how someone becomes an instructor, the methods all have the same core concepts. It requires in-depth training—becoming a yoga instructor isn’t just mastering the poses.

“So there are different systems, but they all include like a certain amount of spiritual information, a certain amount of anatomical information, a certain amount of actually learning how to do the poses, like the breath work as well,” explains Marshall.

Yoga is as much a spiritual practice as it is physical. Meditation and focus play integral roles. Marshall notes how there is now more evidence associated with the meditational focus needed in yoga.

“There’s so much beautiful research on how it can help things like heart disease, how it can help special education children, special needs children with autism,” she says.

Some yoga instructors credit yoga’s increasing popularity to the higher functions that it can provide to practitioners. Ball believes that people are finally noticing the important elements of life that yoga provides.

“The emphasis on inner reflection, breath and present moment pulls us to what we really want and need.”