In the wake of the COVID pandemic, most of us could use a reset when it comes to wellness and mental health. Since we don’t come equipped with a do-over button, it might be wise to try something that has kept people balanced for centuries—yoga.
If you’ve never tried yoga or if, like me, you lean toward the clumsy side, the idea of starting this ancient practice can be intimidating. Andrea Kirkham, owner of the Sangha Center Yoga in Beaver, understands this hesitation. “The hardest part of yoga is walking through the door the first time,” she said.
It’s not unusual to think that everyone else in the class will be fit and perfectly balanced, but she says that’s not the case. “I like to tell everybody that yoga is for every body—it just depends on which class you come to,” Kirkham explained. “For a person that’s not very bendy or is somewhat uncoordinated, the best place to start is with a beginner class.
“We don’t move really fast or do anything intense, but we do move your body,” she continued. “It doesn’t have to be intense; it’s more about the attention you’re giving yourself.”
Leta Koontz of Schoolhouse Yoga agreed. “No matter your condition, your age or your gender, there’s a style of yoga that can benefit you physically and mentally,” she said.
Even a seasoned instructor like Kirkham experiences challenges now and then. “I don’t balance well on one foot,” she confessed. “Some poses don’t work for my body; I’m just not built that way.”
With thousands of types of yoga available, figuring out the best fit may seem challenging. “I almost always suggest starting with a beginner class,” says Kirkham, adding that from there, options can be based on a person’s fitness level, injuries, limitations and how they define fit.
“For example, for older people or those with arthritis, gentle yoga classes are recommended,” said Koontz.
Some of the more common types of yoga include traditional Hatha Yoga, which is the physical practice of yoga. This works well for beginner or advanced classes. Yin yoga focuses on long-hold stretches. Vigorous Vinyasas yoga combines a series of flowing movements with rhythmic breathing for an intense body-mind workout. Ashtanga involves a precise set of movements which are the same in every class. Power yoga takes a vigorous, fitness-based approach to vinyasa-style yoga, featuring a lots of vinyasas along with the athleticism of Ashtanga.
No matter what type of yoga you choose, it can have numerous benefits.
“By working on left and right brain coordination with our bodies, yoga aids in improving balance,” said Koontz. “Breathing helps influence our minds to remove negative emotions.”
“Yoga does burn calories like any movement,” explained Koontz, “but rather than trying to burn off calories, which seems punitive, yoga focuses on the positive. Taking care of your body and paying attention to how it feels leads to healthier choices.”
Staying Connected during COVID
Sangha Center Yoga celebrated its 11-year anniversary in April—a milestone Kirkham embraced after a tough year of COVID restrictions. “When we shut down for three months last spring, I was terrified. I had just signed a new lease on a larger space—a storefront on 3rd Street in Beaver—and then boom!"
Both Sangha Center Yoga and Schoolhouse Yoga moved to virtual video platforms while closed. Now both studios offer limited in-person classes while also offering the virtual platform. “If a class sells out, I’ll livestream the class as well,” said Kirkham.
Schoolhouse Yoga moved to an online platform for about 10 months. “We’re now doing three classes at our North Hills’ location,” said Koontz.
Both studios continue to practice social distancing and mask wearing, but with more people getting vaccinated, hope is on the horizon. Still, Kirkham said that practicing yoga has helped with navigating the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“Yoga teaches that you can’t be reactive right away, you have to look at the long term,” she explained.
That’s a lesson we all need to remember.