Staying fit, relaxing with Yoga

Yoga is a form of exercise practiced around the world with roots dating back to thousands of years ago in India. Like other relaxation and exercise techniques, there are many different forms of yoga. Each specific form has been designed by a specific guru or teacher that has made a difference for students and the yoga community. So why has this form of exercise become so popular? Bay Athletic Club instructor Kelly Bowlin explained that its not just appealing for the exercise, but also for the spirit.

“The biggest benefits people reap from practicing yoga come from how they connect with their bodies in a new way,” Bowlin said. “Through the incorporation of movement with breathing, you become more aware of this simple autonomous body function. Another benefit you will immediately experience is that wonderful feeling you get when you stretch your muscles which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for releasing relaxing, calming chemicals into your blood stream. It’s like a shot of the opposite of an adrenaline rush; it’s a chill shot.”

Breathing is a critical part of yoga, and linking breathing and movement is a great way to reap the benefits and advance in yoga faster.

“Without breath focus you are not fully engaged in the practice of yoga,” Bowlin said. “Breathing is the other half of yoga.”

Strength is also a benefit of yoga, and can be enhanced with regular practice.

“Holding some of the poses can be tough and taxing to your muscles in a new way that may not be duplicated on a weight machine or in normal everyday movements,” Bowlin said. “You will increase your strength as you practice, especially the upper body in women from practicing poses like downward dog, chaturanga and planks.”

Bowlin started teaching yoga regularly over eight years ago, and said she attributes it to being a balanced person.

“I have the ability to relax myself in a stressful environment by focusing on the feeling I have when I’m in class,” she said. “I can actually harness this! It’s taken a while to get to this point, but I find this benefit to be extremely beneficial. I just go to my yoga place! Others may call it their happy place.”

Bowlin said she can see the changes and effect practicing yoga has on her classes as well.

“People that regularly attend class find themselves progressing pretty quickly. Before they know it they are able to stretch out in one pose in a way that is not even close to their first class,” she said. “They’ll find their balance improving class by class, and notice they start to crave the yoga sessions or even miss them when they cannot attend.”

These changes are even more noticeable to class participants like Laurie Siegert, who started practicing yoga when she saw it a television and heard it could help in alleviating pain.

“I come to the classes for the comrodery and it helps to control my pain,” Siegert said. “It’s an upbeat and positive experience and has been a great thing for me.”

Dar DeMarr said she also enjoys participating in classes, and helps her push herself to do better.

“When I’m here I can give 100 percent and not be distracted with things to do at home,” DeMarr said. “It can turn off my brain and just help me relax and focus on the stretching and the workout.”

Ryan Carriveau and Jeremiah Misiak both started yoga to help with stretching and muscle pains, and to challenge themselves.

“It’s a challenge without being painful,” Misiak said. “Every time you get to childs pose it’s like heaven and you can just feel your body relax into it and breathe.”

Carriveau agreed and added he likes to practice yoga to help increase his flexibility and strength.

“It helps with all goals,” Carriveau said. “You work everything while you’re doing yoga and increases your range of motion while teaching your whole body to work together.”

Gail Brege has been attending classes for a few years, and has really enjoyed practicing and learning more about yoga.

“It is one of my favorite classes for flexibility and strength,” she said. “You can feel the power in the strong poses like the warrior and the tree. Power yoga is more of a workout because you’re constantly moving and breathing. If you’ve never done it, that’s ok too, there are modifications to the moves and if you get tired, just take a break.”

Anyone who is interested is encouraged to attend a group class and take a friend to make it more fun and work as a form of accountability to continue practicing.

“Don’t compare yourself to anyone,” Bowlin said. “Your progress should be judged by what happens on your mat, not your neighbors. Be careful. The muscle will stretch over one and a half times it’s resting length with no damage, but the connective tissue that attaches the muscles to bones will be damaged with just a 4 percent increase in length, so don’t overdue it. I would recommend yoga. It’s a game changer for people’s fitness and can heal their bodies while protecting them from other injuries and disease. Plus, you just feel good when you practice yoga.”

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.