by Kate Evans
As inclement winter weather moves closer, outdoor activities can become more difficult. Freezing temperatures also bring risks of falling, making indoor exercise suddenly more appealing.
Yoga is one form of exercise that strengthens both the mind and body and offers a host of benefits for its practitioners.
Yoga doesn’t take up too much room, and can be practiced indoors without any special equipment.
Multiple teachers have taught yoga in the area over the years. Two of the most active local yoga instructors that are currently teaching public classes are Laura Falcon and Hiroko Rubin.
Falcon said she has been teaching yoga for around 12 years and has taught yoga in Berkeley Springs for six of those. Falcon currently teaches on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings at the Ice House movement studio.
Hiroko Rubin teaches yoga at the Ice House on Mondays and Saturdays. Rubin also teaches yoga in Hancock on Saturday mornings on the second floor of the building that houses River Bend Family Medicine. She sometimes holds classes outdoors in the warmer months.
Falcon said she has always been interested in exercise. She ran track and played soccer in high school and also played football and basketball and rode bikes in her neighborhood.
“I always enjoyed moving and being active in sports,” she said.
When Falcon started exploring yoga on her own around 20 years ago, she said her body became more balanced and more aligned. Falcon especially liked that yoga’s effects combine the body and the mind. Falcon could see and feel yoga’s benefits and wanted to share those benefits with others.
Falcon took the 200-hour YogaFit certification to become a certified yoga teacher. She is trained in Vinyasa yoga, where you move with the breaths and the inhalation and exhalation breaths guide the movement.
Falcon has taught children, adults and seniors. Falcon’s oldest student in her Ice House classes is 86 years old and comes every week.
Falcon just finished her third fall 10-week “Mindful Movement” series with Paw Paw Schools students, which includes positive affirmations, using breath with movement and ending with meditation. Kids learn to quiet and destress their minds, Falcon said. Meditation can promote a positive outlook by releasing stress.
The benefits of yoga are numerous. Yoga helps the lungs with its breathing and coordinates the body-mind connection.
“Being focused in the present moment is one of the most powerful things yoga can offer,” Falcon said.
Yoga also helps the cardiovascular system, she said. It gets the heart rate up, enhances energy and endurance, stimulates blood flow and increases oxygen in the body from the deep breathing and positive movement.
Balance and coordination are other huge benefits.
Falcon said she does a lot of balancing poses in class. Yoga creates a stronger body where you’re much less likely to fall, Falcon noted.
Other big benefits are weight management, alignment and flexibility. You strengthen one part of the body and stretch the other part, she said. With yoga you find ways to correct different body imbalances that you notice. You grow in awareness of alignment. There is less stress on your joints when the body is in alignment.
Falcon said that during yoga, the body releases endorphins and serotonin (feel-good hormones) that reduce the perception of pain in the body and that also helps to decrease inflammation. Yoga creates an overall feeling of well-being and decreases daily stress.
Students, modified poses
vFalcon’s yoga classes include a lot of retirees as students as well as some students in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
Falcon noted that her classes offer modifying yoga poses. People have different levels of what they can do, she said. They can try a modified version of a pose or may skip some poses completely. She teaches students how to move to avoid any strain.
Falcon’s classes use numerous yoga poses. The Mountain Pose is a standing pose where you align your feet and body, push to earth to greater stability and stand tall, she said.
Another pose they do is the Downward-Facing Dog, which places both the hands and feet on the earth to find balance in the body. The pose strengthens the arms, shoulders, hands and feet and decompresses the spine, which gives the nervous system more space to flow and helps the spinal discs to not be squeezed and compressed, Falcon said.
The Tree Pose is one of the yoga balance poses where you balance on one leg at a time. Your weight bears on one side of the body and then the other. Falcon said that it’s been scientifically proven that the weight-bearing yoga poses create more density and strength in your bones.
Yoga classes always end with the final relaxation pose or meditation pose to calm the mind and thinking. They relax the entire body at the end, going through the body from head to toe. Breathing is major
in the practice of yoga and decreases stress both on the physical and the mental level, Falcon said.
Reasons for taking yoga
People come to yoga classes for a variety of reasons. Students have talked about balance, expressing concerns about falls and wanting to strengthen their bones and muscles. As people age, their flexibility diminishes and they have a lot of stiffness which yoga can help. People like the positive mental effects of yoga.
In her classes, Falcon talks of learning about your thoughts, being grateful and thinking positive. If you’ re thinking stressful thoughts, you’re releasing stress hormones. If you think positive, your body releases feel-good hormones like serotonin and endorphins, she said.
Falcon likes to keep the lights low during class to keep people calm and relaxed. She said mirrors in the movement space she uses really help people with their alignment.
Taking classes offers socialization and camaraderie and decreases isolation and loneliness. Her students are moving in sync and doing something healthy with other folks and sharing that experience, she said.