Yoga fosters personal health, growth

The perpetually shifting face of the health and fitness movement has seen many fads come and go.

From Tae-bo to personal shock stimulus, a new fitness trend seems to crop up each year, promising revolutionary health benefits, increased self-esteem and “toned, firm abs.” For many, a brief fling with the newest in fitness fashion lasts about as long as the latest installment of New Year’s resolutions.

But for those looking to sustain the benefits of fruitful exercise and incorporate a system of healthy attitudes on a daily basis, the answer may lie in an age-old fitness practice: yoga.

The 5,000-year-old art of yoga is an inclusive fitness program, seeking to unify the mind, spirit and body within the individual. By utilizing stretching, breathing and meditation exercises, yogis can experience a wide variety of physical benefits while also stimulating their spiritual and mental growth.

“Yoga is beneficial to the student in so many ways,” PSU instructor Holiday Johnson said. “Physically, yoga fosters strength, balance and flexibility, but it’s also a tremendous source of mental rejuvenation.”

Yoga’s stretches remove tension in the body’s muscles, joints and bones. The various yoga postures, or asanas, serve to both strengthen and tone muscle groups. Taken together, these exercises increase flexibility and body awareness while building strength and improving coordination.

Mental growth is encouraged during meditation. Put simply, this is time allotted for self-examination, recollection or restorative solitude, and works in concert with the physical exercises of yoga to enhance the relationship between mind and body.

The third pillar of yoga is the strengthening of the spirit. This is accomplished through observance of the restraints, or yamas, and the self-restraints, or niyamas. The yamas pertain to the yogi’s interactions with others and emphasize honesty, non-violent behavior and respect for others. The niyamas concern the guidelines by which a yogi should live his daily life and are grounded in principles of moderation, cleanliness, scholarship and contentment.

For all of the reasons listed above, yoga is experiencing a surge in both popular and medical fitness circles. Yoga therapy is now prevalent in hospital stress management programs, corporate wellness programs, assisted care facilities and rehabilitation centers.

It’s being used to treat heart disease, infertility, depression and obesity.

Yoga has even been recognized as a complementary treatment for Type II diabetes, for its propensity to reduce stress, and, in turn, glucose levels in the blood.

The healthy implications for the typical college student, stressed with deadlines and often sleep-deprived, can be great.

“There are literally hundreds and hundreds of places on campus for students to put their feet up and within minutes enter what I call a ‘deep-dive’ state,” Johnson said, referring to a brief period of meditation. “Students should take a small break at least every hour that they spend in study, and take some time to refresh their system.”

Portland State University’s health department offers numerous classes, across all levels of experience, each semester for students who would like to give yoga a try.

“It’s given me a different approach on things,” senior Camille Beers said of her experience with yoga. “I feel that I’m now more aware of myself and my surroundings when I’m forced to approach a situation. It definitely helps me re-center.”

Instruction in yoga is easily accessible off-campus as well, with facilities such as One With Heart Health Center and Julie Lawrence Yoga Center offering a variety of classes.

A great benefit of the art of yoga, however, is the ability to perform it wherever one feels comfortable.

“I encourage my students to practice yoga at home, on campus, really anytime they feel it’s necessary and they feel comfortable doing it,” Johnson said. “This is a practice to be used for a lifetime.”