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Learning to unwind with yoga

By May Lundy

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 21 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” – Mohandas K. Gandhi.

Many have the constant resolution to reduce stress. Some people join a gym, others start a garden and others take up running. I like to do yoga.

Several preconceived notions exist about the practice. I was one who thought that it would be hard to stand on one foot while chanting or attempting to put my leg around my neck. I thought I would never be able to relax, and I was hesitant to try it. But once I stepped into a studio and started doing more research on the practice and benefits of yoga, my vision of the discipline changed.

According to Yoga Alliance, a national education and support organization for yoga in the United States, yoga is more than simple exercise. It may include postures (asanas), energy and breath control (pranayama), meditation, music, philosophy and other approaches.

I learned that there are different styles of yoga according to individual needs and interests. Since my goal has been to reduce my stress levels in a relaxing environment, I decided to try the gentle and therapeutic styles of yoga.

One of the first classes I joined was deep relaxation. During the session our teacher guides us through meditation and a few gentle poses. Later I added a restorative yoga session, where we use blankets, blocks and other props to help support us while holding poses for a few minutes. I learned that a variety of poses help boost the immune system, improve the circulatory system, support the digestive system and release tension from different parts of our body like the neck, back, shoulders and hips. I especially like how our teacher always asks us at the beginning of class if there are any areas of our body holding more tension that need some extra love and care.

And one thing I love is the fact that none of this involves having to endure pain or discomfort. If we don’t feel at ease in a particular position, there are variations that help us rest while still soaking in the benefits of the pose. Everyone is free to adapt the practice to his individual needs.

I admit it was hard to stay still the first few times. My mind and body were so used to rushing, and I couldn’t wait for class to end. But every time I come back to class, I learn more techniques that help quiet my mind when its wheels are spinning after a stressful day. I learned to acknowledge the thoughts that come, welcome them and then dismiss what I don’t want to keep.

Another important aspect of relaxation is learning to be aware and control the breath. This can be done through breathing practices known as pranayama. Yoga Alliance mentions that many of these practices emphasize slowing down and deepening breath, which activates the body’s parasympathetic system, or relaxation response. Before I tried pranayama, I wasn’t as conscious of my breath and how much I was holding it in moments of stress. The practice helps me realize when I need to relax, let go and breath deeply. Pranayama has helped me get rid of many a tension headache.

It has now been two years since I started doing yoga, and my ability to slow down has increased. I have noticed a change in my body and mind response to stress. Now I am able to enjoy the comfort and rest that comes from lying down in a warm room, listening to our teacher or sounds of nature and light music. I have also taken many of the lessons I’ve learned in the studio to a daily practice at home. I don’t have to invest in expensive equipment. All I need is a quiet area to take time for myself. I still have much to improve, but I am more capable of enjoying the moment and the practice seems to fly by, leaving me wanting for more.

May Lundy enjoys living in Salt Lake City with her husband Jon. She works at Deseret Digital Media and writes a monthly column for OKEspanol, a Spanish-language newspaper.

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