Awareness Through Movement: “The Possibilities are Endless”

By Bette Stephens, P.T., G.C.F.P.

“Harmonious efficient movement prevents wear and tear.  More important, however, is what it does to the image of ourselves and our relationship to the world around us.”  (Moshe Feldenkrais)

What is Awareness Through Movement?

Welcome to increasing your AWARENESS through Movement from “The Feldenkrais Method”.  I’d like to tell you a little bit about my classes offered through 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness in Wausau, WI.  Each lesson begins with very easy movements, that you are instructed to do gently, slowly, and repetitively.  As the lesson progresses, interesting, non-habitual variations are weaved in; at this point, it is very helpful to engage your curiosity as you listen to your body following the instructions.

“Learning happens when the brain is confused, out of its habit and then learning can happen.”  (Ruthy Alon)

Guided scans are led in the beginning to enable you to learn more about some of your habitual patterns; later scans allow you to acknowledge changes that are happening throughout the lesson.  The scanning supports your learning process and allows you to adjust the way you are interpreting the instructions.

I remind you to treat yourself with complete self-respect: “do less than you could”, and to “feel, not strain”.  And, when you feel the pleasure of the gains, you’re encouraged to enjoy them and accept them as benefits to your learning experience; this AWARENESS leads to neurological responses, that gradually provide lasting effects or “neuroplasticity”, benefits that you can “keep” or at least, quickly regain.

There are a wide-range of lessons, but, you will find they all benefit your breathing and ability to be in the moment (a kind of “Movement Meditation”); your neuromuscular system relaxes, allowing tight muscles to let go of holding and regain their more normal length; coordination of body parts are reawakened with a sense that your skeleton and muscles are more organized when you stand up, with a more stable base, a feeling of lengthening upright and opening of your upper chest, all leading to lighter, easier movements in your life activities:

“The lessons are designed to improve ability, that is to expand the boundaries of the possible:  to turn the impossible into the possible, the difficult into the easy, and the easy into the pleasant.  For only those activities that are easy and pleasant will become part of (your) habitual life and will serve (you) at all times.”  (Moshe Feldenkrais)

There are many benefits to a wide spectrum of people, the only requirements are an ability to listen with curiosity and an openness to new possibilities.  “The Possibilities are Endless”, words I often heard and embodied with Gaby Yaron; thankfully, she was my trainer in the early 1990’s.  If you have never experienced “ATM” lessons, you do have that opportunity through “5 Koshas Yoga and Wellness”.  And, if you have done “ATM” lessons, previously, wouldn’t you like to do more?

Bette Stephens, P.T., G.C.F.P., teaches Awareness Through Movement Classes at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness in Wausau, WI.  You can find her class schedule at https://www.5koshasyoga.com/yoga/class-schedule/

The View From My Yoga Mat

Written By: Janie Martin, 5 Koshas Yoga Student

Photographed above is Janie’s Yoga Buddy Spanky, who watches as she practices daily!

I am a yoga student, usually taking twice a week lessons, for four years. I also practice on my own nearly every day. I consider myself a ranked beginner.

Before I started taking classes, I thought yoga looked easy. My main concerns were not looking silly and keeping up with my classmates the first few weeks. My goal was to remain flexible as I aged; and because my doctor recommended yoga for those who were, like me, at high risk of osteoporosis.

At random, I picked a “beginner” class in Tulsa where I was living and found a gem of an instructor, and a room full of kindred souls.

Even when everyone else was stretching to the right side, and I was inexplicably going left, there were no laughs or corrections. My concerns about looking silly vanished quickly.

After six months it dawned on me that although I was getting (at least most of the time!) into the correct poses, I wasn’t focused on increasing my ability to stretch.

I had heard “go halfway between easy and hard,” from instructor Linda for six months, but that day the lightbulb came on, and I started to feel progress.

As we prepared to move home to Wisconsin two years ago, one of the things that was the hardest to leave behind was my class and instructor.

