Take one look at Instagram or the oh-so-addicting Groupon app, and it’s no question that yoga and yoga-inspired fitness classes have become extremely popular.
Yoga uses breath control, meditation and physical postures to improve concentration and mindfulness. The ancient practice also helps improve strength, flexibility and balance.
Yin yoga is a slow-paced style of modern yoga with postures that are held for longer periods of time.
Flow, or vinyasa, yoga moves from one pose to the next smoothly and fluidly. Students can expect their heart rate to climb for a cardio workout during these energetic classes.
Restorative yoga classes use blocks, blankets and other props to support the body, so students can experience the benefits of the pose without effort.
A yogi is someone who practices yoga.
Whether you take a class at the neighborhood brewery or join a local studio, the Triangle has a wide variety of options to choose from — ranging from slow-paced stretch to yoga with goats. But if farm animals or folding like a pretzel aren’t exactly your things, have no fear — yoga is for everyone. The tall and the small, the strong and the weak, can all do yoga.
“Everybody comes into yoga from different paths,” said Jennie Wise, owner of WiseMind Yoga, formerly Firefly Hot and Flow Yoga in Cary. “Some people come into yoga because they’ve had an injury, so for them it’s a physical path that leads them to yoga. For me, it was definitely an emotional and mental and spiritual path.”
Wise began yoga after experiencing issues in her corporate career and her personal life. Anxiety, depression and insomnia led her to a counselor who suggested taking yoga classes. Three months into her practice, Wise began taking teacher-training classes which led to where she is today — owning a yoga studio and meeting with clients daily to help them better their lives on and off the mat.
Wise, who earned a master’s degree in health science with a specialty in yoga psychology, uses yoga and meditation to help her clients cope with depression, anxiety and other behavioral issues.
“There are many scientific studies that have linked yoga and meditation to mental, physical and emotional health,” she said. “With mental health, people have gone off or reduced anxiety or depression medication. People have changed their blood pressure.”
Unlike fitness regimens with narrow goals — building muscle by lifting weights or increasing your heart rate by running — yoga allows students to build strength in the entire body. Every practice begins with breathing exercises to quiet the mind and increase concentration. This breath work helps students focus as they move through the physical postures, and it has also been shown to alleviate stress.
“We are building life skills for ourselves when we are on the mat,” she said.
Aside from the various breathing and meditation techniques taught in traditional yoga classes, WiseMind also offers a spiritual flow-to-yin or stretch class on Sundays. The class begins and ends with a prayer, and quotes and bible verses are spoken throughout the class as students move through poses.
“I think of yoga as mind, body, spirit; It is a physical, mental and spiritual practice,” Wise said. “When you look at overall wellness, it ties into all of that.”
After a friend invited him to take a yoga class, Colin Russell decided he needed to make a change. Spending hours in the gym working out to solely bulk up wasn’t cutting it for his health. When the self-proclaimed “gym rat” took a yoga class, he fell in love with it.
Russell is now the owner of Cary Flow Yoga, where he teaches daily classes. The studio offers multiple classes including flow, yin and restorative yoga.
“I feel more balanced, focused and relaxed when I have the chance to practice yoga,” Russell said. “We can take in the strength, flexibility and peace-of-mind portions that yoga definitely affords us, but it’s just that all-around feeling.”
Hoa Bui, director of Cary Hot Yoga, broke the benefits of yoga down even further.
“Yoga is the muscle of the lymphatic system — the body’s plumbing and trash-removal system,” Bui said. “Similar to how the heart muscle circulates blood, yoga increases lymphatic flow with specific breathing and movement practices.”
Cary Hot Yoga specializes in Bikram yoga, which is practiced in a significantly heated room, sometimes up to 100 degrees. The heat and humidity help relieve joint pain and allow students to stretch without straining.
The studio also offers aerial yoga classes, where students wrap their legs, arms and torsos in cloth to stay airborne. The practice strengthens the upper and lower body and increases flexibility, all while suspending students in the air.
At Cary Flow Yoga, athletes can increase their strength and balance with a variety of TRX bodyweight exercises, that benefit yogis and athletes alike. Like aerial yoga, TRX Suspension Training suspends legs or arms in the air using equipment that hangs from the ceiling with two straps on the ends for arms or legs.
In addition to the physical benefits of greater balance and strength, these yoga studio owners say yoga also transforms students by encouraging them to take time to breathe, to focus on the present and to be mindful throughout day-to-day activities.
“What it affords us is the opportunity to do something for ourselves and take care of ourselves,” Russell said. “Because life is so busy now, we need to take a step back and do something positive for us, whether that’s the gym, whether that’s running on a trail or whether that’s rolling out your yoga mat.”