Feel strong, be happy, do yoga | VailDaily.com

Feel strong, be happy, do yoga

David L'Heureux

NWS Yoga3 12-15 CS

Perhaps you have noticed them in the studio of your local gym.

A room full of people bending themselves into unusual looking positions, or standing on their heads or just lying there on the floor breathing, doing nothing, and you’ve wondered, what’s going on in there?

Chances are you’ve stumbled across a yoga class.

Yes, yoga – the practice of the ancient art, and the numerous mental and physical benefits that result from it, has given rise to yoga’s popularity nationwide and here in the Vail Valley.

The recent trend brings to mind some pertinent questions like, who is yoga for? How will I benefit from it? And, where can I go to get involved in yoga as a continuing practice or for the first time?

Something for Everyone

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Unlike many athletic endeavors which measure participants in terms of good or bad and winners or losers, yoga is a uniquely non-competitive activity.

“Yoga allows you to go in and work within a range your body can handle,” said Karen Anderson, who has taught yoga for four years and currently teaches at Studio Maha in Avon. “It’s not competitive; it’s about relaxing and being in your own personal moment.”

Yoga offers something for everyone. It does not discriminate on the basis of age or sex or individual level of fitness. People from all walks of life can and do participate in yoga and benefit mentally and physically from its practice.

“My youngest student is 20, and my oldest student is 80,” said Geri Bleier, who teaches Anusara yoga at the Vail Athletic Club and the Om Zone in Edwards. “So, there’s definitely a wide range of ages out there.”

Getting stronger, staying focused

On a physical level, people who practice yoga will find it helps improve their strength, stamina, flexibility, balance, circulation and agility.

Many people use the practice of yoga as their sole means of fitness, but it can also serve as an excellent complement to sports that require good balance and focus like skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, kayaking, climbing and golf. So, it is no surprise that area athletes have turned to yoga to enhance their overall performance in these popular sports.

“Yoga has grown a lot here in the last five years,” said Angela Sumrell, who recently opened Studio Maha in the Sheraton Hotel in Avon. “It seems like people are using it as an adjunct to the other high energy sports so many Vail residents participate in. It helps a lot with balance, too, which is a big thing in a skiing and snowboarding culture like we have here.”

Yoga can provide people with a great deal of stress relief, while simultaneously building and stretching muscles. It’s truly a complete workout for the body and mind. Vanessa Worrall, a 30-year-old who moved to Vail from England, says that the changes she has seen in herself since beginning to practice yoga have been drastic.

“First of all, I’m a lot stronger than I ever was lifting weights,” said Worrall, who does yoga once a day if not more. “It has also made me much more relaxed and patient with people. I look at life in a much different way than I ever did before I began doing yoga.”

Feeling Better

Do you ever take a step back in your busy day and just breathe? Well that’s kind of what yoga is like, only you do it for an extended period of time. During that time, your entire focus is devoted to your breath and the exercise you are doing. In many ways, it is a kind of timeout from the day.

“In yoga, you are breathing and concentrating on the poses you are doing,” said Sumrell. “Hopefully, you are not thinking of stuff externally. It gives your body a rest from daily life.”

Ideally, at the end of a yoga class, participants will be more relaxed, focused and in touch with themselves and who they are. The goal of yoga practice is not just to gain tangible physical results, far from it. What yoga can do is make you feel better about yourself.

“Yoga encourages people to connect with their heart and their spirit and the goodness in themselves,” said Bleier. “On an emotional and spiritual level, you should feel better about yourself and your life than when you walked into the class.”

Many instructors interviewed for this article said it was common for people to come to class initially because of physical ailments like back pain or poor flexibility. But, they would continue coming for the mental and spiritual aspects of yoga they discovered while there.

“Most people seem to get into yoga for the stretching and physical benefits,” said Sumrell. “But then they start feeling more relaxed and in touch with themselves afterwards so they stick with it.”

Different forms, different places to practice

The new studios that have opened in town in recent years evidence the rise in popularity of yoga in Vail. Initially, people had to join a gym or a club to have access to yoga classes.

While the clubs are still a great place to attend classes, places like Yoga for Athletes in Crossroads, the Om Zone in Edwards, Studio Maha in Avon and Bikram Yoga Vail Valley, also in Avon, have given participants the option of practicing in yoga-only studios and finding the style of yoga that suits them best.

“Yoga has become really popular,” said Anderson. “It went from being primarily in the clubs to now where there are a bunch of different studios doing a bunch of different types of yoga.”

The Om Zone teaches the principles of Anusara yoga and can help students of all levels learn the principles of proper alignment. Studio Maha focuses on increasing strength, stamina and flexibility using a “vigorous and athletic Vinyasa-infused practice.”

Bikram Yoga Vail Valley in Avon gives students a chance to learn the Bikram form of yoga, which consists of a series of 26 postures performed in a heated room, which helps facilitate deep stretching and the elimination of toxins from the body.

How do I get involved?

Chances are there’s a yoga studio right around the corner from you. If not, there’s more than likely a yoga class offered at your local gym.

Most of the studios in town have a drop-in rate available if you are interested in adding something to your workout regimen, or if you have done yoga before and would like to start again.

For all you will get out of it, the cost is fairly nominal. All of the studios mentioned above have specials for newcomers. Stop by or call to see what your neighborhood studio is offering.

Right now, you can even do yoga for a good cause at the Om Zone. The Edwards studio is having a food drive this week.

“This week you can bring in the equivalent of five dollars of non-perishable food and you won’t be charged for attending class,” said Bleier.

There are a lot of options out there to get in shape. But, if your goal is to feel better in both body and mind and to participate in an activity that is ultimately a daily gift to yourself, give yoga a shot.

“Every morning I wake up feeling stronger and loving life,” said Worrall. “That’s what yoga can do for anyone.”

David L’Heureux is a freelance writer based in Vail.