Martha Michael | Yoga: For Health and Community

In the last few months I’ve found myself breathing in a rhythm with everyone else in the room – several times a week, in fact. It’s because I’m revisiting the practice of yoga, though until recently, I could’ve counted on one hand the number of times I’d been to a yoga class. 

To discuss such a popular activity may seem unnecessary, considering approximately 15 percent of U.S. adults practice yoga. But it’s possible that the other 85 percent are unaware (as I was) that there are benefits beyond the obvious and that the atmosphere is disarming and inclusive. Everyone’s welcome and it’s never too late to try. 

According to a study conducted by the Yoga Alliance a couple of years ago, some of the main reasons people give for not trying yoga are “I feel out of place” or “I don’t know how to get started.”

More than 30 million Americans have figured out “how to get started,” and about three-fourths of them are females.

“It’s awesome that women are finding yoga can provide incredible support as we ride out our hormonal shifts, our cycles, changes, major life events,” said Georgina Lisee, who teaches yoga at both L.A. Fitness locations in Santa Clarita, and Yoga Yoga in Newhall. “For example, our journeys through pregnancy, through menopause, not to mention helping us cope with the stresses and strains of fast-paced living, multi-tasking, balancing careers and family responsibilities, (and) the tendency to strive for perfection.” 

Defined as a meditative movement with a history stemming from ancient India, it is a physical, mental and spiritual discipline that rose in popularity in the late 20th century in the U.S. A few of the main reasons people give for practicing yoga are: to alleviate stress, enhance athleticism and increase strength. All you have to do is see the lithe bodies, beautiful posture and natural glow of yoga practitioners who are in their 60s and 70s to see some of the physical benefits. 

“There are poses that can ease discomfort, energize when we feel low, aid digestion and metabolism, and naturally stimulate feel-good chemicals within the brain,” Lisee said.

That positive effect on the attitude is the part I noticed most recently, while listening to Lisee’s British accent guide us through poses while reminding us how valuable we are.  

“It is my wish to uplift and elevate through teaching, to help lift them out of their stresses and worries and rediscover what makes them tick, what their joy is, their true selves,” Lisee explained. “Self-love and happiness is their birthright and not some kind of extravagance. I love to create a safe and supportive environment in which students can practice, and start to roll with life’s journey rather than feeling overwhelmed or at the mercy of their emotions. It’s an honor to be a part of this process and to get to regularly introduce beginners to yoga.”

The Yoga Alliance study found that practitioners are 20 percent more likely to have a positive self-image compared to the general population. It’s a friendly, non-competitive activity, where you’re encouraged to adhere to your own comfort level. Yet, you can still be challenged (just ask my core). 

“Yoga is inclusive and benefits everyone regardless of gender, age, body type, or background,” said Lisee, who teaches chair yoga to seniors and memory care residents at Oakmont Assisted Living in Valencia. “I love how it brings people together.”

Amanda Crockett Kimble of Villa Vibes Yoga agrees the practice unites people. 

“It provides camaraderie and a community, which is also a reason women are drawn to it,” she said.

In addition to a home studio in Santa Clarita, Kimble’s specialty is yoga pop-ups and events, including a class at Brewery Draconum in Newhall on the second and fourth Sunday of the month. 

“It’s a wonderful way to meet people,” she said. “We stay afterwards and everybody gets to know each other really well.”   

I thought of Kimble when I saw data that says yoga teachers are twice as likely to donate time to the community. To contribute to the comfort of our homeless population, she’s hosting a first-time fundraising event called Bridge to Om, which will fulfill one of the yoga instructor’s dreams – to hold one big yoga class on a football field. All of the proceeds will go to Santa Clarita nonprofit Bridge to Home. 

Kimble was inspired by a similar function on the Tennessee Titans’ and Detroit Lions’ fields, so she approached Chuck Lyon, athletic director at College of the Canyons, who supported the idea.

People of any level of ability can register to participate in the one-hour yoga class on Saturday, March 2. Doors will open at 8:30 a.m. and the class will be held from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. The cost is $30 for adults and $15 for college students and youth age 10-17. A team of any size can register for $100 total.

Pre-registration is strongly urged and is available on the Bridge to Home website:
BTO.org/om.

It’s very appropriate to use a healthy practice like yoga as a fundraiser that contributes to the health of the homeless. And knowing there are countless opportunities for any of us in the community to reap the benefits of yoga makes me breathe a little easier.

Martha Michael is a contributing writer for The Signal. 

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