The mental image of yoga these days has become more a picture of young, athletic people sweating through a Bikram class than a picture of the older yogis practicing breathing techniques.
In Chattanooga, the Scenic City’s oldest yoga studio-ClearSpring Yoga-is continuing its tradition of focusing on the fundamentals while simultaneously exploring yoga’s application in chronic pain treatment, behavioral recovery and the world of mental health.
All bodies welcome
ClearSpring Yoga started out in a small studio on Georgia Avenue in November 1999. Now located on the North Shore, the studio has grown into a larger space and seen its clientele evolve in an interesting direction.
“From the very start, our vision was always to create a welcoming space and atmosphere for people,” said Sue Reynolds, co-owner of ClearSpring Yoga. “Many people are still quite reticent to go into a yoga studio.”
The mantra that “all bodies are welcome,” which guides the programming decisions, has attracted more than merely those looking for a workout.
People with physical limitations, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia and osteoporosis, can take advantage of the classes geared toward the basics of yoga and a slower flow through the poses, including Yoga Fundamentals, Yoga for Ease of Movement, Yoga for Flex-Ability and Kripalu Gentle Yoga.
In addition, the Safe Yoga for Round Bodies class is specifically designed for people who might find other classes intimidating during their initial stages of weight loss.
Despite the tailor-made programming and the prevalence of yoga in popular culture, Reynolds noted that the old barriers to incorporating yoga into a healthy lifestyle still exist.
“The No. 1 misconception people have is ‘I’m not flexible, so I can’t do yoga.’ That is so off the mark from what we’re about, which is whole fitness,” Reynolds said. “Yoga is a very healthy, holistic practice of nurturing oneself in the moment.”
She explained that another barrier she encounters is the idea that a person can be too high-strung for yoga, that his or her inability to sit still long enough will make attending a yoga class impossible. In fact, this would be a perfect candidate for yoga.
Far more than a fitness routine, the classes at ClearSpring Yoga are created to hold true to the roots of yoga: fostering body awareness, letting go of judgment toward oneself and others, and living in the moment.
A mindful practice
Kristine Kaoverii Weber of Subtle Yoga in Asheville, N.C., is particularly invested in widening the public’s understanding of yoga. The yoga teacher began leading classes in 1995, training other yoga teachers in 2003 and working with health care professionals approximately four years ago.
Weber will lead the Subtle Yoga for Mental Health Workshop at ClearSpring Yoga this weekend.
The two-day course is part of a larger, 15-month certification program, in which each month features another facet of yoga as therapy for a total of 500 accreditation hours for students. Members of the Chattanooga yoga community who would like to take the workshop a la carte are invited to do so for $200.
Weber plans to discuss depression and anxiety, as well as the comorbidities that can accompany both or either, and introduce accessible practices health care professionals can use with their patients and teach their patients for at-home use.
These include long and short protocols to help patients quickly remove themselves from unpleasant situations and to incorporate breathing and mindfulness exercises into treatment.
Reynolds noted that these practices are also applicable for patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other forms of trauma that left physical and psychological marks.
Weber’s teachings are part of a movement within the social services and health care communities to test the viability of somatically oriented therapy as a cost-effective alternative or a complement to talk therapy and medication.
A 2010 study conducted by Boston University observed an increase in a specific neurotransmitter-GABA-when subjects began a routine of yoga postures over the course of 12 weeks. Patients suffering from mood and anxiety disorders experience a decline in GABA levels from the body’s healthy baseline.
Of particular importance is the fact that the practice of yoga postures demonstrated a greater increase in GABA levels than other forms of exercise that brought the participants to an equal heart rate exertion.
“At these workshops, I frequently have people come up to me after class and tell me that these methods work, that they are simple and that they are practices the patients don’t have to have the right body type to use,” Weber said. “The practitioners feel so inspired to have simple tools they can use right away.”
Although the first day of the Subtle Yoga workshop will be dedicated to learning practices, Sunday’s schedule includes time to interact with patients. The supervised clinic component allows the workshop participants-who are already registered yoga teachers and health care professionals-to work one on one with members of the Chattanooga community.
“Many people think about yoga as a fitness strategy. What we’re trying to do is train practitioners how to help people and patients beyond the fitness industry,” Weber said. “At its core, yoga is a way to help bring the mind and the body back together.”
Additional January events include YinTensive, Yoga for Recovery, From the Ground Up, Yoga Nidra and Yoga for Chronic Pain workshops. Next weekend’s event runs 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 12 and 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 13. Those interested in the one-on-one sessions with one of the teachers should contact ClearSpring Yoga.
Updated @ 9:44 p.m. on 1/5/13 to correct the date of the event: The class runs next weekend, Jan. 12-13, not this weekend, as originally reported.