STRETCHING IT OUT :
THE BENEFITS OF y o ga
BY JENNA BLOUNT he first time Deb
TSandholdt went to a yoga class , she hated it .
As a woman in her late 40s at the time , who became a tomboy after growing up with three older brothers , she ’ d never really taken the time to stretch . She wasn ’ t flexible at all . While the friend who ’ d brought Sandholdt to the class moved through the poses without any trouble at all , the practice didn ’ t come with quite as much ease for Sandholt .
“ It was so hard ,” she says .
That class , though , would not be her last . Sandholdt decided to give it another try after her dad became ill . A few months later , just after his 80th birthday , he died . The only way she was able to get through that time in her life , Sandholdt says , was by holding on to her strong faith and practicing yoga .
“ It literally saved me ,” she says . She found that it provided her with a spiritual connection and the emotional release that she so badly needed .
Yoga , itself , is by definition the connection , or union , of mind , body , and spirit .
It ’ s believed to have existed 10,000 years ago in ancient India , where it better allowed spiritual leaders to sit cross-legged in meditation for hours on end . In the 20th century , posture-based hatha yoga gained popularity in the U . S .
Over 36 million people in the nation practice yoga today , making the total number of yoga practitioners globally around 300 million , according to the International Yoga Federation .
Different types of yoga , like hot yoga , aerial yoga , and prenatal yoga , have developed over the years , contributing to its popularity , but every method is essentially a different way to achieve the goal of connection .
Like Sandholdt , though , most initially start practicing yoga for its physical fitness benefits . The impacts of regular yoga practice , in fact , reach the physical body on a cellular level and can even make the yoga practitioner appear younger for longer than they otherwise would .
Mental and physical stress causes the body to respond with inflammation , which is a natural , and crucial , part of the immune system . By stretching and toning the body ’ s nervous system by practicing yoga , however , it is thought that the cellular aging effects of unabated inflammation are slowed and , thus , symptoms of conditions associated with accelerated cellular aging are alleviated . These conditions include depression , infertility , arthritis , asthma , diabetes , heart disease , various types of dementia , and many forms of cancer .
According to published research by Harvard Medical School , yoga also changes the structure and functioning of the brain by causing cells to develop new connections . Consequently , parts of the brain responsible for cognitive skills such as memory , attention , awareness , thought , and language are strengthened .
More doctors in the U . S . have begun prescribing yoga for the treatment of various conditions , even though it ’ s been categorized as a “ complementary ” or “ alternative ” form of medicine .
The risks associated with yoga are few . Pre-existing health conditions may call for modifications to one ’ s practice , but anybody , and any body , can do yoga .
Beyond the multitude of physical benefits that yoga offers are the numerous benefits it provides for mental health . Harvard Medical School published that , among others , a less critical attitude toward one ’ s body and higher self-esteem gained from practicing yoga are reasons as to why it ’ s become an integral part of programs for the treatment of eating disorders .
Perhaps the most commonly associated benefit of the practice to mental health , though , is stress relief . That , though , is exactly why Pamela Harrington gave up teaching yoga .
Harrington found yoga around the time she turned 40 . After delivering five kids , she was starting to get back into fitness again until , like Sandholt , yoga helped her to get through the event of her father ’ s death . As her understanding of the practice as a whole grew , her compassion for what it could do for others grew as well , so she began teaching yoga in 2005 . Recently , though , Harrington transitioned to massage .
“ I really thought I ’ d be the one teaching in the nursing home ,” she laughs , but after years of teaching 13 yoga classes a week and feeling the presence of an imbalance between her personal and professional lives , Harrington felt she wasn ’ t practicing what she preached and decided to give up teaching for a while . In this unexpected way , fundamental components of the purpose of yoga took form with her decision to step away from teaching yoga to find balance and peace within her life . Yoga , though , has a way of soaking into every other part of one ’ s life away from the yoga mat .
Harrington sits outside of her massage room with her small , black , 3-year-old Goldendoodle named Greta on her lap , while , after nearly two decades of gaining expertise and now happily settled into a less hectic schedule , she says that , in her opinion , the most important benefit that anyone could gain from yoga is the ability to breathe . Without learning to breathe correctly , one will find themselves stuck in a sort of suppressed state , almost as if trapped by shallow breathing and all that doesn ’ t get released by breathing fully and completely .
“ A lot of people are very stuck ,” she says .
But not Sandholdt , who completed her teaching training with Harrington in 2020 and has since sought to empower women through Christ and yoga , though men and people who aren ’ t religious adore her and her classes .
“ I ’ m not a typical yoga class ,” she says . “ We have enough of those .”
Sandholdt genuinely and deeply loves people and wants to help them .
At the start of one class , she asked her students to write down on a piece of paper anything that was going on in their lives that was causing them to feel negative energy , whether it was marital problems , a struggle with alcoholism , or anything else . No one else in the class was able to see what any other student had written before the pieces of paper were all collected and put into a jar .
They all then began their yoga practice .
At the end of the class , Sandholdt lit a match and dropped it into the jar , suddenly igniting the contents within and providing a symbolic visual of the release of all of the negative energy they ’ d just spent the class releasing from their minds and bodies .
Sandholdt ’ s classes also serve as a safe place to vocalize anything holding her students back in their lives . What ’ s said there , stays there . A lot of tears have even been shed during Sandholdt ’ s classes but they were welcomed because it ’ s what that student needed . This unconventional way of conducting yoga classes has allowed Sandholdt ’ s students to go through huge transformations in so many different ways .
20 Clinton Magazine Fall 2022