Strength and Serenity

Yoga, Pilates and barre continue to draw fans for its mind-body benefits.

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Students enjoy a popular yoga class at tulsa’s Salt Yoga studios. Photo by Chris Humphrey Photographer.

Students enjoy a popular yoga class at tulsa’s Salt Yoga studios. Photo by Chris Humphrey Photographer.

Yoga, Pilates and barre, along with variations of the three, continue to gain popularity and have become more mainstream. Many people are making these practices their go-to workout or using them to complement their current fitness routine. For those passionate about these exercises, the increased interest is easy to understand. The benefits include building muscle strength, improving flexibility and balance, and promoting a mind-body connection to support a calm mental state.

Keri Edwardes is the director of instruction for Tulsa’s Salt Yoga studios and the manager of the south location. She believes yoga makes people happier and calmer and provides tools to help manage the everyday stresses of life.

“When you start practicing yoga you realize what you have been missing,” Edwardes says. “You can change the way you move and experience life in the body you’re in. So often people feel tight and trapped in their body, or they see their body as a cage and limited. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can have complete freedom in your body – freedom to move in every direction and with ease for your whole life.”

She highlights how yoga can improve your body’s functionality. Bending to pick something up off the floor, reaching something on a high shelf or twisting to grab something behind you can be easier with a flexible spine, hips and shoulders.

At Salt Yoga, the studios feature infrared heat panels that help warm the body and enable you to stretch deeper into a pose. While focusing on the movements, Edwardes says there’s not much room for “mind chatter.”

“You find yourself in a meditative state because you’re focusing on your breath, where the breath is accessing in your body, on holding the pose and on staying calm in the pose,” she says. “You’re also recognizing discomfort, agitation and impatience and sitting and breathing through it. The next thing you know, you’re drenched in sweat and getting stronger and more flexible. With all of this you enter into a state of mind that is focused on the mind, body and spirit connection. It’s amazing.”

Janet Crockett, aquatics and specialty class coordinator for the Health Zone at Saint Francis, explains it as “putting the mind to the muscle.”

“If you’re doing a crunch in a Pilates or yoga class, it’s more than just a crunch,” Crockett says. “It’s about keeping the body in a neutral position or trying to maintain a natural alignment of the back while you’re doing the crunch. So it’s not just the big muscles, the abdominals, that we’re working. We’re also taking all the little muscles that we use while we’re doing that particular exercise and reteaching how to use them. And that’s going to help us in our daily activities, as well as improve performance elsewhere – whether it’s walking, playing tennis or doing CrossFit.”

Crockett believes education is essential in understanding the multitude of benefits from these exercises. For instance, while many people may be hesitant to try a Pilates reformer, a machine with springs and pulleys that create resistance, it’s an option that can help almost anyone.

“The reformer can either challenge you or assist you in the movement,” she says. “The reformer’s springs have different tensions, so for someone who is deconditioned, the springs can assist their movement, or if someone is an athlete and wants more of a challenge, we can add more resistance.”

The Health Zone offers beginner classes for yoga, Pilates and barre, and Crockett encourages everyone to give them a try.

“I always tell people to try it one time, and if it doesn’t work for you, then at least you tried,” she says. “But nine times out of 10 they will find some benefit to doing it.”

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