“It’s good to make observations and understand your body,” said Jennifer Basch, director at St. Francis Health and Recreation.
Hosting a noon yoga class every Wednesday, Basch said that listening to your body and being aware is key. This includes controlling your breathing habits.
“Much of our day is spent breathing shallow because we have a busy lifestyle and we don’t stop to take a deep breath or think about how important our breath is,” said Basch.
Since breathing plays a critical role in the nervous system functioning properly, taking deep breaths will help detoxify and cleanse the body, while also calming and relaxing you, said Basch.
Through yoga, the human body is put in positions it wouldn’t normally be in throughout a typical day, as people spend the majority of their day sitting, putting tension on their shoulder and neck muscles.
During yoga, deep breathing techniques are done lying down with the head and upper back supported. Lying down poses also allow a person to relax and go within themselves, said Basch.
Environment plays a large role in human relaxation. Work and hectic home lives leave little room to relax in a calm, quiet place, while yoga encourages dim lighting and soft music.
“It helps cue the body and mind to slow down. It’s helpful to have a nurturing environment,” said Basch.
The hardest part about relaxing tends to be to forget about the stress everyone carries in their daily life.
“When you breathe into the poses you release tension, which helps to calm the body and the mind, while at the same time a pose will strengthen and tone certain muscles when held for an extended period of time,” said Basch.
While a class may focus on relaxation and breathing techniques, balance also plays a key role, which Basch said is most important as you age and it can become a safety issue.
“Many poses challenge your balance and you need to focus to find your balance and equilibrium,” said Basch.
Lying flat on the back and twisting the lower body is another common practice in yoga, as this process squeezes the internal organs and serves as a good detox method, which is why drinking water after each session is so important.
“I would encourage anyone with interest to try it. Our bodies need exercise and yoga does that, and for others it’s a personal experience of relaxation, stress relief and sometimes spiritual. One never knows unless they try,” said Basch.
Every class tries to meet an individual’s needs, whether it be for their mind, body or their spirit. Deep breathing and the not-so-ordinary positions cater to the mind and body, while spiritual needs are met through relaxing. Being in tune with your body, and group chanting serves as a way to send positive energy outwards.
“I love yoga. My practice and the opportunity to teach have changed my life. To me, yoga is a way of life and it challenges me to be a better, more authentic person,” said Basch.
However, if a person is looking to relax without getting too physical, meditation may be just what the doctor ordered.
“It’s a practice. It’s not going to come easy,” said instructor Sister Kay Rundquist.
Again, environment plays a key role in the art of relaxation and is a necessity to meditation.
“You want to have your own personal space,” said Sister Kay. “Make it simple so it’s just the space you’re going to sit on and not have extra things around you.”
During Sister Kay’s class, students sit in a circle and remove their shoes, jackets and any bags or purses from the circle to make sure there is as little clutter as possible.
When meditating in a group, everyones energy comes together and can be overpowering at times, said Sister Kay.
According to Healthandyoga.com, meditation carries a variety of health benefits aside from pure relaxation. Some benefits include lowering high blood pressure, decreasing muscle tension, boosting self-confidence and enhancing the immune system.
“You can let go of things you didn’t even know you were hanging on to,” said Sister Kay.
Much like yoga, breathing techniques allow the student to focus and let go of any negative energy. To calm the body down from a busy day, physically and emotionally, following the rhythm of breaths will slow the body down and allow the mind to focus.
Breathing allows a person to become more aware of their body and even identify places where they are holding stress or pain that they weren’t aware of before, Sister Kay said.
At the end of each session, a soft bell is rung to bring awareness back to the body and slowly bring the mind back from its meditative state. Since the heart is the center of the body, it is the last to come back from the relaxation exercise. Sister Kay said that by putting both hands over the heart and slowly moving them down to the knees that everything negative is being returned to the earth.
“You’re bringing things down to the earth so you can be yourself again,” said Sister Kay.