Fitness for the mind

Yoga is for everyone no matter your size or age. Photo by Marco Lam

Tall, or short.

Heavy, or light.

Old, or young.

Regardless of your age body type, evidence suggests you should try yoga.

“My favorite part of yoga is the fact that it’s so individualized.  You can go at your own pace, and you can take the practice as you want,” said Kailey Stevens, a college student at University of Vermont and yoga enthusiast.

Castleton University senior Corey Brimmer took a one-credit yoga course instructed by Tammy Brown, and also has participated in the yoga classes on campus that are open to all faculty and students.  He says that the meditation part of yoga is his favorite aspect of the practice.

“(It) definitely helps with my stress levels.  Just the whole process of yoga itself helps you clear your mind and focus on the present moment, instead of all other things that are up in the air in your life,” Brimmer said.

Published global researcher Doctor Lorenzo Cohen has extensively researched the health effects of yoga. He grew up around the practice, so he knows it from a personal perspective as well.

“A quintessential mind-body practice, yoga includes aspects of movement and stretching, a focus on controlled breathing techniques, and then, importantly, aspects of relaxation and mediation,” Cohen said.

He says that “the practice of yoga will change how a person responds to stress.”  Stevens’ yoga practice, which is part of her almost daily routine, is extremely beneficial for her in terms of stress relief, supporting Cohen’s claim.

“It’s not like an escape from my stress, because I still deal with what I have going on.  It’s more like I have time to absorb whatever stress I have going on in my life and accept that it’s there,” she said.

Former Castleton strength and conditioning coach Caroline Grosso agrees.

“What I’ve learned is it helps me deal with situations from a more logical standpoint,” Grosso said.

Grosso has been doing yoga for about two years, and her favorite benefit is increased flexibility. She, Brimmer and Stevens each raved about how good their bodies feel after practicing.

“I immediately felt a difference. After my first class, I felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders.  You have an hour to focus solely on yourself and the movements of your body,” Grosso said.

“On days that I would go to a yoga class, I would feel a lot more loose and almost fluid on the field as opposed to stiff and rigid. It was a lot easier to get into the flow of practice,” said Brimmer, a member of the Castleton football team.

“After about two weeks of going at least four times a week, I was amazed at the difference from when I first started going to the class to that point.  It wasn’t so much seeing changes in the mirror, but more in the poses, the changes I could see in my movement and flexibility, and moving in and out of poses,” Stevens said.

Castleton physical education professor Lisa Pleban feels a similar sense of relief when she comes out of a yoga session.  She says that flexibility improvement is her favorite benefit of yoga, as well.

“Flexibility and getting you to have more control of your body.  It activates range of motion that you normally might not use,” Pleban said.

Pleban uses yoga as a more challenging stretch after she exercises and, like Brimmer, she enjoys attending classes for the meditation aspect. 

“It allows you to focus inside yourself, focus on your breathing and empty your mind. I think that’s where stress relieving comes in,” Pleban said.

She said she has learned poses through a class called “Yin Yoga,” which takes place in a room that is set to 80 degrees and is considered a type of “hot yoga.”  The class is slow-paced with basic poses for beginners, and the instructor will often play calming, meditative music. Each pose is held for at least five minutes, aiding in not only flexibility but muscular endurance and strength, as well.

Professor Andy Weinberg, who also teaches physical education at Castleton, said “flexibility is one of the important components of fitness.”

“Everybody who practices yoga on a regular basis is crazy about it. It’s good for your mind, it’s good for relaxation and it’s also an incredible workout – the flexibility but also just the full-body toning,” Weinberg said.

Cohen, who has researched yoga’s health effects, found evidence to support other physical, mental and emotional benefits.

“A yoga practice can lead to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, a lower heart rate and improved insulin and glucose regulation,” Cohen said.

Stevens said her yoga practice even helped with reducing her chronic migraines, which she attributed to either lower stress or tension levels in her body as a result of yoga.

“It can decrease anxiety and some claim that it decreases cholesterol, depending on the type of yoga that you do,” added Ellie Goldense, a certified head athletic trainer at Castleton.

Like Pleban, Goldense will do yoga post-workout if she feels like she needs the extra stretching. Both women are in training for either full or half marathons.

“Because yoga is a sport where you’re encouraged to breathe through stuff, it increases your cardiac benefits when you’re participating in other traditional ways of increasing your heart rate. It teaches you how to control your breathing,” Goldense said.

Those who choose to include yoga in their lifestyles say they become more aware of their mind and body’s needs. Whether you're open to trying it or not, studies show that it could lead to a better you.

“Yoga not only helps people feel good or relax, but also helps them lead healthier, more fulfilling, and meaningful lives,” Cohen said.


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