Searching for the fountain of youth? Trying to stop the effects of aging and drop a few pounds? The health and beauty industry is a multi-billion dollar world with creams, lotions, potions, and elixirs. The plastic surgery industry is even grander with nips, tucks, lifts, and enlargements. Have you seen some of these celebs lately? At what price would you pay to look and feel better even though you grow older? What if I had the answer for you and it was affordable, accessible, and didn’t require anesthesia?
The answer is yoga, yes yoga. Yoga is a miracle drug. It improves your posture, your balance, your circulation, strengthens and tones the entire body, reduces stress, and helps to calm and clear the mind. Wow, all of this in one little yoga class! It doesn’t require fancy clothes or expensive equipment, all it asks of you is a desire to feel better, to have an open mind, and an hour of your time.
As we age our body changes. Muscles get tighter, joints get stiffer, flesh gets looser, and our get up and go seems to have got up and went. One commercial’s tagline seems to stick in my head, “A body at rest tends to stay at a rest, while a body in motion stays in motion” That’s so true, if we want to stay young and keep our body going we need to keep it moving. Joints need the lubrication, blood needs to flow and muscles need to stretch and strengthen. All of these can keep the body running like a well-oiled machine. So how does yoga fit in?
The very early forms of yoga were just sitting and meditating, trying to stay still for as long as you could to quiet the mind. Yoga still aims at quieting the mind, but here we are in 2013 and we’ve got a very physical practice. So what poses can help strengthen the body? The list is too long to get into here in my little blog so I’ll focus on two: plank pose and the always controversial push up or Chaturanga Dandasana.
Plank is a multi-faceted pose. It focuses on keeping the body in alignment, straight spine, long neck, one long line from crown of head to heels. It is mountain pose horizontally. It strengthens the shoulders and the core. The core is just what it says it is, the center of our body. So many injuries, especially in the low back start from a weak core. Women tend to have weaker cores than men due to pregnancies and a higher percentage of fat, don’t get me wrong I’ve seen plenty of weak cores on men too! So, the simple but effective plank pose can get the core fired up, and build strength in the shoulders and legs.
The push-up is effective in building upper body strength. Chaturanga or shoulder shredder pose has its pros and cons. Hate to bust on the ladies again but as we get older we lose strength especially in our upper bodies. Jiggly triceps anyone? Our lower body is usually strong since we are weight bearing our whole body on it as we stand and walk throughout our day. Although carrying children and grocery bags is challenging, our upper body doesn’t get the work it needs. Weight bearing in the upper body can consist of lifting weights or using your own body’s weight like in a push up or plank pose. If not modified accordingly, the push-up can definitely wreck your shoulders. Therefore to build that upper body strength dropping knees in the push up is the key. This alignment will keep your spine straight, increase the core and arm strength and work flexibility in the shoulders.
It’s never too late to start a yoga practice. But, the earlier the better! Get your body moving one push up at a time. This blog was inspired by all of the college students that I teach at our Durham studio. I’m so thrilled that these young men and women have found yoga at an early age because I feel that the future generations will stay young forever.
One student of mine that stands out to me because of her youth, her beauty inside and out, and her calm and gentle aura is Lauren Hall. She possesses a quiet assertiveness, a confidence that you generally don’t see in a 20-something year old. She is polite, cheerful, and she has a beautiful yoga practice. Lauren, you are a joy to have in class and I can’t wait until you become a yoga teacher! Here is Lauren’s bio and a few questions she answered for me:
My name is Lauren Hall and I’m a senior, art history major here at UNH. Country music is my favorite, I love the beach, fashion, and traveling, my family has two Bernese Mountain dogs, Oakley and Bane, who I’m slightly obsessed with, and I’m so excited to become a yoga instructor in April! I still don’t know exactly what I want to do, but I know that yoga will continue to be a part of my life no matter where I end up.
1.What brought you to yoga and how long have you been practicing?
I first started practicing yoga the summer before starting at UNH to increase my flexibility. I practiced throughout the summer and like most beginners, was very frustrated. I couldn’t touch my toes, downward dog didn’t ever seem like it would be a resting pose, and chaturanga – that’s a joke right?! In the past four years I have seen such a difference in myself. Not just physically (I can finally touch my toes, downward dog really is a place of rest, and chaturanga is strengthening and a way to connect with my breath), but mentally.
2. Which pose/poses give you the most benefits?
This is hard. I have often heard that the poses you try to avoid are the ones you need the most. If that’s the case, Eagle is the pose for me. Ugh. Pigeon started out this way, but now the opening it gives me through my hips is definitely beneficial and I can find the ease in the effort. Tree is another of my favorites. It is grounding, freeing, and a way to practice balance.
3. What is the most challenging aspect of your practice?
Every class presents something challenging, but making it to my mat is definitely the hardest part. It’s so easy to make excuses – I’m too busy, tired, whatever. But what I’ve come to find is that I never regret going to a class, but not going is totally different. Before class even starts and I’m on my mat, I’ve already accomplished something.
4. How has starting your yoga teacher training affected your practice?
Since I’ve started yoga teacher training, I have been much more conscious of alignment and breathing. Recently, we have been learning about the bandhas, engagements or locks of different parts of the body. I’m still trying to put everything together, but it’s amazing what small adjustments can do for your practice.
5. What would you tell someone who hasn’t made it to the mat yet?
GO! – As soon as you can. Find a studio that’s right for you and be easy on yourself. Don’t let your first class discourage you. Yoga is not just a way to stay fit, it is a way to get to know yourself, relieve stress, connect body and mind, the benefits really are endless. Yoga has made such a difference in my life and I encourage as many people as I can to give it a chance.