New Year's Day is behind us, and many resolutions to lose weight or get more exercise have gone by the wayside. People who have been inactive for a long time may find it especially difficult to get moving, but it still can be done by starting small and working up to higher levels.
One way to regain strength and flexibility, without the soreness and sweat, is yoga.
Every style of yoga emphasizes bodily alignment, balance, breathing and meditation to become more conscious of one's body.
PHOTO BY MARYANN KROMER
Chuck Burmeister demonstrates a pose to improve balance.
Chair yoga is a good place to start for those with excess weight issues or other physical limitations. The instructor guides students through basic movements and positions done from a seated position or standing and using a chair for support.
In regular beginner classes, participants learn some of the basic terminology and do stretches and bending while standing, kneeling, sitting on the floor or lying down.
Most of the poses and motions can be adapted for those who are less flexible. Instructors try to correct individuals' errors and encourage the class members to ease up if pain occurs.
Beginner classes prepare students for more strenuous yoga at higher skill levels.
Many yoga books, videos and DVDs are available. Tiffin-Seneca Public Library has a collection by various teachers. There is no cost to borrow them, and they offer a way to try yoga in the privacy of one's home and learn some of the terminology.
An instructor can help a person to do the moves and postures correctly to avoid injuries and give the person a good foundation on which to learn more difficult elements.
Yoga classes are offered in several locations in the Tiffin area: Tiffin YMCA (419) 447-8711; Body Works (419) 447-0775; St. Francis Spirituality Center (419) 443-1485; Dance Unlimited (419) 447-5015; and Integrated Orthopedic & Sports Rehabilitation (419) 447-0760.
Some of the instructors offered comments about the programs they teach and the benefits of yoga.
For about two years, the YMCA has been offering yoga classes with Chuck Burmeister. Although some people are surprised to have a male instructor, Burmeister said all the "big names" in yoga are males.
At the Columbus studio where he was trained, only four out of 25 participants were men. Females tend to dominate the local classes, as well, but Burmeister said he usually has at least one man in each beginner class.
Burmeister said he likes to move around and work with students to make sure they learn the correct breathing and positions or adaptations that will be helpful to them. Sometimes, he pairs students to help one another with straps as they learn basic poses or "asanas," such as the downward dog, plank, table and the warrior poses.
In addition to teaching classes, Burmeister said he does between 90 minutes and two hours of yoga each morning, six days a week.
His first attempt at yoga was to find relief from multiple sclerosis. Typically, MS is treated with chemotherapy to control the number of white blood cells. The leukocytes attack the sheaths of the patient's nerve fibers, causing them to become inflamed.
Steroids can reduce the inflammation, but they do have side effects.
For Burmeister, the chemo sickened him, and the flare ups still kept coming one after the other.
"I bet I had steroids six times in two years," he said. "Whenever you get sick like that, you read everything, and yoga's one of the things they say can help. I started five minutes a day. I remember I went down the basement to do it. ... I came upstairs after that five minutes. I made it to the top of the steps and I just sat there. I was so fatigued, so exhausted. But I just kept doing it."
That first videotape and significant improvement in his condition motivated Burmeister to continue.
His balance improved, his depression lifted, and many of the physical symptoms
such as dropped leg and "electric shock" sensations disappeared.
He realized how much yoga was helping him when he stopped doing it during a week-long vacation.
"By the end of that week, my leg was dropping, the electric shock was back," he said.
After resuming his yoga for two days, those symptoms stopped again.
Burmeister also experiences a "high" for about two hours after his yoga practice. Balance issues still pop up, but they are "few and far between."
He said he likes to take a class from every local instructor to observe their style of teaching and learn something from each one. He does not worry about his students trying other instructors, class venues or times.
"I don't let any of that bother me. I'm doing my thing," Burmeister said. "The type of yoga I teach is called Hatha yoga. That's a mild form of yoga, so we're not sweating in this class. It's not a fitness program. I look at it as more of a therapeutic yoga."
Yoga emphasizes a "neutral" spine with head over heart, heart over hips, hips over knees, knees over heels. When everything is lined up, the bones can support the body properly. That basic concept is introduced early on.
Burmeister said when he took training to teach yoga, his instructor checked everyone's alignment the first day of class.
Children have a neutral spine until about age 4, but it changes after that.
"I always tell my students we're going to counter the three Cs: the car, the couch and the computer, because that's where we're always at," Burmeister said. "When you slump over, and you've got a lot of sway going on, the muscles are holding you up (rather than bones)."
Burmeister has just started a free MS yoga class. It meets the second Saturday of the month at Community Hospice Care with a limit of 12 students.
MS can cause loss of balance, fatigue, poor coordination and sometimes partial or complete paralysis. MS yoga can help alleviate these symptoms and depression with emphasis on gentle joint movement and breath control.
To prepare for the MS class, Burmeister assisted a teacher in Columbus for 10 weeks during his 200-hour teacher training. This past summer, he also co-taught for six weeks with the same instructor. He provides props for the class and modifies or skips poses as needed.
Participants work to achieve a neutral spine when sitting or standing.
Burmeister said proper posture helped him to experience less fatigue by letting his bones support more of his weight.
In his studies, he learned Americans' posture deteriorated in the early 20th century when more jobs started to be done from a seated position. Crossing one leg over the other while sitting reduces blood circulation in the lower legs.
At the end of each class, Burmeister guides his students through a relaxation exercise called savasana. For beginners, he does a progressive relaxation in which participants tense and release various muscles to feel the contrast. He does less talking for more advanced students. Breathing exercises also are incorporated into every class.
After beginners have done a few introductory sessions, he adds a "three-part breath" and guides participants to let the abdomen expand and fill with air. Burmeister said this deep breathing technique has been shown to improve the recovery of heart attack patients.