Finding a yoga studio was a high priority and I was very fortunate to end up at 5 Koshas, in gifted Renee’s class.

Due to the pandemic, I now only see my fun and interesting classmates via zoom, but I anxiously await a return to the studio when it is safe.

Recently, during my solo practice at home, I had another blinding glimpse of the obvious, or BGO, as I call them.

I was focused on breath and movement, and suddenly realized I was matching my breath to my body movement, and not matching the body movement to my breath.

This may sound inconsequential, but when I started to let my breath lead, my physical movements slowed drastically.

This after I have heard multiple instructors coach the correct way for four years! The result when I got it right was a deeper sense of relaxation and calm.

Years ago, I enjoyed taking Tae Kwan Do classes with my son. But in contrast with yoga, the focus was on learning a skill set and advancing.

It felt like a pressurized rush to master and move up. Yoga is complex enough that I am still challenged in a “Beginner and Beyond” class.

I am making slow progress, but I am not impatient. Going slow is delivering gains in my flexibility, but also in achieving a relaxed mental state which is almost addictively enjoyable.

Once in a while, I am busy and tempted to skip my daily practice. But when I “adult myself” to the mat, it only takes minutes for me to be glad I am taking this time for myself.

It never fails when I get on the floor at home our two big dogs come to see if I need their help. (I don’t.) Luckily they lose interest quickly, and when they depart, our cats come and lie on the mat corners.

It is unusual for the cats to seek me out during the day. I believe they are attracted by the calm energy I have when practicing. “Calm energy” is not how anyone who knows me would usually describe me.

I am enjoying my yoga journey at a pace that feels right for me. I am adjusting to a new instructor, and as hard as it is to accept change, I know I will have a BGO or two because everyone helps me see or feel something new.

I am inspired by those I take classes with who are older than I, or have physical challenges, yet persist in practicing.

I hope I can be a beginner still unrolling my mat daily for many years to come. You may still see me sweeping left when everyone else is sweeping right, but after all, they do call it “practice.”

Yoga For Better Sleep

by Kerry MacDonald, RYT-200

“Counting sheep to sleep?”

There are so many reasons for sleepless nights.  Many of us are busy and stressed, unable to shut our brains off. Daily stresses build in our mind and cause anxiety. Others suffer from muscle aches and pains that wake them up and keep them up.

Yoga is similar to a meditation session in that it encourages you to bring focus back to your body and breathe, your mind is less distracted. You will find sleep comes easier when negative thoughts are diminished.

Langhana breathing practice is when your exhale is longer than your inhale, this technique relaxes your nervous system and can be calming to your mind.

Exploring different yoga postures to relax tense muscles can be extremely helpful to ease daily aches and pains. Various poses help to stimulate deeper breathing, which in turn relax your body & soothe your mind.

The more you practice the less you tend to think about your breathing techniques because it becomes more natural.

Everyone feels a little overwhelmed and stressed, it’s normal.  We all find ourselves struggling to fall asleep at one time or another.  Being able to calm your mind and get some extra zzzz’s would be a great gift to yourself.

 

Can you learn yoga techniques to sleep better at night?

You can join me on Sundays at 7 PM for Online Pajama Yoga: Yoga For Better Sleep & Tuesdays at 9 AM for Online Gentle Yoga For Beginners & Beyond These classes are intended for beginners and beyond! Everyone is welcome.  Also, these classes will be recorded and are available for 5 days.

Kerry MacDonald RYT-200, has been a yoga practitioner for 5 years and was certified as a yoga teacher by River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School in 2020.  Her yoga teaching is to help students to feel confident and knowledgeable about their practice while exploring all the benefits the practice has to offer and apply it to daily living.

Yoga: Function in Life Over Perfect Form on the Mat

by Sally Konkol, RN, BSN, RYT-200

“Can you reach that bowl on the top shelf?”

We have all been there.  Up on our tip toes, arm stretched as much as possible.  Needing just another half inch.  “There, I got it!”  It is times like that when I continue to appreciate the functional benefits of yoga for everyday living.

