August 26, 1999|By MEG H. PARTINGTON

With the help of an ancient practice, the flexibility and balance that today's busy lifestyles require can be restored.

Yoga, a word meaning to yoke or join together, is a comprehensive form of self-care, says Simone Heurich, a certified yoga instructor living in Smithsburg.

[cont. from lifestyle]

"It's a vast body of knowledge," says Heurich, who has been practicing yoga for 25 years and teaching for at least five.

Through breathing, various postures and meditation, people are encouraged to explore what's inside, rather than focusing on the external world.

"It's more of a work-in experience rather than a workout," Heurich says.

The basics

Kim Forry, exercise instructor at Coolfont Resort in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., says deep breathing - a diversion from the rapid, shallow breaths people tend to take - is an essential part of yoga because it helps the body relax.


Postures, called asanas, improve flexibility, tone and cardiovascular strength, Forry says. They can be done in standing and balancing positions.

Standing poses such as headstands and handstands are particularly helpful for building strength, Heurich says. They also stretch the legs and open the hips and chest, improving breathing and circulation, adds Forry, who has been practicing yoga for eight years and teaching it for five.

Jennifer Rozes, assistant physical director at Hagerstown YMCA, says yoga challenges the body in a way that other athletic endeavors do not.

When she started practicing yoga a few months ago in preparation for teaching a flexible strength class created by Reebok, she says, "I felt like a weakling. You learn very quickly what your imbalances are."

Yoga helps stabilize the body's core - the abdominal and back muscles, Rozes says.

Using your own body weight for resistance builds longer, leaner muscle than training with free weights or machines, Heurich adds.

No gains from pain

Students are encouraged to listen to their bodies, being careful not to go beyond their physical limitations.

"Pain is not something you should be feeling when you're doing yoga," Heurich says. Instead, participants should feel a thorough stretching.

Modifications can be made to accommodate people's physical limitations, says Heurich, who has had students come to her classes with lower back problems, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, migraine headaches and problems with their knees and hips.

"It really can be beneficial to anyone. Everybody walks away feeling really good," Heurich says.

The noncompetitive atmosphere in a yoga class is a bonus, says Michelle Nicholas, an exercise instructor at Chambersburg Fitness Center in Chambersburg, Pa.

Mind-body balance

The overall benefit of yoga, Forry says, is "feeling a total sense of peace in your body, harmony within your mind." It also prepares participants to handle life with a new attitude, she says.

Meditation, which Forry incorporates into her hour-long classes, is one way of "letting go of the grocery list, clearing space to allow the connection between the mind and body to flow. It can be difficult if you don't have the willingness to go there," she says.

Heurich leaves 15 minutes at the end of her 90-minute classes for relaxation.

"It's like the dessert," Heurich says.

Eating a low-fat diet that includes fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and soy products is a plus, says Heurich, who has been a vegetarian for 25 years.

"We can all get balance in different ways," Heurich says.


Heurich sets aside one to two hours a day for yoga, but says 20 to 30 minutes a day is beneficial.

While yoga can be practiced every day, she says taking a day off once in a while is healthy, too. She also advocates "restorative practice," which focuses more on relaxation than building strength.

Before taking a class, inquire about the skill level of participants. If a beginner takes an advanced class, she may come away feeling frustrated and not want to continue, Forry says.

The day after their first class, participants may feel sore because their bodies were stretched in new ways, but they also will feel the benefits of spending time in a relaxed state, Forry says.

Nicholas says progress is slow, but steady.

If students take classes two to three times a week, they will see major improvements in their balance and the amount of time they can hold postures, as well as how far they can stretch, says Nicholas, also a registered nurse.

"Once you learn it, it's portable," says Nicholas, who has been practicing and teaching yoga for 14 years.

-- Yoga: classes

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