Relieve estrés with yoga
It’s tax time, so it’s no surprise that April is National Stress Awareness Month. And April 16 is National Stress Awareness Day. No me digas – the day after taxes are due; how can you not be aware of stress? Just getting those IRS forms to the post office by the previous midnight can drown you in stress awareness.
Instead of heading to the local taberna or reaching for that cigarrillo or second donut to relieve that taxing tension – or whatever’s making your shoulders tight, your neck ache, or your mind spin – why not try yoga instead? A class is probably taking place around the corner from where you are right now – at the gym, a small studio, or even outdoors with a private instructor. And all you need is loose, comfortable clothing and a mat.
“Ay, sí. ¡Que ridículo!” my mamacita would say if I were to suggest such a thing. Oh, but if only she knew the beauty and benefits of this ancient exercise. After 5,000 years, yoga is still around for a reason. More than 11 million Americans practice yoga, and it’s likely half of those 11 million can’t even touch their toes. And it doesn’t matter.
And it doesn’t matter what age you are, what weight you are, what gender you are – anyone can do yoga. It’s not a religious movement; it’s not just for the super limber; it’s not for women only. It’s not about learning to hook your ankle around the back of your neck, either.
But yoga is a fairly new phenomenon to Latinos. Yet this universal, venerable form of exercise has no cultural limits and can be customized to suit any person’s needs. As private yoga instructor Mia Quintana says, “It’s an individualistic practice that each person can make what they want.” Even her papi likes it.
And so do her cousins, and her tías, who are in their 50s and 60s. When Quintana’s friends and family noticed a more peaceful, relaxed Mia, they couldn’t help but wonder about her refined demeanor. “It was seeing a change in me that convinced my family to give yoga a chance,” says Quintana, “and as a certified teacher, I had ‘cred,’ so they trusted me and were willing to try it.”
At first her parientes thought yoga would be too physical, too strenuous. They didn’t think they were in good enough shape to do it. They also thought it was too expensive, and weren’t into the “whole religioso New Age thing.” After a little coaxing, they gathered for one of Quintana’s homegrown, backyard yoga sessions.
Quintana’s family felt the results immediately – after just one hour of yoga. They were amazed at how relaxed they felt, as if they had just received a full-body massage. And they didn’t even have to touch their toes.
El cuerpo y la mente
Quintana, trained at Southwest Institute of Healing Arts in Tempe and registered with the Yoga Alliance®, has not only convinced the people around her to give yoga a chance, she has also educated them on the immense physical benefits, including cuidando the core. Nearly all yoga poses build core strength in the deep abdominal muscles. Yoga is also good for the heart; it increases flexibility, makes bones stronger, and lubricates joints and tendons; it increases overall body strength and improves posture.
But some practitioners consider the physical effects of yoga a fringe benefit. It’s the psychological impact that drives many people to the practice. Quintana agrees. “It teaches you to be introspective,” she says. “Yoga quiets the mind, which improves your ability to focus or concentrate. It helps you be more in the moment, more present.” All this relieves stress.
It’s the same reason mi hermano plays golf: his mind is completely on the game and he forgets everything else around him. After a day on the course, he goes home relaxed and refreshed. Yoga does the same thing. Because you are concentrating on the poses and your breathing, you are not affected by what’s happening around you. And since yoga is a very personal practice, it’s not competitive. Focus on your breathing and do the poses to the best of your ability without straining, and you are just where you need to be.
A matter of focus
The difference between the many styles of yoga is emphasis, like focusing on strict alignment of the body, coordination of breath and movement, holding the postures, or the flow from one posture to another. Most forms of yoga emphasize deepening and lengthening your breath, which stimulates the relaxation response. Some yoga classes are designed purely for relaxation; others teach you how to move your body in new ways. The more active styles of yoga offer the greatest physical health benefits by developing your flexibility, strength, and balance. Other yoga styles use deep breathing techniques to focus your thoughts on the breath. This actually helps calm the mind.
The options are plenty, but “yoga is different for everyone,” adds Quintana. “Someone might be more into the flow style, like Hatha yoga,” says Quintana, “but others may prefer the more meditative style, like Kundalini.”
Hatha yoga is the madre of all yoga practices, providing the foundation for many variations of yoga. Yin, a deep-stretching yoga, is similar to restorative yoga, which incorporates blankets and foam blocks for added support in some postures. There’s also Bikram, Ashtanga, Iyengar, and Kripalu, just to name a few.
New styles are being invented all the time. One of the latest is anti-gravity yoga (think Pink at the last Grammy Awards), which uses a sling-like hammock. It offers some of the usual yoga benefits with the added bonus of fulfilling your circus fantasy.
Quintana says, “Newbies should start with a basic intro class, probably Hatha yoga, but so many styles are out there. You just have to explore and see what you like.”
Whatever yoga style you prefer, the choice is clear: It’s better to be body and mind aware than stress aware.
Asanas: A series of postures or poses that make up the Hatha yoga practice designed to prepare the mind and body for meditation.
Hatha yoga: Considered the foundation of all yoga styles; emphasizes specific postures in combination with controlled breathing.
Kundalini: A style of yoga that focuses on the energy based at the spine; considered one of the more spiritual forms of yoga.
Namaste: A traditional Indian greeting meaning, “I bow and honor the divine presence in you.”
Om: The universal mantra; cosmic vibration of the universe; represents the four states of consciousness.
Pranayama: Control of the breath; breathing exercises essential to the practice of yoga.
Chakra: The seven sacred energy centers in the body, also understood as wheels of light.