Move the Body, Still the Mind
Yoga’s benefits may span beyond the body to benefit the mind.
Jennifer Engleman of Ashtanga Yoga Studio in Norman demonstrates a pose.
Photo by Brent Fuchs.
Have you ever noticed that people who do yoga don’t just do yoga – they are super-enthusiastically passionate about yoga?
There’s a reason why yogis rave about yoga: Yoga is different than other kinds of physical activities. It’s a lifestyle.
You’ve heard of that whole mind/body connection? It’s the real deal. “It’s been interesting to watch yoga’s evolution, even the last five to seven years. The people you used to see going into yoga classes were the picture of what you’d expect when you thought of yoga. They were twenty- and thirty-somethings, lean, strong-bodied women,” says Ann Walton, executive director of St. John Siegfried Health Club in Tulsa. “But over the years, people have started to discover that yoga isn’t just for one type of person – it’s open to all ages and sizes. You now see women in their 70s and 80s in yoga classes. There are more men. There are people who are overweight. It’s really branched out, and I think it’s because of the healthy mind/body connection that people make after they start practicing. It suits a real need that people have to prolong an able body and maintain a positive, healthy life.”
Through yoga’s series of postures – or asanas, as they are called – and breath work, the entire body is sufficiently worked into prime condition for a better overall well-being.
Contrary to popular belief, flexibility is not a requirement to practice yoga, but it is one of numerous invaluable benefits acquired through practice. With increased flexibility and muscular strength come a greater range of motion, which helps improve posture, and in turn, creates better spine alignment, all of which are priceless in prolonging a healthy body.
Through folding and bending and twisting, the body is detoxified and internal organs are massaged to help aid in digestion. There is also a rhythmic quality to the breath work in yoga that takes one out of his or her thoughts and trains to become anchored to the present moment; challenging the mind to be present is a meditative skill that is as much a part of yoga as the physical postures.
“You have to take a natural path of getting the body in good health before you can really be still and confront the mind,” says Jennifer Engleman of Ashtanga Yoga Studio in Norman.
“As Westerners, we’re hard-wired to go, go, go. We move through our day so fast that we forget to think about how we’re breathing and how that breathing affects our minds. Through yoga, you learn to become aware of your breath, and you can take this ability out of class and into the world. Learning to recognize when you’re taking short, shallow breaths, and then consciously changing your breath to slow it down and balance it out, ultimately allows you to slow and balance out your mind. You start to have more control over things like anxiety and stress management.”
Engleman, who has taught Ashtanga yoga for almost 12 years, believes that many people develop yoga practices because they find it enriches their lives in ways they didn’t initially expect when they first started.
“I think it turns people on in a way that they haven’t been turned on before,” she says. “Yoga has this amazing way of infiltrating so many aspects of a person’s life. When you walk out of a yoga class, you are both physically and mentally invigorated. Your senses are raised, you start to gain a higher level of awareness and you find yourself considering other elements of your life you can improve.”