Yoga for mind and body

[wide]

Lucas Merritt-Stewart, 7, participates in a kids’ yoga session last month at Kingston’s Mudita Yoga Center. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)
Lucas Merritt-Stewart, 7, participates in a kids’ yoga session last month at Kingston’s Mudita Yoga Center. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

[/wide]
Are you stressed out? Is your back in knots? Still your mind and relax your body with a 5,000-year-old practice that about 13.5 million of us do on a regular basis. Yoga is a combination of controlled breathing and poses (postures or asanas) that work on flexibility and strength, putting controlled pressure on parts of the body systems to improve health. Meditation is a part as well.

Stress is responsible for a multitude of mental and physical ills. An activity that can ease it, while also lowering blood pressure and heart rate, is a good idea. Yoga is also claimed to improve concentration, memory and focus, according to studies at the University of Wisconsin. It may help not only the stressed among us, but also the arthritic and those with bad posture, headaches, overweight, depression and insomnia. Proponents say yoga lifts the mood and improves flexibility and limberness, along with balance, strength and range of motion.

For most of my youth, the word “yoga” brought to mind for me an image of my mother lying head downwards on a slanted board, a pose I’m not sure is part of yoga. But that’s what she said she was doing.

This ancient practice had a boom in our culture in the 1960s and 1970s, accompanying a cultural fascination with Eastern ways. Though many people think that yoga comes from Hinduism, it was actually on the scene many centuries before that religion. Although the practice of Hinduism incorporates some yoga, the yoga was first, and is not a religion itself. There is proof of the existence of yoga in the form of postures pictured on stone carvings in the Indus Valley of Pakistan and northwest India dating from 3,000 BCE.

Classical yoga has eight steps that include restraint and observance. Modern Western yoga usually focuses on three of them: postures, breathing and meditation. Over the years yoga has evolved and changed. Over a hundred different styles have emerged. There is a kind of yoga for everyone. Area schools offer a large variety, such as vinyasa, kundalini, ashtanga, iyengar, svaroopa, bakhti, hot, and chair-sitting yoga. You can now even practice the latest trend, naked yoga, in New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Austin.

Thirteen for ’13

[wide]

Diana Wolfe of MAC Fitness leads a Zumba workout on the Strand back in June. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)
Diana Wolfe of MAC Fitness leads a Zumba workout on the Strand back in June. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

[/wide]
Let’s peek into the crystal balls of a few health experts out there and see what trends in health will draw our attention in the year to come. Although some trends are new and others tried and true, their popularity shows no sign of fading in 2013.

Based on results from an extensive worldwide survey this year, fitness fads that may be on the way out include stability balls, Pilates and spinning, according to Walter Thompson of the American College of Sports Medicine. The Affordable Care Act , a.k.a. Obamacare, was deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in June; consumers, providers and insurance companies are all looking for new ways to interface with the new reality.

Our first trend for 2013 is wellness coaching. The personal coach encourages, guides and supports clients in goal-oriented elements of behavioral change and disease prevention, whether one on one or one on two or three to keep costs down. Now fitness trainers are educating themselves in accredited programs and going after official certifications as the experts they are. Although the survey said this has dipped slightly in the past year, fitness training should remain strong and job opportunities for these professionals should continue to expand.

High on the list is the high-energy workout Zumba, described as really hard work but a lot of fun by friends who’ve tried it. I hope to try it soon, as soon as I can summon up the energy! Other dance workouts, from belly to Bollywood, remain popular as an enjoyable way to stay fit.

No one can call yoga a fad. This ancient and perennially popular practice has many forms and variations. It seems every small town has several studios. More and more of us are jumping on the yoga bandwagon for its mind-body benefits.

A rising trend is the appeal of outdoor activities, a growing area of interest for fitness enthusiasts who want to get out of the gym and hit the trail, slope or waterway. Great as a fun thing to do with family or friends as well, this category includes camping, hiking, mountaineering, boating and team sports.