Hitting the streets of Ann Arbor after Winter Break is seldom an easy adjustment, especially considering the chilly, gloomy weather students often suffer through. The unwarranted stress many students feel at the start of a new semester is never welcomed and finding time to relax can also be challenging. Fortunately, yoga classes may offer just the remedy to kick off stress and get back into shape after the long holiday season.

Paul Wong

Yoga provides a myriad of benefits to its practitioners. One of its greatest advantages is that it does not require expensive equipment or gear as do some other forms of exercise.

Athletic ability and experience are also unnecessary prerequisites in order to practice the various yoga methods.

Different breathing exercises can be done at anytime, whether it be waiting at the post office, making a bed or even sitting in lecture.

When the first signs of stress emerge, certain breathing techniques can help convert a migraine into a calm, relaxed state of mind. Practicing just two or three yoga poses a day can help sooth tense muscles.

A recent study conducted by researchers at www.triad.com lists yoga as a cure-all for overcoming sleeping disorders. Yoga’s holistic body exercises may even help those with allergies, high blood pressure and back pains. A 1998 study by Swami Saraswati, director and founder of the Bihar School of Yoga, also found that when in a state of relaxation, the level of systolic and diastolic blood pressure will significantly decrease in the body. The amount of adrenaline and cortisal, two stress hormones secreted by the adrenal glands, will also decrease dramatically.

The CCRB’s U-Move program offers seven different yoga classes and a few Pilates courses for those looking to free the body and mind. The assortment of winter classes are instructed at beginner and advanced levels so that anyone can partake in this soul-searching, body-freeing exercise.

Yoga Hour, by far the most popular class offered, follows the Iyengar method – a specific type of hatha yoga. This method is based on a philosophy of meditation that is detail-oriented, even though the person is physically still. Iyengar yoga focuses on the body’s alignment while doing asanas. In other words, practitioners use props such as belts or blocks for body support to help keep the body in proper alignment.

Instructor Stephanie Bentley, who has been teaching the classes since September, said, “Whereas running and other sports may be hard on the joints, yoga is light on the body. This is a healthy form of exercise because it helps those who practice it work the mind and body simultaneously.”

Many of her students view yoga as an opportunity to relieve the daily stress caused by classes, school work and other body-numbing activities. Meditation can calm the mind with its relaxing effects and may offer the perfect mental getaway whenever needed.

Cathy Huang, a Public Health student, said yoga provides a multitude of benefits.

“It helps with body circulation, especially after a long day of sitting in classes. Yoga is also a great way to improve posture, balance and flexibility,” Huang said.

University research scientist Nathan Bos practicess yoga to alleviate lower back pain. “It really helps to move your muscles around. My friends and I do it mainly to relieve bodily tensions. Many people don’t consider yoga to be very aerobic, but you can still get a good work-out.”

In this sense, motivation is key to achieving the maximum benefits of yoga. The more effort one is willing to put into the exercises, the more of a workout the practitioner will get.

The Central Campus Recreation Building also offers Yoga I for those who seek a more challenging level of exercise. Precise Iyengar style is practiced in this class and helps improve strength, flexibility, stamina and balance. For the most experienced yoga students, one class of Yoga II is available to help develop all five groups of posture standing poses, back bends, forwards bends, twists and inversions. Classes range in price from $75 to $112 and cover the full ten-week course.

Located downtown in the Town Center Plaza, the Ann Arbor School of Yoga also offers a variety of classes at different levels.

Director Laurie Blakeney teaches the Iyengar tradition of Patanajala Yoga, which focuses equally on flexibility, strength, stamina and balance with a strong emphasis on correct alignment.

The Pranayama class, open to those at the intermediate levels, concentrates on meditative breathing and breathing control. Ann Arbor resident Sharon Dieterich said she finds solace and comfort in this yoga class.

“The biggest benefit that I’ve experienced from yoga is an improved awareness of my body parts,” Dieterich said. “It also helped to better my stamina, muscle strength and flexibility,” she added.

Judith Cauhorn, another of Blakeney’s students, finds mental rewards in the yoga experience. “I think a lot of people forget that it is important to let go of yourself sometimes, and yoga provides such an outlet. Yoga works best when you are comfortable in your own skin. With time, you will better understand your body and its limits.”

Those who wish to take yoga at a slower pace may join the Gentle Yoga class where poses are taught with several modifications. The Ann Arbor School of Yoga welcomes its students to their programs during the scheduled hours. Students can either pay a $3 drop-in fee or purchase a $30 practice card that allow up to 15 visits. The winter session lasts ten weeks.

Bodies in Balance, located at 211 E. Ann St., also provides a variety of yoga classes for a total of eight weeks. Students can purchase a membership for $46 or may pay $6 for each individual session.

Though it can be difficult to put aside that overflowing stack of books on your desk, it is equally important to listen to your body’s needs. Most yoga classes last only an hour, and the benefits of breathing exercises and meditation will probably supercede those of watching television or taking a nap. So when that painful migraine or aching back start up again, remember the power of yoga and its ability to relieve stress.

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