{Below is an article written by Sarah Sowards which was published June 11, 2021 on the Club Fit website. Original article can be read here.

While primary research is not a bad place to gather advice and knowledge, sometimes hearing the same thing from someone else’s experience makes the data more believable. This can be the case for anything, and I could list examples, but for now we will settle for examining the evidence for my previous article: yoga and mental health. Recently I have been privileged to speak with several of our yoga instructors and members to discuss their experiences practicing yoga throughout the years. While each individual’s involvement has of course led to different outcomes, there did seem to be a central theme in everyone’s experience: yoga seemed to help improve people’s well-being and decrease their levels of stress, even if only for an hour (which, let’s be honest, these days even five minutes of feeling de-stressed is a blessing!). Through discussions with three instructors and three members, I feel confident in the conclusion of the previous article: participation in yoga can be helpful for decreasing stress and helping to improve one’s mental health.

Passionate about yoga even before becoming an instructor, Carl Vreeland spoke at length with me about how yoga has helped “save” him in a sense. Not one to shy away from an honest discussion about his life journey, Carl shared with me his personal struggle with mental health and how yoga served as a means to connect his mind and body. After, a sense of spirituality set in for Carl and he felt he was finally able to connect with his inner self and others in the world. He also began to feel a sense of something greater than himself, which offered a comforting feeling of calmness that eventually allowed him to understand, accept, and make peace with the hardships in his life. Now, Carl finds passion in his music and through instructing others through his Vinyasa and gentle yoga classes. If you’re up for a bit of a challenge and up on time, I would highly recommend Carl’s Thursday morning Vinyasa class!

Denise Weber has filled multiple roles for Club Fit over the years. Starting as a prenatal exercise specialist, Denise began incorporating yoga into her work and soon discovered how many needs of pregnant women yoga can fulfill. “I’m the sum of all my parts,” she declared as she explained how yoga helped not only her clients through their pregnancies, but how yoga also helped her in her life. For Denise, yoga helped her to be better at adapting and being more flexible. Through breathing, Denise also learned how to let go. “Yoga from start to finish is about release,” she stated as she discussed how she was able to let go of tension, stress, and angst. “It’s like a complete detox.” Through practicing yoga, Denise claims she has seen everything about herself change. Her participation has been “life-changing” as it has opened her up to vulnerability all the while reminding her to take care of herself, inside and out. For anyone needing to say goodbye to a stressful week and wanting a calming start to the next, Denise’s late Sunday morning R & R yoga class is definitely for you!

In a captivating chat with our own Claudia Teicher, I was able to gain some valuable insight into Claudia’s perspective on her yoga practice. For twenty years, Claudia has studied various forms of yoga and has guided many through their own practice. For Claudia, yoga serves as the “path of the self to the self through the self,” a form of inward therapy as she put it. Yoga is not about an outward appearance or shape or form, it’s about learning to meet yourself where you are and graciously accepting it. Drawing on personal experience, Claudia discussed what is known as somatic experiencing, wherein the practice of yoga can sometimes bring on a sudden awareness of deep emotions through physical sensations. The “emotions come up and then they’re gone,” she explained. A final word of hopeful wisdom Claudia left me with surrounded change; “things are always changing, even when they’re still,” she expressed. What a comforting thought for anyone going through a difficult time, no? Any class of Claudia’s is wonderful; I will refrain from mentioning the specific ones I try to attend so I can maybe sneak a spot!

Discussions with members and their experiences with yoga seemed to go along the same lines: stress relief and a sense of calm. One member discussed how she tries to practice yoga five times a week early in the morning. She finds that the practice helps center her for the day, which she appreciates as she has a pretty stressful job. It also helps to stretch her muscles after cardio. A second member explained that yoga helps her to live in the moment. She tries to practice yoga after work as it helps her balance out her day and relieves stress that has built up. She also finds breath work useful. A final member I spoke to recounted how yoga serves as a means of checking in with herself. While she juggles grad school and three jobs, checking in is important, and yoga is her time to focus her energy inward and focus for a moment on herself, not her hectic schedule. For these members, yoga serves as a means to balance and take a few moments to focus on one’s own well-being. Perhaps these benefits will advance your mental health too! (Gentlemen do not be fooled – many men participate in our yoga classes and I am sure they benefit!)

While I hope I have made a valid point to many of you, I am not guaranteeing that you will warrior pose yourself into a sense of nirvana and never have a worry in the world again, but maybe for the moment, you will forget the constant clatter of life and stress of simply existing. Maybe the one hour you are in a yoga class will be the saving grace of your day, the time where you get to think about yourself and only yourself because you are entitled to check in with yourself and making sure you’re okay too. And maybe through consistent practice, you will gain a sense of calmness or acceptance. Maybe you will find an emotional release for ghosts that still haunt you or maybe the critical voice in your head will slowly be drowned out by a voice that is kind to and accepting of you. Maybe, just maybe. But you won’t know if you don’t try!! We’ll see you soon!

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