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October 25, 2011 > Yoga Offers Health Benefits

Yoga Offers Health Benefits

Women's Classes Can Help Improve Breathing and Relieve Tension

Yoga has been around for thousands of years. The ancient practice can have many health benefits in this modern, often stressful, world we live in today. If that sounds promising, you may want to consider taking a yoga class at the Washington Women's Center.

"Yoga has health benefits beyond just flexibility and strength," said Bonnie Maeda, RN, a certified yoga instructor. "It can help you relieve stress, cope with chronic illness and pain, and improve balance as you age."

Yoga involves a series of poses called asanas that help to release the lactic acid that builds up in the muscles and causes stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue. It also stretches not only the muscles, but also the ligaments and tendons.

"Most people don't realize that some of the asanas also massage the internal organs, improving the health of those tissues," Maeda added. "The benefits of yoga are physical, emotional, and spiritual."

When people think of yoga, they often picture willowy figures twisting their bodies like pretzels, giving the impression that you must be fit to do yoga. Maeda said that couldn't be further from the truth.

"Those who are advanced yoga practitioners may be able to do that, but yoga is really about mindful movement," she said. "Yoga is for people of all ages, sizes, shapes, and abilities."

Maeda said a big part of yoga is body awareness and focused breathing. You need to be aware of your body so you know your limits and keep your body safe. She said it also helps you stay present and in the moment.

"You learn how to come into your body and out of your head," she explained. "Being aware of your breathing can help you stay focused and reduce stress. It also brings more oxygen to the brain and the rest of the body. I start every class with body and breathing awareness."

Classes for Women

Maeda teaches restorative or gentle yoga classes at Washington Women's Center. The classes are accessible to all women no matter your fitness level or physical abilities.

Many of her yoga students are dealing with chronic illnesses like arthritis or fibromyalgia. Yoga can help with both the physical and mental aspects of dealing with pain and discomfort.

"Improving your flexibility and strength can help with the physical part of pain by reducing the tension on muscles," she said. "Studies show that gentle stretching and movement can decrease the intensity and duration of pain. Yoga can also help you feel more control over your body, which improves your ability to cope with pain."

Maeda said it is important to find an experienced yoga instructor who understands your physical limitations. Injuries can happen when people push themselves too hard.

She begins her classes with gentle stretching to prepare the body, which helps to prevent injuries. Then she moves into the poses.

"The classes at the Washington Women's Center are very individualized," said Kathy Hesser, RN, Women's Center coordinator. "You may not be able to do a full pose, or you may need the help of assistive equipment like blocks and straps. We also offer chair yoga for people who can't stand."

Yoga classes are offered on Tuesdays at 6 p.m., Wednesdays at 2 p.m., and Thursdays at 4:30 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. Classes are held at the Washington Women's Center, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West).

"It's important to find what is right for you," Maeda said. "Yoga may not be for you. It has to feel right. I encourage people who have never done it to give yoga a try. Take a friend with you if you are feeling a little intimidated. Yoga has been helping people improve their physical and emotional well-being for centuries and it may offer some benefits for you."

Women's Center To Offer Tai-Chi Exercise Class

The Washington Women's Center new Tai chi class is a unique extension of the current Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program. Tai chi offers a greater emphasis on improving balance and core muscle strength. The new classes will be one-hour long, beginning with a warm-up specified to tai chi, moving on to the program's core movements and ending with a proper cool-down. To learn more about the gentle yoga class and other programs and services offered at the Washington Women's Center, visit

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