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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on January 24th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 46 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 13, Issue 46

Breathe, stretch, let it go

Whatever brings you to yoga, you're sure to find what you seek


I’ll admit it. I missed the whole yoga craze. I never thought it was a valid form of fitness—not enough of an adrenaline rush for an active person like me. However, yoga’s continued popularity piqued my curiosity, enough to convince me to try some yoga classes.

Asana yoga is designed to address postures and lift the spirit of the mind and body while building up a sweat.

So there I was, sitting in the darkened studio of Yoga for Mankind in Old Orcutt with an eye pillow over my face, trying to relax and forget all my worries. I opted to try a healing yoga class, led every Friday by Vicki Forman, owner and instructor at Yoga for Mankind.

Using blankets, bolsters, and blocks, I twisted myself into a series of poses designed to relax my body and muscles and, in effect, reduce my stress level.

Balancing two demanding jobs and having a Type A personality doesn’t usually allow for low stress levels. But post healing yoga, my body felt more relaxed and my mind was clearer than it had been in ages. This led me to believe that I had underestimated the power of yoga, so I endeavored to find out more about this alternative path to fitness.

Little did I know—and soon I would learn—that yoga can yield enormous benefits to both body and mind.

A deeper meaning

According to scholars, yoga more than likely arrived in the United States in the 1800s but didn’t gain notoriety until the alternative-lifestyle days of the 1960s. The system of yoga is built on three main ideas: exercising, breathing, and meditation. Each posture or pose in yoga is designed to ignite different emotional states. For instance, back bends are effective anti depressants, while forward folds are known to be calming.

Studio owner Forman has advanced certification in Hatha yoga and integrative yoga therapy; she’s been studying and instructing for 15 years.

“Most people in life right now are facing a different type of stress,” Forman said. “It’s home, finances, and trying to hold on to jobs.”

By incorporating deep breathing and movement, cortisol levels are reduced as the heart rate slows down, in turn reducing high blood pressure. Lower cortisol levels also contribute to weight loss.

Just one hour and 15 minutes of relax-and-rejuvenate yoga will leave the body feeling de-stressed and the mind clearer.

“I had a student whose blood pressure decreased by 10 percent after starting yoga,” Forman said.

While all yoga is therapeutic, healing yoga combines various poses, breathing, guided imagery, and deep relaxation to reduce physical, mental, and emotional stress. Like all forms of yoga, therapeutic yoga helps lengthen muscles, lubricate joints, and improve flexibility. For Forman, the development of a mind-body connection is the key.

“We become detached from what our body and emotions are telling us,” she said. “Yoga helps you become more in tune with your body mentally.”

By “tuning in” to our bodies and minds, Forman said, yoga helps people identify physical and emotional stressors and how to keep calm in spite of them.

Virginia Bauer, a retired teacher and patron at Yoga for Mankind, started practicing yoga due to her arthritis.

“Yoga helps my stress and flexibility,” she said. “It’s so simple yet powerful.”

Learning how to relax and de-stress these days isn’t easy, and for many people, yoga has become an escape from day-to-day stress.

“The brain is constantly bombarded by TV, cell phones, and computers—its hard to turn off,” Forman said. “Through yoga, people learn how to let go of constant brain activity and their mind slows down.”

Doctors and physical therapists are prescribing yoga to their patients more and more as treatment for stress, blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and digestive health. While yoga has been hailed for its physical benefits, another yoga venture and instructor showed me that there’s yet another side to yoga students are starting to see.

At Treetop Yoga in Santa Maria, I took an Asana yoga class that focuses on strength, flexibility, and postures. From downward dog to upward dog, this class delivered a relaxingly intense workout.

Mary Kay West, a yoga instructor of 28 years, led my session. She said she started yoga after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

For West, who’s traveled and studied with various yoga gurus, American yoga, in practice, has overemphasized the activity’s physical aspect.

“We have a compulsion to look good,” she said.

Classical yoga techniques date back to India some 5,000 years ago. It’s the science of meditation, going into oneself and finding happiness.

According to the petite instructor, yoga is a quest for spiritual enlightenment and the discovery of our true selves. A former clinical psychologist, West said yoga helps separate ego from our true id.

“Yoga is liberation from searching for happiness externally,” she said. “All the answers are inside.”

“Yoga,” literally translated into English, means to “join or yoke together,” bringing the body into one harmonious experience. Historic yoga gurus were able to master their heart rates and other automatic functions of the body. West said that by using yoga to tune into our bodies and find happiness, we can use our body to get to the real issues.

“It’s hard to be happy when you’re unhealthy,” she said, emphasizing the connection between mental and physical health.

West said yoga is a practice that can easily be carried over into real life simply by learning to consciously calm yourself. Eventually, you become more aware of your choices and learn to relax yourself in times of stress.

Whatever your reasons for coming to yoga, West said it’s a transformative activity, and if students work at it, they’ll achieve what they set out to achieve.

Treetop Yoga owner and instructor Nicole Donati said the fitness aspect is important, but students can’t lose sight of the mental benefits.

“Students are looking for more than fitness,” she said. “People are moving toward a spiritual lift.”

So is it a science? A tool? A way of life? Whatever it is you’re seeking, consider yoga as giving you the tools to breathe, de-stress, and discover your own brand of happiness.

Staff writer Kristina Sewell could use more relaxation. Contact her at

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