Without fail the most overwhelming popular New Year’s resolutions year in and year out are:
1. Exercise more
2. Lose weight.
Athletic apparel and footwear are notoriously on sale throughout the month of January and gyms overflow with good intentions. A few weeks later, the excitement or motivation begins to wane and, often times, an injury is the culprit.
Before you strap on a pair of running shoes, sign up for the next Boot Camp class or order the latest P90X home fitness system, it might be a better idea to just breathe.
Jessie Coakley, owner and instructor at Simply Yoga in Salmon Creek, said “So many people start off the New Year with ‘I want to get in shape’ and their first thought is to go out and run. But you really have to train for that and they go out for one week and end up with shin splints and hurt knees. With yoga, we’re strengthening these structures in a way that’s attainable and accessible and allows people to move forward in a more active program safely.”
When people think of yoga, the vision of a svelte body twisted into a pretzel-type form can cause the activity to seem intimidating but Coakley explained that trained instructors are very conscious of not pushing students to overstretch. Because there are many practices within yoga — such as vinyasa — there are also a wide range of options for students with varying levels of fitness.
Yoga stems from a philosophy that began in India but the Western culture tends to focus more on the physical attributes of the practice for which there are many. A short list includes decreased aches and pains, improved posture and energy, combat heart disease, increased muscle tone, increased circulation and metabolism and decreased cortisol output.
This last one is particularly important to pay attention to because cortisol output manifests physically in many ways.
“Cortisol output is the fight or flight response that our stressful lifestyles put us into. We’re in a hurry. The yoga practice helps to calm that down and, because of it, you sleep better (and) risk of depression is reduced. (You) also lose weight because, when your cortisol is so high due to the stress of your lifestyle, reducing that cortisol output helps lose weight,” Coakley said.
A rise in cortisol output is not a bad thing. It’s the chronic state of elevated cortisol levels that cause people to crave carbohydrates, fight through metabolic dysfunction, have difficulty sleeping and other disorders that play against our attempts to lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle.
The nature of yoga combats stress by teaching each student to fully breathe through each movement as a conscious slowing down and concentrate on intentional movements that engage stabilizing muscles.
Coakley went on to address a very common complaint in today’s culture — back pain.
“We live in a forward downward sitting lifestyle. The hip flexors become shorter and tighter and the muscles in the back become longer and weaker,” Coakley said. “We need to stretch the muscles that are short and tight and strengthen the muscles that are long and weak.”
Many of the clients at Simply Yoga are older adults and Coakley hears numerous success stories such as a client who’s been coming three times each week. She had complained of back pain and knee pain and, after one month, said she feels better than she did in her 30s and can climb stairs with no knee pain.
“It really does happen that quickly if you’re consistent and open to it,” Coakley said.
As fluid and flowing as yoga is, Coakley cautions that it is a physical activity and there are aspects that can be performed incorrectly and result in injury if not approached correctly. Here are some of her tips to glean the most out of a new yoga practice:
1. Find the right class for you — Classes range from gentle stretching to restorative, vinyasa, hatha, power yoga and even advanced inversions.
2. Start with a private lesson — Just like kickboxing or weight training, there are right and wrong ways to perform each yoga move. Understanding correct form from the beginning is the best way to build a firm foundation.
3. Find the right instructor —Some instructors spend more time on the spiritual or energetic aspects of yoga while others focus on the many physical benefits. “At Simply Yoga, we incorporate breath work but don’t touch on spirituality,” Coakley said.
4. Practice at your own pace — Yoga is heavily focused on flexibility and a beginner simply will not be as flexible as more advanced students. Practicing proper form and alignment will result in improved flexibility over time.
Simply Yoga is located at 13912 NE 20th Ave., Vancouver. For more information, go to