Yoga movements, postures, and breathing practices help to keep us strong and balanced.  Moving our arms, bending forward, lateral bending, twisting and balance are part of everyday living, and part of any yoga practice.

  • Bending forward: think of tying your shoes; bending and reaching into the dryer for that last sock; or weeding the garden.
  • Lateral bending: think of reaching under the couch for that dog toy; or washing windows.
  • Twisting: think of looking in your blind spot while driving; or shoveling snow.
  • Balance: think of reaching that top shelf on your tip toes.

Having strong legs, a strong back, and a strong core all aid in keeping us steady while we walk, climb stairs or anything else we do on any given day.  Moving our bodies stimulates our circulation and lymphatic system, aiding in immunity.  Weight bearing exercise helps to keep our bones strong.  And the mindfulness of yoga helps decrease the stress that everyone has.  This is what we can do for ourselves, this is self-care.

Here are some self-care practices you can try at home:

Balancing Tadasana (balance posture)

Begin by standing with feet hip distance apart.  Feel grounded and steady.  On an inhale, sweep your arms out to the side and up above your head.  At the same time, lift your heals off the floor.  On the exhale, sweep arms back down to your sides, as you bring your heals back down to the floor.  Move intentionally with your inhale and exhale.  Practice this posture 6 times.

 

Ardha Pārśvottānāsana (lateral forward bending posture)

Stand with left foot forward, right foot turned slightly outward, right arm overhead, and left arm folded behind your back.  On exhale, bend forward, bending left knee slightly, bringing chest toward left thigh, and right hand to left foot.  On inhale, lift chest and arm until torso is parallel to the ground.  On exhale, return to the forward bend position.  On inhale, return to starting position.  Moving with your breath. Repeat 4 times, then switch sides.

 

Sukasana Parivrtti (seated twist posture)

Start with a comfortable seated position on your mat or in a chair.  Place left hand on right knee.  Place right hand behind your hips.  On exhale, twist to the right, looking over your right shoulder.  On inhale, return to starting position.  Repeat 4 times, then switch sides.

 

Mindful Minute (breathing practice)

Inhale slowly, and think peace

Exhale slowly, and think calm

Take 8-10 slow, deep purposeful breaths

 

Think of that top shelf.

Can you reach your goals for self-care?

You can join me on Wednesdays at 4:15 for the Zoom class “Yoga for Self-Care: Creating Calm with Movement and Breathing.  This class is intended for beginners, but all are welcome.  Also, this class will be recorded and is available for 5 days.

Sally Konkol, RN, BSN, RYT-200, has been a yoga practitioner for 8 years and was certified as a yoga teacher by River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School in 2020.  Her yoga teaching is straight forward and practical, helping the practice feel relevant and accessible to new and experienced students. 

 

Yoga Contentment in Nature

Can We Be Content?

By Jessica Jordan

Yoga Sutra 2.42  

santosha anuttamah sukha labha

Santosha: Contentment

Anuttamah: extreme, ultimate, unparalleled

Sukha: pleasure, happiness

Labha: arises, gained, benefit

 

Yoga sutra 2.42 focuses on contentment, achieving unparalleled happiness by engaging the contentment already within us. But how do we put this into practice?

We are constantly exposed to a barrage of television and internet influences as to what is normal and expected of us, contributing to our lack of contentment. “If I just had that one more thing, then I’d really be happy.” “If I could just get a bigger house, then I’d be happy.” And in a world of online shopping, our instant happiness is just two shipping days away.

The happiness we get from acquiring passions is only temporary. We need to find new ones to sustain this sort of happiness. There is no end to it. But true contentment, leading to total happiness and bliss, is in a class by itself. (Desikachar)

In the Western world, I think most of our lack of contentment comes from trying to keep up with some unrealistic measures of who we’re supposed to be. Where does the “idea” of who we’re supposed to be even come from?

Look around. We are trained our whole lives on what we should and shouldn’t do and say. “What should I wear to this event?” “What kind of car should I drive?” “How much should I participate in my child’s sports program?” “If I say what I really think, will it offend someone?”

