The practice of yoga delivers significant physical benefits, but that is really only the beginning. Yoga is about much more than the physical poses, or asanas. Asana, done properly, is definitely a mind-body experience. Keeping the body healthy supports both the mind and the spirit, and yoga involves integration of all three.
I started taking yoga classes with Athena Flegas when I came to Colorado in 1994. Athena has been a student of yoga since the early 1970s’s, and received her teacher’s certification in 1985. She is a registered yoga teacher with the Yoga Alliance and also teaches Heart Centered Meditation. Her style of teaching yoga has been mostly influenced by the Iyengar and Anusara schools of yoga, as well as her Heart Centered Meditation Practice. Over the years, she has developed her own balanced approach to teaching Hatha Yoga. She focuses on breath, awareness, and alignment to gently guide students safely into yoga poses. She works closely with individual students, allowing them time and space to develop a more therapeutic approach to yoga than is found in typical yoga studios. She encourages students to tap into their true essence and feel a total integration of body, mind, and spirit both on and off the yoga mat.
I asked Athena what is the best way for someone new to yoga to get started and her immediate response was, “Safely.” If you are starting in a class, make sure the instructor knows of any injuries or health concerns you may have. (A trained and competent instructor will always ask.) Also, look to your body and its responses, notice how you feel after certain poses, and never push into pain in a pose.
There are lots of different yoga styles out there. If you are new to yoga, Athena recommends Hatha Yoga, which incorporates slow and gentle movements, and is probably the most common style. She also advises a beginner to look for a class that is smaller in size, so that the instructor is able to give students individual attention. You will work on basic poses at first, focusing on correct breathing and proper alignment, and a trained instructor can be of great benefit here.
Athena is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the subject of yoga! Some of the highlights of what she shared with me follow.
- Yoga is a holistic system – consisting of the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional. It seeks to integrate body, mind and spirit, which is what separates it from other systems. The gift of yoga is that it addresses all aspects of the self. If you want to come to yoga just for the physical benefits, that is up to you. Incorporate what works for you. Doing your yoga, incorporating what works for you and what you need, is key.
- Yoga is open to everyone, regardless of age. Young, old, fit, injured – a yoga practice can be adapted to suit your particular needs. There is no “one size fits all” in yoga.
- For those over 40, yoga has health and wellness benefits that can reduce or alleviate typical health problems associated with aging. Physically, yoga helps the body to retain its limberness and strength, including bone strength, can help to alleviate chronic pain, improve balance and coordination, and help the body to bounce back more quickly from illness or surgery.
- Mentally and emotionally, yoga can help the individual to deal with life more effectively. The ability to handle stress improves, as does mental acuity and concentration. Yogic breathing practices help to calm the mind and body, providing a sense of overall wellbeing. These mental and physical benefits positively impact our ability to stay active, vital and independent as we age.
Yoga has far-reaching benefits that nourish the person as a whole. Yoga can have the biggest impact, says Athena, by doing your yoga – tailoring your practice to what suits you best. The scope of yoga is broad – start where you are, with what works for your body, and build from there. And do “your yoga.”