Yoga isn’t a certified craze in the United States now, it’s darn close. According to a survey conducted last year by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal, the number of Americans practicing yoga has grown from 20.4 million in 2012 to more than 36 million as of 2016. One in three Americans has tried it, and more than a third said they were very likely to in the coming year. And yoga’s not just for women. While 70 percent of yogi devotees are female, the number of American men rolling out the yoga mat has doubled, rising from four million in 2012 to 10 million as of 2016. More than 14 million Americans over 50 now do yoga, proving it’s not just for limber 20-year-olds, either.
Not bad for a 5,000-year-old Hindu discipline from India that, as Rachel Wilson owner of Om My Yoga in Camp Hill describes, “is a really a holistic way of viewing the mind, body and spirit. Yoga means ‘to yolk’ or to unify. I often view therapeutic yoga as ‘whole-being healing,’ directed at realigning imbalances and restoring health and wellbeing to all systems. Many people come to the yoga mat because they have heard it will make them more flexible or stronger. And it will. But given time, some practice and some patience, it will do much more. Yoga is a gift to your deepest self. A healing balm for all of your many layers.”
Here in Greater Harrisburg, there are over a dozen studios to choose from, and that doesn’t include fitness centers in the region that offer classes in the practice. Different forms of yoga abound, all of which will usually include breathing exercises and simple meditation in addition to a system of specific physical postures.
“I often tell people that if you think you don’t like yoga, you likely have just not found the style that is right for you,” says Wilson, who began teaching the discipline in 2003. “Some people use ‘power yoga’ classes to come to a place of concentration and to clear the mind. On the other end of the spectrum, there are therapeutic or ‘restorative yoga’ practices that can be done by anyone, even to heal from disease or injury. Hatha yoga is the general name for a physical yoga practice that seeks to restore balance and ease to posture. This is a good starting point. Vinyasa is a flowing style where the breath often leads the movement, helping to settle the mind into the psychological flow state and bring strength and flexibility to the body. There are many other types of yoga. They all draw back on the same roots.”
The benefits of regular yoga practice are many. Studies have found that yoga can improve not only flexibility and balance, but also cardiovascular fitness. It can even reduce stress, anxiety and pain.
According to Wilson, participants may begin to sleep more soundly or find their blood pressure lowered. In time, physical transformation will lead to mental shifts, with emotional equanimity and the ability to be present and in the moment, rather than caught up in the mind.
Tina Stroh, proprietor of Just Plain Yoga in Camp Hill and a yoga teacher for two decades, believes that the practice is experiencing a boom in the United States not only for its more obvious and researched rewards.
“I think yoga has offered an option to the mechanical workout model,” she notes. “It is more holistic. I also think a yoga studio is a community, and people are craving more interaction with like-minded individuals. It’s socially healing as well as physically and mentally rejuvenating.”
For newbies interested in exploring the world of yoga, Stroh offers classes, private instruction, workshops and community events. Among the most popular is Just Plain Yoga’s “free” Sunday community class; donations from it help fund classes for students unable to pay full cost.
Om My Yoga features classes for all levels seven days a week, including introductory classes, though Wilson says she’s structured her studio so beginners can walk into any class and feel comfortable learning alongside more experienced students.
The best advice Stroh can give anyone – young or old, male or female, in shape or not – who wants to explore the world of yoga is “Jump in! If you don’t like the first class, try another. There is a style and a teacher for everyone. And if you simply don’t like it, no problem, at least you tried something new.”
For more information about Om My Yoga, visit ommyyoga.com. For more information about Just Plain Yoga, visit justplainyoga.com.