Which brings me back to my original question: Can we be content? And how do we do it when external forces are constantly pushing us in different directions?

Our contentment comes from within. Sutra 2.42 tells us it’s already with us. It’s a niyama to practice in order to come closer to the happiness that we already have.

From perfect contentment arises unparalleled happiness. (Moors)

From contentment one gains supreme happiness. (Mukunda Stiles)

There are two practices I try to use in my daily life with guidance from this sutra. I ask myself, “Do I really need that?” “Do I really even want that?” “Is that going to make me happier?” “Is that going to make my life better?” By retraining myself to ask these questions, I’ve started to see that there really isn’t much I truly need to be content.

The second practice is one I use before I meditate. I think of all the things I’m grateful for that I already have. This way, I am retraining myself to notice what is already so wonderful in my life and experience contentment from these observations. Believe me, my list of blessings just keeps getting longer.

Jessica Jordan is a Certified Yoga Teacher, 2020 Graduate of the 200 hour River Flow Yoga Teacher Training at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness.  She lives with her family in Highbridge, WI. 

Journey of Sound

by Flora Jerde, Vibrational Sound Therapy Certified & Licensed Practitioner, Licensed Massage Therapist, Reiki 2 Practitioner.

You may have recently heard the term Journey of Sound, but what exactly is it? The term describes an experience that falls under a broader term: Vibrational Sound Therapy, or VST. A VST practitioner blends vibration and sound with the use of Tibetan and crystal singing bowls, chimes and gongs to induce a deeply relaxed state in the body and mind.  Using sound and vibration, VST activates the parasympathetic nervous system to reduce stress in the body.

Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, Director of Medical Oncology and Integrative Medicine at the Cornell Cancer Prevention Center explains, “If we accept that sound is vibration and we know that vibration touches every part of our physical being, then we understand that sound is heard not only through our ears, but through every cell in our bodies. One reason sound heals on a physical level is because it so deeply touches and transforms us on the emotional and spiritual planes. Sound can redress imbalances on every level of physiologic functioning and can play a positive role in the treatment of virtually any medical disorder.”

Science has proven what ancient cultures have known for thousands of years: sound has the power to heal. Studies show that this practice called “journey of sound” or “sound bathing,” directly reduces anxiety and depression.

Participants at 5 Koshas say they like the Journey of Sound because it’s deeply relaxing and nonintrusive. Participants lay comfortably on yoga mats (or sit comfortably in a chair) with feet positioned toward the front of the room where the bowls are arranged. With lights dimmed and the room at a comfortable temperature, the Journey of Sound begins with a guided meditation, then the singing bowls are brought to life and participants are immersed in 45 minutes of beautiful, multilayered vibrations and tones. As you listen to these sounds, you tend to feel them just as much as you hear them, highlighting how the experience of sound manifests not only through hearing but through physical vibrations and frequencies. The Journey of Sound experience is unique to each person.

If you’re looking for a gentle and effective way to reduce stress or anxiety or would simply like to enter a deeply relaxing state, a Journey of Sound may be just the thing for you!

Flora Jerde, Vibrational Sound Therapy Certified & Licensed Practitioner, Licensed Massage Therapist, Reiki 2 Practitioner. Flora was instrumental in developing the Aspirus Hospice Massage Therapy Program and has worked as a Hospice massage therapist for over 14 years. Flora brings her present and caring approach to her Journey of Sound events and offers individual VST sessions in addition to group sessions. To learn more about Flora and her services, visit https://www.beyondblessedtherapy.com/

February:  Expressing Love & Embracing Self-Love

by Renee Peterson, MSW, RYT, RPYT

It’s the season of love.

Most people think of February 14th as a day to celebrate and recognize the love of their life and those dear to them. It is, and this is important! But what about celebrating self-love? Some people might think self-love is self-centered and ego driven but it is quite different. Self-love is being mindful and aware of what you need to be healthy and productive.