"So many people chest-breathe. Whenever you're sitting like this, your ribs are pushing into your abdomen, which is putting pressure on your diaphragm, so it can't work," Burmeister said. "The breathing is more important than the pose. The pose opens the body up so you can breathe, but the breathing is actually more important."
Burmeister also offers "Gentle Slow Yoga" for inactive seniors, people suffering with injuries or recovering from them, people with excess weight or conditions that limit mobility. Most of the exercises are done in chairs or next to the wall.
The focus is gentle joint movement, breath control and modifications for each participant. The class is designed to increase body awareness, strength, flexibility, breathing efficiency and circulation and to provide stress management, coordination, balance and better posture.
Burmeister's classes do not touch on spirituality, and he does not ask students to do the "ohms" in which they hum audibly. The concept behind that technique is for the group to work in unison and create energy.
"Seventy percent of the body is water, and whenever you get a whole class that does that ohm, that vibration, that energy, it's like healing, almost," Burmeister said.
Also certified in Reiki Level 1 and aromatherapy, Burmeister said he takes delight in his students' progress. He is in the process of completing his 500-hour teacher training in Columbus.
Burmeister considers yoga a life-saving activity he wants to keep doing as long as
possible, in spite of recent news stories about "the dangers of yoga."
"You can't be a beginner and do advanced moves. You can't do inversions unless you have the shoulder strength, and the arms and the back strength that you've built yourself up for."
Erin Kisabeth is an Ohio native who recently moved back to her home state after two years residing in Boston. Certified in Kripalu yoga by the Kripalu School of Yoga in Stockbridge, she is teaching at Integrated Orthopedic & Sports Rehabilitation, 47 Miami St., Tiffin.
"I have been teaching for almost two years, but I have been practicing for almost eight years," Kisabeth said. "I now rely on yoga as a way to maintain my physical, mental, and spiritual health. It has become more of a lifestyle than an exercise."
As a high school and college track and field athlete, Kisabeth had suffered numerous injuries, as well as competition anxiety. She said yoga allowed her to heal and restore her body.
A form of Hatha yoga, Kripalu adds the elements of creativity, gratitude and self-love. At the clinic, Kisabeth teaches chair yoga, beginners with no experience, intermediate level, and an advanced class with more challenging postures and a faster pace.
Kisabeth also offers "Candle Light Yoga" Wednesday evenings. Participants do slow-flowing stretches in supine, seated and kneeling positions with guided relaxation and silent meditation to conclude the class.
She hopes to start a class for teens with beginning and intermediate skills, using background music by popular artists.
"I currently have 60 clients in Tiffin. I do not advertise much. I rely mostly on Facebook, word of mouth and client referrals. I have a very diverse, fun, and supportive group of clients," Kisabeth said.
Her suggestion is to start at whatever level seems most comfortable.
One possible track would be candlelight class, followed by beginners and intermediate instruction.
For weight loss, intermediate yoga, with its faster pace, would be most effective.
"I focus on muscle building and stretching to elongate the muscles. ... The more you move, the more you lose," Kisabeth said. "I strive to practice and teach others to acknowledge and love the body's ever-changing skill level. I enjoy blending breathing techniques and meditation with gentle, moderate, or vigorous posture sequences to strengthen the body, quiet the mind, and lift the spirit. My intention as a yoga instructor is to assist in creating healthy and low-stress lifestyles for my fellow students."
Sister Paulette Schroeder
The first person to offer yoga classes in Tiffin, Sister Paulette Schroeder finds yoga valuable as a holistic discipline that affects body, mind and spirit. Faithful practice of yoga can affect one's attitudes, moods and even eating habits.
Schroeder is convinced just making more oxygen available to the organs can improve one's mental concentration, endurance and mood. Saturday, she is offering a day-long yoga retreat that is is to focus on 10 kinds of breaths that can open the muscles.
"Therefore, we can breathe easier, because all those muscles are connected. There are postures to encourage that," Schroeder said.
She marvels at the "magnificence" of every organ in the body. As an example, she uses the lungs, which have enough oxygen-collecting surface area to cover a tennis court. If they are operating properly at full potential, a person feels much better.
"All 650 muscles are coming into play if my full lungs are operating. Therefore, we have more energy for life," Schroeder said.
For her, yoga is a way to let go of "heavy things" in one's life. It helps a person to become aware of his needs and to find ways to fill them. Yoga can promote emotional healing, especially for those with depression.
Schroeder said "channels" tend to collapse when depression sets in. Realizing a better
sense of self helps to improve relationships, as well.
"I'll never forget the woman who said she was going through a terrible divorce. She was feeling so guilty, so much like it was her fault. ... This (yoga) began to balance her whole being so that she began to look at things more objectively and realize it was a two-way street," she said.
Schroeder said Hatha yoga is considered the "umbrella" form of yoga. The style she teaches is Iyengar yoga, which emphasizes proper alignment.
She teaches yoga once a week for Bridges Academy students. One boy who started out with rowdy attention-getting behavior has been transformed, she said.
"Now, he attracts attention because he's good at it. He's pleased with himself, so he tries hard," Schroeder said.
She also teaches yoga for women at CROSSWAEH correctional facility. As they are learning to consider the consequences of their actions and make better decisions, yoga encourages them to believe "I am worthy," she said.
"They just love it. It makes them, too, gain those self-confidence skills and think of themselves differently because they've made a mess of their lives, and they don't want to be thinking of the mess they made," Schroeder said. "People all the time tell me they just feel better about themselves. They walk differently, with more dignity. They have confidence in their own ability. They take risks speaking up and standing up, in their office, their relationships or whatever."