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Yoga for the body mind and soul

Yoga for Mind, Body, and Soul

Al Waller: And we’re back with another episode of ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth SM. I’m your host, Al Waller.

Now, I think it’s fair to say most of us know yoga is a practice that involves concentration, physical poses, and deep breathing. And since we still find ourselves mired in a pandemic, many have found themselves improvising ways to care for themselves and their health inside their own homes. Well, it may just be that yoga is just what we need.

Joining us today is Mihaela Vincze, public health expert for nonprofit Transamerica Institute®, to discuss yoga, what it is, its benefits, risks, various styles, and, I might add – how to safely practice it.

So Mihaela, could you give us an overview on yoga and why we might want to try it?

Mihaela Vincze: Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj,” which means “union” or “to join.” Yoga builds a strong bond between mind and body—which can build a healthy mindset and outlook. Regular yoga practice can also promote endurance, strength, flexibility, and even calmness. It’s no surprise that if you bring a yogi your problem, typically they’ll recommend you try yoga.

Al Waller: Well, based on my experiences practicing yoga intermittently over the years, I’ve found it ideal for managing stress because, as much as it’s a physical activity – it also exercises the mind.

So Mihaela, I suspect that’s why they call it “practicing yoga,” – because I guess it’s when your approach centers on improving that relationship between mind and body.

Could you expand a little further on how yoga can help promote a healthier mindset and for that matter, assist us in navigating life in general?

Mihaela Vincze: Well, it’s no surprise everyone has some form of stress. The important thing is how you deal with it. Yoga uses poses along with breathing techniques as an easy and effective way to reduce stress.

Also, constant sitting with poor posture at our desks can make us prone to injury by giving us tight hips, hamstrings, and shoulders. Moving through sequences of poses and using our breath to really relax into them works to loosen us up. And utilizing yoga to regain a full range of motion is also important for gaining strength.

Al Waller: You’re so right…just saying, I know I’m not nearly as nimble as I was in my youth. By making a concerted effort to stay active as we get older, this could go a long way in helping us maintain our bodies and ultimately help us prevent injury.

What are some other health benefits yoga could offer?

Mihaela Vincze: There are many benefits for practicing yoga. So, I’m really happy that you asked me that. There are physical benefits such as building muscle strength, enhancing flexibility, supporting heart health, promoting better breathing, and improving sleep.

There are also mental health benefits. Yoga can help with treatment for addiction, reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and even chronic pain. Despite its many health benefits, do not use yoga as an alternative to seeing a health care provider about a medical problem.

Al Waller: Good point. Obviously, if you have medical issues, you should certainly seek out a professional.

Now Mihaela, on balance, I think we can agree yoga is a great activity to get involved in, but I’m thinking we should examine any potential risks associated with it?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, and although rare, the most common injuries among people practicing yoga are sprains and strains. Beginners should avoid advanced poses and difficult techniques. Think headstands, backbends, or the Lotus Pose— the pose where you arrange your hands and feet in a way that resembles the petals of a lotus flower.

Just know, there are lots of modifications for beginners, so it’s important to let your teacher know so they can appropriately guide you in your practice. Another tip: Ask about the training of the yoga instructor you’re considering.

Al Waller: Yes, that's a good point as well. As mentioned, I've attended yoga classes and the instructors always emphasize the importance of making personal modifications in terms of the postures and poses that you hold. As a result, I've tended to feel a lot more comfortable, relaxed – and also noted some significant improvement too.

One thing you'll want to bear in mind and that is that yoga is an individual practice – not a competition – because believe me some of us are naturally more pliable than others. So, as a word to the wise – easy does it…but don't overdo it.

Now Mihaela, since the beginning of the pandemic, I've been seeing a lot of virtual options for exercise classes pop up. So, what's your take on yoga in a virtual setting?

Mihaela Vincze: Virtual yoga is just as beneficial as in-person sessions. Virtual yoga offers access to people in remote or rural areas, and it improves accessibility to individuals who are wanting to socially distance or those who are unable to leave their home due to disabilities.

Al Waller: Good points there as well. It can even benefit those who find it hard to fit exercise into their busy schedules. Perhaps taking a virtual yoga class in the morning before work in your living room could save you that time travel going to and from the studio.

Now, how about those who want to go and sign up for a class in person?

Mihaela Vincze: If you decide to pop into your local yoga studio, ensure that it allows for appropriate social distancing and has other protocols in place to help keep you safe.

Al Waller: Yes, excellent points as well. Now, could you provide us with a high-level description of what the different types of yoga's look like?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, there are so many different types of yoga out there, whether you want a more demanding class or a relaxing, meditative class. The type of class a person would choose depends on their desires and level of physical agility.

If you want to get a flavor of options available, I’ll briefly describe a few types.

  • Hatha yoga serves as a gentle introduction to basic poses and breathing techniques.
  • Iyengar yoga—this style of yoga focuses on helping you achieve postures you otherwise couldn’t, with the help of props such as blocks, bolsters, and blankets.

Al Waller: Well, those types of yoga seem great for those just starting out now. What other flavors of yoga are there to sample out there?

Mihaela: There’s hot yoga and ashtanga yoga.

  • Hot yoga is practiced in heated humid rooms. This can be uncomfortable for some. 
  • Ashtanga yoga, also known as power yoga — it’s fast paced and helps you build endurance and strength.

Al Waller: They both sound like great workouts and not only getting the heart rate up but also producing a pretty good sweat too.

What about some other options that are perhaps a little less physically demanding?

Mihaela Vincze: You could try restorative yoga which is one of my favorites.

  • Restorative yoga—this type of yoga includes sitting in four or five simple poses to sink into deep relaxation.
  • Kripalu yoga is slower-moving yoga, a mixture between a restorative class and a more vigorous form of yoga.

Al Waller: Well, I’d have to say these all sound like attractive options for people who might just prefer the slower, more laid-back, mindful form of physical activity.

And given the descriptors sound so different from one another – there’s probably a suitable option out there for everyone.

Now Mihaela, could you share some tips on how our listeners might want to go about practicing yoga safely in the studio – especially during a global pandemic?

Mihaela Vincze: Sure, think about how many strains of viruses and bacteria there are lurking on any floor you practice yoga on. Those germs are immediately transported to your mat when you step on it. Luckily, it’s actually really easy to clean your mat.

Simply mix warm water and a few drops of dish soap in a bowl. Dip a rag into the soapy water, then use a circular motion to clean the mat from top to bottom, prioritizing the dirty spots. Lastly, wipe the mat clean with a towel and allow it to air dry. Voilà! Your mat is clean.

Al Waller: You’re thorough. Any final thoughts you’d like to leave us with today?

Mihaela Vincze: No matter what your motivation is for taking up yoga, it will improve many aspects of your life. And that’s the most important reason to love yoga!

Al Waller: I agree. And here’s hoping our listeners will pay a visit to a virtual yoga studio because as you’ve pointed out, there are a ton of mental and physical benefits derived from yoga.

Well, Mihaela, as always great to have you on the show and thanks so much for your insightful perspective.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about retirement security and the intersections of health and financial well-being. You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s Podcast Central and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org.

And just in case you missed it, please check out our recent episodes on how to kick-off your new year with healthy habits and financial resilience.

Until the next time this is Al Waller encouraging you to stay safe, be well, and thanks for listening.

Clearpath is produced by Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Mihaela Vincze is a public health expert and experienced health care educator. Serving as Transamerica Institute’s health care content developer, she shares insights on health and wellness on ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. Mihaela earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in public health at California State University, Northridge.