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Down dog! Yoga practice helps create physical, emotional balance

February 12th, 2011 Posted in Arts and Life

By Katie Smedley

LOGAN—Most people come through the door of a yoga class in hopes of gaining flexibility, or because of a doctor’s order, but they often continue coming to yoga for the emotional benefits.

For many of her students, says USU’s 33-year-old yoga instructor Haley Hayes, it’s the first time they are forced into their bodies. Yoga is an opportunity to address the physical pain in your body, she said, and with that physical pain there is often a correlation to emotional pain.

For most who practice yoga, an emotional release can accompany a physical one. Hayes says she has had students start bawling in her classes because they didn’t expect this kind of reaction from their bodies, but it is enough to keep them coming back for more.

The most effective way to get into this powerful reaction during a yoga practice is to focus on your “ujjayi” breath, also called the victorious breath, a breathing technique used in most yoga. Ujjayi breath involves inhalation and exhalation through the nose. This creates a natural filtration system and can help to tone the lungs, Hayes said.

Focusing on breathing can help quiet the brain by stopping the ever-running to-do list for just a few minutes, which will increase the relaxation benefits of the yoga practice. This aids in getting “into your body,” Hayes said.

Another local yogi, Christopher Brown, said he always begins his classes by encouraging his students to focus on the present moment, and then to begin focusing on the ujjayi breath and the correct physical alignment and posture.

For USU student Ashley Packer, 25, yoga is the one time of day she feels balanced. “We spend all day on our feet,” she said. “Yoga is probably the only time my heart gets to be below my head. When I’m doing yoga and after I feel balanced.”

Hayes generally teaches a form of yoga called Vinyasa, or flow yoga. There is constant movement and the breath is synchronized with each pose. With yoga’s increasing popularity, there are many different types. It’s about finding the one that’s right for you, Hayes said.

It is also important when looking for an instructor to find one that has been certified through Yoga Alliance. Hayes spent 200 hours practicing before becoming certified.

It is hard for people to leave their conscious selves outside, Hayes said. Competitive personalities can lead to injury, she said—it’s normal for different people to be at different levels of flexibility and fitness, and competing to achieve different poses has nothing to do with the inward attention of yoga.

Yoga, when taught and performed correctly, should prevent injury. Injuries happen when you’re not being kind to yourself, Brown said.

“When I first started practicing yoga it was hard,” he said. “It was really intense. But I found my body adapted quickly and it helped in other aspects of my life. At first it was primarily physical but now not as much.”


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