Polly Sweitzer, center, leads her class through a variety of yoga positions with Sarah Kohl, left, and Sky Wyatt, right.
BY HALEY ADAMS
Photo by Don Shrubshell
Sweitzer leads her class through a variety of Yoga positions.
A year and a half ago, Sharon Thomas-Parks found the jogging and aerobics she once did easily were becoming harder on her body as she entered her early 50s. She also felt her mind needed a breather from her unstructured schedule as an independent contractor.
“Physically, I was a little stiff and feeling pain,” said Thomas-Parks, 52. “I also wanted to settle down inside. I wanted to not have so much chatter in my mind.”
Thomas-Parks had tried acupuncture, massage and physical therapy to help chronic pain in her neck and shoulders, and had tried physical therapy and medication for stiffness in her ankles. When her massage therapist left the area, she used the opportunity to try yoga as another attempt to relieve the pain. After her first Yoga 101 class at AlleyCat Yoga, she immediately felt more relaxed and had less tension in her body, she said.
Thomas-Parks hasn’t stopped since, and according to a 2008 poll sponsored by Yoga Journal magazine and conducted by the Harris Interactive Service Bureau, she is one of more than 15 million people in the United States who practice yoga. It’s not a new trend — yoga is more than 5,000 years old — but it has evolved into multiple forms, each serving a different purpose.
But with so many styles offered in Columbia, finding the perfect class can be overwhelming. AlleyCat Yoga owner Ken McRae said there are three main categories that encompass most types of yoga. Although each category includes the others to some degree, those interested in yoga can pick a class depending on what they want to get out of it.
Some forms focus on the spiritual side and help with stress reduction, such as Kripalu, McRae’s specialty. According to AlleyCat Yoga’s website, Kripalu is “meditation in motion” and teaches practitioners to tap into themselves to gain confidence and self-awareness.
Other types of yoga act as physical therapy, such as Iyengar, which focuses on returning the body to anatomical alignment. Elm Street Yoga owner Linda Lutz, who teaches Iyengar yoga, said when the body loses alignment, it can cause injuries, such as stiff necks and shoulders. Iyengar also can help psychologically and improve health issues, such as sleep. One class Elm Street Yoga will offer in the fall, “Yoga for Better Sleep,” will incorporate poses that promote calmness and sleep.
“Yoga is more than just physical work,” Lutz said. “It affects all levels of our being.”
The third category of yoga, McRae said, focuses on the cardiovascular system and is popular in gyms and fitness centers. Commonly called power yoga, the instructor takes the class quickly through one pose after another, which provides a more aerobic workout. Other forms also focus on a fitness objective, such as hot yoga. Tia Casady, manager of Wilson’s in The District, said the room is heated anywhere from 92 to 98 degrees, which helps students get deeper into each pose and decreases the risk of injury.
But any style of yoga can affect a person’s health and vitality, said Yoga Sol owner Polly Sweitzer. Sweitzer created her own form of yoga called Wave Flow Yoga, which is inspired by her California surfing background and love for the ocean and provides a spiritual, therapeutic and aerobic experience, she said.
“It’s yoga that’s trenched in deep, ancient traditions,” Sweitzer said. “At the same time, it’s a physical workout.”
Because of the variety of forms under the yoga umbrella, Lutz said most people start with a beginning class, such as the two she teaches through the Columbia Area Career Center, and classes through her studio. McRae said those new to yoga should talk to experienced yoga practitioners and try different classes. He also said yoga is a welcoming activity and there is no need to feel intimidated.
“Most people think they can’t do yoga because they can’t put their foot behind their head, but it’s not about that,” McRae said.
Thomas-Parks said beginners also need to remember to start slow and to not overstress or overstretch. “You want a nice, moderate challenge,” Thomas-Parks said. “If you overdo it, you get sore, and that’s not the point.”
Although yoga hasn’t completely cured Thomas-Parks’ chronic pain, she has noticed a decrease. She now does yoga twice a week in classes at AlleyCat Yoga, and, for her, the best part of yoga is learning to be more present. It also has made her more productive and efficient throughout the day.
“I have more command over my mind,” she said. “I don’t allow it to drift or chatter.”
SOURCE: The Columbia Tribune