Friday, December 27, 2013

Why Yoga

My first encounter with yoga was at the Episcopal Divinity School more than ten years ago. A talented teacher Anna taught the class and it was free. I learned some basic yoga poses and most of all I learned the breath (prana) and the pose (asana) needed to go together. Anna was very gentle with us as we had different body sizes and shapes. At middle age, Anna has a lean body with a strong core. I used to enjoy watching her shift from pose to pose with ease and grace.

I know I need to do more strengthening exercises to keep my body strong. I have been going to a gym near Harvard Square for the past few years. It has a section for weight training and machines for strengthening the muscles. Needless to say, very few women frequent this area. Occasionally there is one woman pumping iron, usually half of my age. Asian women? Not one except me!

While pumping iron is good for the bones, I want to increase flexibility as well. This is where yoga comes in.

The most basic and widely known yoga position—Downward Facing Dog—is good for so many things. According to Yoga U Online, “Downward Facing Dog gently builds muscles in the shoulders, arms, and abdominal region, as well as along the back and down the thighs and calves. In addition, the pose stretches and decongests the spinal column, a vital function which promotes the free flow of energy and nerve information between the body and brain.”

In the past two weeks, I have gone to a yoga center near Harvard three times a week to practice vinyasa yoga. I have learned from teachers with different teaching styles. Lucie combines meditation with yoga and after her classes, I felt so relaxed and renewed each time. I almost went to sleep during savasana (corpse pose) at the end.

Many teachers would not want to correct students’ poses or touch students’ bodies. This may discourage the students or cause embarrassment. But Mickey would and he is amazing. He will come near you and demonstrate how he wants your pelvis to turn or the muscles of your leg lengthen. I know much more about fine tuning the muscles and about alignment because of his coaching.

Some of the classes are much more vigorous than the classes I have attended at my school. It is like I am suddenly promoted to college from grade school. Most of the yogis are younger, who are college or university students. But I have no time to compare myself to them, since I am so busy just trying to follow what the teacher is saying.

After one of these vigorous classes, I felt so happy and energized. Exercise is good for the brain. I now believe it. When we exercise, our brains release the chemical endorphins. According to Web MD, “These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. . . . Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body.” Exercise is good for you if you have depression or winter blues.

During the holidays, I have so many things to do. I am not talking about buying Christmas presents, but grading papers, preparing for the January term, finishing a paper long overdue, and thinking about a book I have started in the summer. It sounds ambitious. It also means working for long hours at the computer and potential neck and shoulder pain. Doing yoga is great!

This morning I went to yoga class. As we spread our legs wide apart and bent forward and lowered the head, the teacher asked us to empty everything we didn’t want. After yoga my mind became clear. On the way home, I had so many ideas about a chapter of my book. It was as if I had the outline of the whole chapter worked out. After lunch, I typed out the chapter outline and was very pleased with it. It made me feel great.

I will continue to go to yoga several times a week for a while and see how it goes. I have signed up for a “New Year’s Day Cleanse” yoga workshop. I have had health issues in 2013. My hope is that I will become healthier in 2014. I wish you a happy and healthy 2014.

This blog is not meant to give medical advice. Please consult your doctor before you start an exercise program.