Think yoga's for sissies?
Come visit a 90-minute session for intermediate/advanced students some evening at the 3-year-old Yoga Center of Lawrence, 920 Mass.
It's sure to be an eye opener for the uninitiated and the skeptical, those who feel this 5,000-year-old form of exercise is strictly for touchy-feelie New Agers and East Indian wise men.
All those preconceptions are quickly dispelled after a few minutes of watching a dozen men and women strain and puff their way through a recent class.
Guided by center co-director Margaret Carr, the students let off a symphony of popping joints, ligaments and vertebrae as they stretched into different, limb-twisting yoga positions.
One particular posture Â called an inversion Â had students standing on their heads and hands, backs up against a wall.
After they'd righted themselves, there were plenty of flushed faces, gulps for air and pounding hearts.
"Smile Â it's only yoga!" Carr said, laughing.
The class was an impressive Â and beautiful Â display of athleticism, a gauntlet thrown down at the feet of those who would say yoga is for people who can't handle a "real" workout.
The fact is, say devoted practitioners, yoga's a great way to get in shape while enjoying mental and physical benefits that extend into daily life.
Peace of mind
That's certainly been the experience of Todd Wyant, 40, a student at the Yoga Center.
"It's given me a sense of peacefulness and well being, reduced anxiety and depression. I feel like I enjoy my body Â it really feels good to do yoga," he said.
Wyant, who has practiced yoga for 13 years, said he has lost 30 pounds since he took up this kind of body movement.
Holly Krebs tells a similar story.
"Yoga brings peace of mind, calmness. I'm more focused and I sleep better, which is a huge benefit. Physically, I have much better stamina. It's helped my muscles become well-toned and flexible," said Krebs, 24.
Krebs, a recent Kansas University graduate, has been practicing yoga for about 21â2 years. Her mother is Jill Krebs, who, along with Carr, is co-director of the Yoga Center.
Jill Krebs, 58, has been practicing yoga for 20 years. She began studying Iyengar Â the type of yoga taught at the center Â in 1991.
She likes to make two points clear about yoga.
"First, it's profoundly practical. Once you have an understanding of the basics, you have the tools to live a more comfortable, productive and healthy life," she said.
The inevitable declines associated with aging can be postponed significantly, and a person's remaining years can be lived out with a much higher quality of life.
"The second point I'd like to make is really just an extension of the first. Yoga can also be a critical component in managing chronic health problems."
Carr, who is a certified Iyengar instructor, has been a yoga practitioner since 1986.
She came to yoga from a high-stress corporate job, after years of lower back pain and pounding her joints while running for exercise.
She credits yoga with improving her back condition, increasing her flexibility and giving her a better sense of body awareness.
Carr, like Jill Krebs, views yoga Â particularly Iyengar, which focuses on body alignment and breathing Â as an holistic experience that benefits the body, mind and spirit.
"Beyond that, it's a lifelong pursuit. This is something I'm going to do forever. It changes your day-to-day outlook, and you're able to face life with more equanimity," said Carr, 50.
"It's more of a philosophy. It'll probably help you in your spiritual growth. Mr. Iyengar (founder of Iyengar yoga) says every pose you do is meditation in action."