Psychology studies report that self-love and self-compassion are key for mental health and well being, keeping depression and anxiety at bay (Medical News Today, Ana Sandoiu March 23, 2018). When we don’t take care of ourselves and continue on the path of Doing vs. Being, we experience adverse health effects, such as, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, heart disease, etc. Our inner critic, or in yoga terminology, the chitta vritti, is the monkey mind of continual thoughts running through our minds. We experience these thoughts in the form of ridiculing, judging, and constantly reminding us to remember what to pick up from the grocery store or what deadline is coming up. You get the picture.

According to Patanjali, “If you can control the rising of the mind into ripples, you will experience Yoga.” Practicing yoga is one way to cultivate self-love.

How do we achieve self-love?

Professor Neff, Sbarra and colleagues define self-compassion as a construct that encompasses three components:

1. Self-kindness – treating oneself with understanding and forgiveness,
2. Recognition of one’s place in shared humanity – acknowledging that people are not perfect and that personal experiences are part of the larger human experience,
3. Mindfulness – bringing your attention to the here and now, experiences in the present moment. Bringing about emotional equanimity, calmness, clear rational thinking.

Yoga centers us, grounds us and brings us back to neutral. When we practice yoga we get in touch with our breath, physical body, emotional state, spiritual side, and our heart center. The physical and breath practice of yoga allows us to move with comfort to release tension in our body and quiet the voice of our inner critic. This allows us to feel freer boosting feelings of self-love and kindness. When we are kind and loving to ourselves, we can be kind and loving toward others. Appreciating the simple things in life.

When we are kind to ourselves and acknowledge that we are all ‘perfectly imperfect’ we treat ourself with kindness. When we pause to mindfully reflect on how we are breathing, physically feeling, and listening to our thoughts, we can begin to let go of our stress and tension and lower our levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in our bodies.

Try it: It only takes a minute or two. You decide how you feel.
Take a moment to sit comfortably,
Close your eyes or gaze softly downward,
Notice your breathing. Is your breath short and shallow? Smooth? Hurried? Just notice without judgement.
Now, focus on slowing your breath down.
Smooth breath in, slow breath out.
Soften your physical body with each exhale.
Allow the negative thoughts in your mind to form ripples that move away from your consciousness.
Keep breathing for a minute or two or longer. Smooth inhale; smooth exhale….

Slowly, bring your awareness back to the present moment.

How do you feel?

This may be your first step toward self-love. Simply quieting your mind, quieting your body, and releasing your thoughts.

This is yoga: controlling the rising of the mind. Now direct your thoughts with positivity and kindness to yourself and toward others.

As the song, Seasons of Love*, goes from the musical Rent we have:

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousands moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee….

(The song goes on to teach us:)

Let’s celebrate
Remember a year in the life of friends
Remember the loooooooove
Remember the loooooooove
Remember the loooooooove
Measure in looooooove
Measure, measure your life in love
Seasons of Looooooooove
Seasons of Looooooooove

*lyrics by Jonathon Larson.

Renee Peterson, MSW, RYT, RPYT, is certified as a 200-hour Viniyoga Wellness Instructor (2014-15) and Prenatal Yoga Teacher (Jennifer Colletti, Yoga Center of Minneapolis, 2017) in addition to completing the Yoga Bonding Postnatal & Mom and Baby Yoga Teacher Training Course (2016). She teaches people across the lifespan and is particularly gifted with adapting yoga for a variety of individuals including prenatal and postnatal and people with structural conditions.   Renee has a caring and nurturing approach with her students.  Prenatal, Family Yoga and Yoga for Beginners and Beyond are among Renee’s regular classes at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness.  She is also faculty with the River Flow Yoga 200-hour teacher training. Learn more about Renee and her classes at: https://www.5koshasyoga.com/teachers/renee-peterson-ryt-200/

New Year, New Habits


How can you bring your yoga practice into the New Year?

How can you set the intention of a regular mind-body practice while creating the habit of practice?

