What Is Yoga?
Yoking the Mind and Body
As a fitness instructor since 1986, teaching many formats (yoga, Zumba, cycle, boot camp), people often ask me what makes yoga different than just stretching. It helps to look back to yoga’s beginnings: about 5,000 years ago, it was an all-male practice, with very vigorous asanas (poses) and intense meditation, practiced mostly by monks. Women eventually entered the ranks, but many traditional yoga poses for male hips don’t work for women, so much evolution has occurred. When I started my fitness career, yoga classes were generally filled with yogis who were lean and strong; it was very intimidating. Inclusion was not a word that anyone cared about at the time, but today, inclusivity is showing up in all sorts of ways, with all kinds of yoga classes to choose from, but WHAT IS Yoga?
The word “yoga” means “to yoke”. Depending on what type of yoga you’re doing, you could be yoking mind and body, breath and movement, or even breath and focus. The biggest difference, physiologically, is that we are tapping into the PNS (parasympathetic nervous system). With most forms of exercise, we utilize the SNS (sympathetic nervous system), the differences are substantial: Sympathetic nervous system: “fight or flight” response generates adrenaline and energy followed by fatigue if you do it right. Think lifting weights, running, Zumba, tennis, rock climbing.
Parasympathetic nervous system: “rest and digest” response, generates calm, reduces anxiety and inflammation. Followed by euphoria if you do it right. We get this by yoga, meditation, and sleep.
Since many Americans are not sleeping well (technology overload!), we’re living more in the SNS than ever. The 2 neural systems sound like opposing forces, but really they are allies that help us create the balance that many of us are seeking.
Let’s examine a powerful pose like Plank: using an isometric contraction of the whole body to hold the pose, we are yoking our entire body together, using the concentration of our mind while generating a calm breath and mindset. In most yoga classes, you’ll experience some long holds (isometrics) along with flowing movements (vinyasa) followed by deep stretching toward the end. Linking the breath with movement is a cornerstone of ALL forms of yoga, and there are many forms of breathwork that can either generate heat, cool the body down or aid in calming the mind. Hatha yoga is the inspiration for many of today’s formats and will give you strength as well as flexibility, and usually a very restful finish.
Why does this matter to you? Most of us operate in SNS mode all day, and the hormonal cascade that results contributes to inflammation, anxiety, and tight fascia. Spending some time stimulating the PNS can help us sleep better and cope with daily stressors more easily. Today’s yoga is also focused on inclusion, which means that NO ONE has a reason to stay away! Some of the most celebrated yoga teachers today are packing a lot of body fat and not apologetic about it; they’re looking to bring yoga to everyone.
As much as I love yoga, I’m also a huge Pilates fan. I’ve commenced training for my Pilates Reformer certification, which I’ll be bringing with me when I move to Mesquite in the fall of this year. I currently teach group cycling in addition to yoga and boot camp. I’m looking forward to meeting the vibrant fitness community in Mesquite.V
Donna Schorr has been affiliated with ACE (American Council on Exercise) as her primary certification for group exercise since 1986. www.youtube.com/channel/UC71kK8CQCwZ0twK-9ms2Tyw