In The Press: "Yoga Has Something For All Fitness Levels", Roanoke Times & World News, April 22, 2004

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To Your Health

Laurie Borslien
April 22, 2004
Roanoke Times & World News
Copyright (c) 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

"It's not a cult or a religion," Tony Horton says at the end of the new P90X yoga video. "It's just oms."

He explains that "oms" are a way to soothe the nervous system after the 92-minute-long Astanga (power) yoga routine. Seated in the lotus position, Horton and his four students close their eyes, inhale deeply and release their breath in a full-voiced "om."

Not all yoga routines end with oms, and not all routines are as vigorous as the "Yoga X" ("X" for extreme) video. There are several styles of yoga for people of all fitness levels and stages of flexibility. Each style supplies different benefits, but all of them can help you reach your health and fitness goals.

According to Debbie Stevens, instructor at The Yoga Center in Southwest Roanoke's Piccadilly Square, yoga is a series of poses and postures that offers physical and spiritual benefits. Physical benefits include improved strength, balance and flexibility, all traits that Stevens said people frequently lose as they age.

"Some people think you have to be really flexible to do yoga, but you can come into the class wherever you are," Stevens said. For nervous newcomers or those who just want personal assistance, The Yoga Center offers private lessons to help students gain confidence and perfect their postures.

To provide further assistance in holding poses, there are many props students can use, including blocks or bricks, generally made from foam, that allow students to either extend their stretch or hold themselves correctly in a position when they can't touch their fingers to the floor. Straps, which resemble woven cotton belts, help students hold poses when their limbs are out of their reach. Other props include walls, which Yoga Center student Dick Frazier of Roanoke said are the most important props of all.

Stevens said most yoga instructors put great emphasis on breathing techniques. As you move from one pose to the next, you take long, deep breaths both in and out of the nose. Matching the breathing with the movements relaxes the body and soothes the nervous system.

Yoga styles such as Kripalu and Iyengar move gently, at a slow to medium pace. "It allows you to check in with yourself and find the proper alignment," Stevens said.

Advanced or athletic students can move on to more vigorous styles such as Astanga and Hatha, two styles commonly taught at athletic centers and gyms. These "power yoga" styles have added cardiovascular benefits as students move more rapidly from pose to pose.

But yoga is much more than moving and breathing. Stevens said she talks with her students about the history, meditation and morals associated with yoga practice. "We try to encompass all aspects of yoga," she said.

Yoga Center student Teresa Lanahan said she practices yoga four to five times a week. "It makes me feel good about myself," she said. "I feel more centered and complete."

Frazier echoed Lanahan's sentiments, adding that yoga makes him feel more creative. He first began practicing yoga when he found that his marathon aerobic exercises were leaving him with stiff joints. "A teammate suggested I try yoga. Within one week, all the pain was gone."

Other yoga students, including Marie Conner, have seen many physical reliefs after starting yoga. Conner said she was diagnosed several years ago with fibromyalgia. Since she began practicing yoga, she said she hasn't needed to use prescription medications to alleviate pain.

Whether you're looking for a new way to deal with pain or stress, or you're just looking to gain the many physical and spiritual benefits of yoga, there's a style or a class for you. Places such as the Yoga Center offer specialized classes for pregnant or menopausal women, senior citizens, and classes for all levels. Stevens said the center plans to offer yoga for children this summer.

Check the Yoga Center or your local health clubs or gyms for a yoga class schedule and find one that's right for you. Expand your mind, breathe and become one with the movements. And if they do oms at the end, remember, it's just oms.

The Yoga Center is at 3107-C Franklin Road S.W. Phone is 345-4090.

Sources: Debbie Stevens, The Yoga Center, Beachbody,

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