Yoga for everyone Corewell Health Health Beat

Yoga is a powerful method for improving not only physical, but also mental and emotional well-being. (for Corewell Health Beat)

Many people give up on yoga before ever taking a class, thinking: “I’m not flexible enough,” “I have terrible balance,” or “I’m too big to do this.”

The modified poses and listening-to-your-body approach allow individuals of all ages and abilities to participate in yoga, says Denise Carsen, RYT-500, who teaches virtual yoga classes at Corewell Health and Corewell Health’s Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion.

She has taught students ages 9 to 86 and encourages students to embrace compassionate awareness and learn to listen to what their bodies need.

“Even the most gentle yoga can really promote health,” Carsen said.

The healing benefits can be especially powerful for those facing medical issues that limit mobility.

Someone who has had a hip replacement, for example, can stretch gently with post-operative healing benefits. Carsen has also seen yoga help cancer patients regain range of motion and bone mass.

Choose a style

Beginners should remember that there are a wide variety of yoga styles. Major types include Hatha, Iyengar, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, and Hot Yoga.

An aerobics vinyasa class can get your heart rate up, Carsen said. If you’re looking for a more meditative class, Ashtanga or Hatha styles focus on mindful movement.

If you’re experiencing pain or limitations, power vinyasa or hot yoga probably aren’t right, she said.

Instead, try a practice described as adaptive, gentle, restorative, or therapeutic.

“When trying to decide which of the different types of yoga is best for you, remember that there is no right or wrong, just one that may not be right for you at the moment,” Carsen said.

She suggests contacting a teacher or yoga studio in advance to discuss class formats and accommodations.

Karsen teaches Kripalu yoga, a form of hatha yoga that places equal emphasis on the body, mind, and spirit.

This style of yoga is suitable for beginners and can be practiced by anyone, regardless of weight, age, size or disability, she said.

“It’s a good option for students who want to use adaptive practices, such as people with arthritis, people who are overweight and the elderly,” Carsen said.

This gentle approach allows students to vary positions and practice at their own pace.

“It’s really good for all body types, perfectly healthy and for specific conditions including (multiple sclerosis), stroke and cancer. A number of students can benefit from yoga,” he said.

In some exercise classes, students may feel judged by other students or even the teacher, she said. Yoga embraces a different culture.

“There’s no judgment or competition with yoga,” Carsen said.

Adjust the positions

Many students are physically unable to do certain practices in the classroom. A yoga teacher can suggest modifications.

“We meet them where they are,” Carsen said.

A basic tenet of yoga is ahimsa, or non-harming, he said.

“Yoga is not a place to pass, go beyond your edge, or ignore your body,” she said. “You don’t have to be a model or turn yourself into a pretzel.”

For example, the series of sun salutations contains planks and chaturangas, poses that require heavy weight to be carried through the arms and shoulders. For a modification, students can instead do tabletop or resting child’s pose to add support through the knees and feet.

When the student says: “I can’t touch my toes,” Carsen said, directing attention to what they can do.

In this case, he instructs the student to bend the knees as much as necessary to bring the fingers to the ground. Legs do not have to be straight with a forward bend.

“It doesn’t matter what your forward bend looks like,” he said.

If standing is impossible, you can use a chair to stabilize yourself while sitting or standing. Blocks and straps also offer support in positions.

Enter the mental silence

Yoga is not just about moving and holding poses. Carsen’s classes, like many yoga classes, also include a silence practice dedicated to quieting the mind.

Most of the health benefits of yoga actually come from conscious breathing and relaxation practices performed while sitting or lying still, practices that do not affect movement limitations.

“From the beginning, it was created to focus on healing so that the body, mind and spirit feel their best,” Carsen said.

A clear breathing practice, or pranayama, helps ground people, Carsen said. It involves focusing on the breath in the present moment, as well as oxygenating the body with an energizing effect.

Many yoga classes end with a relaxation practice or savasana to calm the nervous system and integrate the effects of the entire yoga practice.

Grounding in quiet silence has health benefits, she said. Yoga nidra, for example, is a guided practice that is extremely relaxing.

“The main reason they come is to exercise,” he said. “But many return to relax, reduce stress, escape the pressures of a high-stress job, relationship or modern life.”

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