Yoga offers more than flexibility
After an estimated 5,000 years of development, yoga has become more than just turning a human body into a spaghetti noodle.
Many yoga instructors believe that after the physical benefits are met, there comes a level of transcendence or awareness that is not achieved by other types of exercise.
"To me, just working out is like a mouse running in circles on a wheel," said Sarah Tomson, owner and instructor for Balanced Being Yoga in Park City. "Yoga does everything for the physical, but it makes you much more mindful, physically or emotionally, and gives you an awareness of what’s going on."
Tomson added, "Flow Yoga (which she teaches) is not about strict alignment, flexible hamstrings or perfect form. The poses or movements are about getting there. You are in meditation the entire time, tuning into the subtleties of your body. There it shifts from your body to a sense of spirituality."
Many instructors speak of reaching "awareness" through Yoga. Lisa Needham, owner and instructor of Park City Yoga Center, says it is a mixture of body movements, breathing and control that help discipline the body and mind. She talks of being able to monitor one’s self, and having the effect translate into other areas of her life.
"It’s practicing observing your own self, and then it gets deeper where you are observing yourself, observing yourself," Needham said. "It allows me to fully embrace the hard and stressful times just as much as the fun times. It makes me pause before I make a choice, rather than react. I take the high and let it bleed into the rest of my life. Yoga doesn’t get rid of stress, but makes me more aware of what stress is in my life. Yoga gives me a chance to react."
David Belz, owner and instructor of The Shop Yoga Studio in Park City agrees. "There’s so much sensory overload we don’t notice the beautiful cloud overhead, we don’t have an awareness of the beauty in the world, and it’s learning to not take things for granted in the world."
He added that yoga helps take people back to the beginning, as a child that is in awe of the world. "It’s a return to the beginner’s mind, to look at everything fresh again."
On Thursday he described the philosophy of Samscara, where peopleendure, habits and negative patterns that take away from life’s fulfillment.
"Rather than the tail wagging the dog, Yoga finds patterns through awareness and self inquiry, so we find ways to move the tail," Belz said. "As people, we want to be joyful; we want to find out how we can live our lives, in general, to be more joyful, happy and fulfilled. In yoga practice, we cultivate mindfulness to expand our awareness. Through mindfulness we can better understand what ways we can live our lives more skillfully. In the physical our body becomes a tool to cultivate that. As those skills are enhanced and cultivated, that allows us to use those skills to observe other aspects of our lives, to feel what is and what isn’t working, then have the strength and tools to shift our patterns."
Yoga literally means "union." Those who participate in the practice describe it like the Force from the Star Wars movies.
"The intention of Yoga is union," Belz said. "To recognize, to feel, experience beating heart, breathing, the goose bumps that come from seeing a beautiful cloud, it’s all the same energy, like the Force. It’s experiencing the energy connection to everything, the wondrous awe that energy manifests in different ways."
Tomson describes it similarly, "Yoga means union, there’s a union with all things," she said. "It’s so natural, the wave of everyone’s breath, the music vibrations, it’s like riding a wave. It’s a balance between effort and ease."
Needham describes it in a similar way, but discusses what she calls the "higher mind" and the "lower mind."
"There’s the higher mind, the true self that you connect to with breathing," Needham said. "It watches yourself from a neutral point of view. The lower self is the ego. It trains the mind to be observant when you are off the mat. It’s really the freeing the moment. "The physical body is a doorway to higher self. Breath is the key to the doorway. Pauses in between are what’s on the other side of doorway. The moment you focus on your breath, you are in another space, the future and the past disappear and you are wrapped up in the now."
The Chakra, an energy force within the human body described by yoga specialists, can be opened safely through certain practices.
"It’s the energy inside us that moves," Belz said. "Through certain practices that energy is opened. Yoga strengthens and purifies the body to safely let that energy move throughout it. She (Chakra) waits until you are ready. Great teachers have the ability to awaken it. Shaktiput (the practice of awakening Chakra) is very esoteric as it relates to yoga in the U.S., more than 99 percent of Americans don’t see it. Sometimes people get scared when they start to feel the energy, then it will shut down."
Needham describes how yoga releases Chakra, "Each Chakra is associated with a gland in the body. Movements and positions can massage glands to promote the energy and wellness," she said. You can teach alignments that make the energy move in a straight line in the body. Prana is the life force and the breathing techniques connect to it. Proper alignment helps get to the higher mind and is a vessel for prana."
Chakra and attaining awareness is not the only point of yoga.
"Yoga can seem like the esoteric, kooky-wooky thing. But down the path people understand it," Tomson said.
Of all Needham’s students, 65 percent are over 40 years old. Many come in for rehab from physical ailments and mental tension.
"I’ve had people come in the next day and say, ‘I can’t believe I had a bowel movement last night,’" Needham said. "People that come to yoga, come for stress, flexibility, or for a workout, and after awhile it all starts bleeding into other things. People say, ‘My sleeping or my digestion is better.’"
Thompson received a master’s degree in physical therapy, which gave her a solid foundation for healthcare. Even with her degree, she believes yoga can have tremendous health benefits.
"Healthcare is so much more than just traditional western methods," Tomson said.
Tomson believes yoga can re-energize the mind and body, increase flexibility, strengthen and tone muscles,
reduce tension, improve concentration, encourage conscious relaxation, increase balance and agility, rehab and reduces chance of injuries, and improve sleep.
Each instructor has put countless hours into developing his or her style of yoga. Each instructor continues to take instruction from individual mentors.
"I’ve put more time, energy and study into yoga than I have in my master’s in architecture," Belz said.
The Park City Yoga Center, owned by Lisa Needham, is located at 1662 Bonanza Dr. For information about individual or group classes, call (435) 640-2661 or visit the Web site, http://www.parkcityyogacenter.com
For information on individual or group classes for Balanced Being Yoga, owned by Sarah Tomson, call (435) 579-0357 or visit http://www.balancedbeingyoga.com.
The Shop Yoga Studio, owned by David Belz, is located at 1167 Woodside Avenue. For more information about individual or group classes, call (435) 649-9339 or visit http://www.parkcityyoga.com
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