Practicing yoga is one way to enlist the wisdom of our minds AND bodies, to generate a lasting shift – if we stick with it. A lasting shift happens if we are able to create new patterns, consistent patterns of behavior we call habits.

James Clear has written a book about habits titled Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, a New York Times bestseller. In it, Clear lists four intervention points for habit management.

In order to encourage a good new habit, the intervention points are:

  • To make it Obvious (visible)
  • To make it Attractive (enticing)
  • To make it Easy (convenient)
  • To make it Satisfying (rewarding)

We might not be able to use all the strategies in developing a good new habit, but we can focus on the interventions that are most effective. I am intrigued, wondering how this meshes with one of the joys I find in yoga, that is, yoga is an enjoyable way to challenge our patterns of movement and patterns of mind.

How can we get into the habit of yoga for the New Year?
Here are 4 ways to bring your Yoga Practice into the New Year! 

  1. Obvious Strategy: To enlist the obvious strategy, Clear makes the case for clarity in our intention. Intention is familiar to yoga practitioners. Clear states that people often don’t have so much trouble with ‘willpower’ as with clarity. In order to envision yourself following through, fill in the sentence: I will __(activity)__ on __(day)__ at __(time)__ in __(place)__. Now your imagination can see you actually doing it!
  2. Attractive Strategy: Make a date. Is there a friend who you would like to see more often, and/or one who you know shares your interest? By using a commitment device, you can make your clear intention more attractive in two ways. One, you enjoy the activity and enjoy the person’s company. Two, it is very unattractive to be perceived as the person who backs out.
  3. Easy Strategy – There’s a word for that in Sanskrit, sukham: comfortable, happy, easiness. It is used in Sutra 2.46, Sthira sukhamansanam: stable and easiness in posture and presence. There is a connection between being stable and being comfortable. By finding your steadiness you grow your comfort; by creating ease you grow more stable. We can make things easier for ourselves as we start to cultivate a habit by building the habit with a series of small steps, instead of making a giant leap. The first thing to do is show up. Step one: every day take out the yoga mat with the rule that you’re doing yoga for just five minutes. Grow steady in how you show up, and your practice can expand from there.
  4. Rewarding Strategy: I appreciated that Clear makes a distinction between types of rewards. He points out that bad habits tend to reward us in the short term (donuts taste so GOOD), and good habits (like avoiding donuts) tend to be more rewarding in the long run. Consistent yoga practice provides many long term rewards, but it can be difficult to recognize them because they develop very gradually. In the practice of yoga, we also take the time to notice the rewards in the now. In this moment, we sense gratitude for our breath, for our abilities and the connection between body and mind.

The beauty of developing a yoga habit is that the practice itself develops our ability to pay attention and expands our awareness. By giving ourselves a structured way to pay attention below the neck, we enroll the mind AND body in remembering our intentions.

Written by: Mary Kluz, MS & RYT-200. Mary Kluz is works in organizational health and leadership and is Associate Professor Emerita with the University of Wisconsin- Madison, Division of Extension. Mary is a Registered Yoga Teacher at the 200 hour level with Yoga Alliance and is a certified 200 hour Viniyoga Wellness Instructor through the American Viniyoga Institute/River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School. She teaches weekly yoga classes at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness where she focuses on stress reduction and centering.

Profiles in Resilience: This is What Resilience Looks Like

by Julie Bonasso Krolczyk

“What will you do today to keep loving, to keep moving, to keep growing?”

I was deeply moved by my amazing sister-in-law who perfected her first paddle board headstand last weekend at our home.

But what REALLY inspires me about Katie is how her physical strength is representative of her inner strength. Not so long ago she lost her husband to pancreatic cancer and suddenly found herself a single mom to 4 children.

How did Katie choose to handle this massive curve-ball? By leading with her heart in the following ways:

She takes her children on remarkable camping vacations to beautiful places and spaces.
She creates incredible memories in the mundane and in the special.
She writes daily.
She hikes the Appalachian trail.
She cries.
She gets angry.
She embraces life.
She asks for and accepts help.
She honors imperfection.
She loves.
She builds bonfires for friends and family.
She does headstands.

