(photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
Yoga's popularity has seemingly exploded in recent years, but it's by no means new to the health scene. The holistic approach is actually believed to have been developed in India some 5,000 years ago.
Traditionally the idea behind yoga, meaning to join together, was to unite with the true self but according to Shirley LaFont, modern times have seen added benefits such as improved physical fitness, mental clarity, greater self-understanding, stress control and general well being.
"Yoga is an isometric exercise so it's not always so important what you do, it's that you put your body in the poses and then you hold them. And when you hold them you're holding your own weight, you're not lifting weights, so you're building a great deal of strength," explained LaFont, who's been practicing yoga for nine years and teaching it for the past year. "And then you learn to breath and as you're breathing and holding your weight in the poses you're focusing and that calms your mental state."
She described yoga as a step-by-step process that brings into balance the separate aspects of the body, mind and spirit.
Having more than once heard individuals proclaim their body is incapable of doing what yoga demands, LaFont offers the assurance that anyone on any fitness level can do yoga.
"Anyone can do yoga because it is about listening to your own body, moving at your own pace and growing to feel truly well on all levels. Yoga is system techniques that balance internal/emotional and external/physical forces which results in a fun activity with powerful results. Yoga wakes up the body, sharpens your mind and you do yoga at an individual pace so there's no competition."
Semi-retired, Janie Vowels said she's a prime example that yoga is for everyone. "Oh, your body can do it," assured Vowels, one of LaFont's students. "It's amazing what she can get you to do. I didn't know my body would do the things it does. "
LaFont pointed out yoga also improves circulation, focus, breathing, digestion, balance, energy, peace, tones organs, cleanses and increases strength.
"Yoga is a great low-impact way to increase flexibility and reduce stress," added LaFont, who teaches both a private yoga class and one through the YMCA. "We are becoming more health conscious and this may reflect our need to balance our world with the accelerated technological growth of the world. Our body will tell us how and when to move in a certain manner if we listen. As we bring balance and strength to our physical body this translates to our emotional body and then to our lifestyle in general."
Through the three parts to yoga - warm up and focus, exercise then relaxation -individuals practicing yoga learn to focus on understanding and controlling the body, breath and mind through exercise, breathing techniques and quiet time.
"It requires a lot of concentration," added Vowels. "I love it. You work on areas where you think you need it. I feel I benefit from every class, it has helped me physically and mentally. It's been a treat for me, I've really enjoyed it."
She compared the body's scrunching and stretching during different yoga poses to a sponge being squeezed of toxins which are being released from the body.
"An important goal in yoga is to come to a greater understanding of our body movement and condition, gaining self awareness," noted LaFont, who suggests doing yoga at least three times a week although students have reported noticing a difference after one class.
"We learn through conscious movement to use our bodies more efficiently, less wear and tear on the system and less stress and better skeletal alignment, mechanical freedom, organic functioning and optimum wellness. Once you learn it in class, you slowly take it with you. Our mind and our body are very connected. Yoga is about going at your own pace and listening to your own body, just taking one baby step at a time."
For more information on LaFont's yoga classes contact her at 471-3828.