Katie is an incredible example of how we can be resilient in a time of tragedy; how we can find joy in the face of sadness; and how to keep moving even when the weight of grief weighs us down.

The cool thing about resilience is that it isn’t a one-size fits all concept. Headstands may not be your jam, but perhaps swinging on a hammock enjoying the breeze is? Or reading a book? Or preparing a meal? Or snuggling with kids? Or serving at a soup kitchen? Or picking fresh herbs? Or calling your mom?

Or ….? Or ….? Or ….?

We can CHOOSE to create our own mini miracles every day to deal with life’s curve-balls.

What will you do today to keep loving, to keep moving, to keep growing?

 

Julie Bonasso Krolczyk is a health and wellness coach with 15+ years of experience coaching professionals in lifestyle behavior change: Stress Management, Nutrition, Exercise, Relationships and Career.  She sees clients at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness in Wausau, WI. If you would like to share your story about resilience and inspire others, contact Julie at julie@revealyourpower.com to be featured on the 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness blog.

Novice Yoga Anxiety

by Janie Martin

“If you wish you were more flexible or more relaxed, give yoga a try. If you are nervous about going to a class, go with a friend. If people with serious diseases can participate and enjoy it, so can you.”

Joining a Yoga Class

One of the things on my long list of desired post-retirement activities was to join a yoga class. Several people had recommended this to me; and I heard and read good things about yoga for both building flexibility and improving balance. Those abilities deteriorate as we age, so the potential benefits were obvious. All the same it took a bit of guts to go to the first class.

Joining an activity where most people have been participating as a group for a while is a little intimidating. There is the factor of feeling out of place, fear of not being able to learn or keep up, or becoming a laughingstock.

But all it took was one class for me to feel at home and know that I was going to both benefit from and enjoy participating. The group was welcoming and warm, and the instructor immediately put me at ease. I went from hiding in the furthest corner of the room to being comfortable in the first row within two weeks.

Find A Type of Yoga You Enjoy and a Teacher Who Can Adapt for Your Needs

There are several different types of yoga, so you might need to experiment a little to find what is best for you. There are even “chair yoga” classes for those who have balance problems or difficulty with kneeling postures.

When I moved to Wisconsin I hated to leave my old class and instructor, but luckily I immediately found a class with an equally good instructor. And the diverse people in my new class have become friends like my old classmates were.

We all have two things in common; we were able to summon the courage to try class for the first time; and we all find the activity beneficial. Other than that we are all different – some in great shape, some a bit rust-bound and some who have not done any physical activity their entire lives. Some wear old sweat pants and loose t-shirts; some have slick exercise clothing. We all fit in, and we all encourage each other.

Some class members have some physical limitations, but the instructor is good at modifying the activities so they can fully participate. Some have what the instructor cheerfully calls “cranky” knees or a shoulder that doesn’t want to cooperate – but she continually urges us to stay in the zone of halfway between easy and hard effort – a perfect way to avoid injury but still benefit from movement. I always leave feeling better than when I walked in.

Classes with Camaraderie, Not Competition

Now that my husband is retired, he too goes to a class – one targeted for men with a male instructor. Using our bodies in class, the focus is on celebrating what we CAN do, not on what our bodies won’t let us do. There is no scorekeeping, no competition, and no comparisons. Chatter before class is about gardening, families, and hobbies. There is a lot of laughing, and those who miss class are warmly welcomed back after vacation or surgeries.

You Can Do It

So here are my thoughts for you if you have ever considered yoga. If you wish you were more flexible or more relaxed, give yoga a try. If you are nervous about going to a class, go with a friend. If people with serious diseases can participate and enjoy it, so can you.  If a class member who told me she is seriously in a battle for her life can give it a try for the first time, so can you.

Namaste!

Janie Martin is retired and a student at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness.  She tends her horses and cats and writes in western Marathon County.