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North Hills Monthly

Yoga Benefits Everyone—including Bunnies

Dec 01, 2016 07:40AM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

Bunny Yoga at Animal Friends

The discipline of yoga has ancient roots, and while many of the spiritual elements are still practiced today, yoga has evolved into a form of exercise in which virtually everyone can participate.

The essence of yoga is a holistic one: maintaining a harmonious balance of one’s physical and mental state. Yoga combines a series of breathing exercises with various poses and movements to create an ideal state of being, calming the nervous system and providing other long-lasting benefits.

Yoga is accessible to anyone of any age, gender and fitness level.

Schoolhouse Yoga, which has a branch in the North Hills, offers Yin yoga, a stretch-focused class in which participants hold poses for a lengthy time. On the other end of the spectrum is a class called Ashtanga, which is an India-based yoga that is very fast-paced, geared toward those who are more athletic, and which provides more cardio and strength benefits.

Then there is “seated” or chair yoga.  “This is for people who can’t stand for very long, someone who is elderly, or who has had knee replacement surgery; we try to accommodate all levels,” said owner Leta Koontz.

Any level of yoga class generally can be modified to an individual’s personal fitness level, and the studio also offers classes appropriate for children, for prenatal mothers, and for mothers who have recently given birth.

Yoga on Mars mainly offers Hatha yoga, which owner Maggi Aebi calls the ‘mother of all yogas,’ as it has ancient connections. “The postures are all designed to condition the body to be able to sit for long periods of meditation,” she said.

“In our society, most lives are lived from the neck up; people think their way through everything, so anxiety and confusion become a big part of the day,” said Aebi, adding that yoga provides a release from stress. “Your issues live in your tissues.”

Though religion is never mentioned in class, Aebi said that yoga does tend to deepen one’s faith because of its mind-body connection. 

Because of this powerful connection, Aebi offers a class exclusively for active members of the military as well as veterans. “The reason for opening my studio was to reach veterans with PTSD or traumatic brain injury,” she explained. “They’re underserved and overcharged—I couldn’t find a studio that would give me an hour a week to teach vets for free.”

You may have heard the term “hot yoga,” in which the temperature of the room is cranked up to 99 degrees. All classes at Totally Yoga on Babcock Boulevard are heated, including one “warm flow” class, in which the room temperature is a balmy 90 degrees. “The balance of the humidity and heat detoxes you, makes you sweat and makes you more limber,” said owner Diane Regan. It also tends to burn more calories while building strength, so it can be part of a weight-loss regimen.

The studio does Vinyasa flow, in which postures are synchronized with the breathing cycle. “Vinyasa flow style is diverse by nature, allowing the individual instructor to personalize sequences of movement and structure; most skill levels are welcome,” she said.

Despite the calm-inducing practice and the focus on breathing, yoga can be used as part of a weight-loss plan. “Yoga is not a terribly cardiovascular workout, but I think the reason it is helpful with weight loss is it helps you address reasons that you make poor food choices, such as anxiety or stressors that cause you to overeat,” said Koontz.

All studio owners agree that yoga provides numerous health benefits, and they are supported by years of study and research.

“Physically, it helps prevent injury, and helps increase coordination, balance, strength and flexibility. Mentally, a lot of studies have found that it can help you sleep better; it eases digestion, and reduces anxiety and depression,” said Koontz.

Aebi calls the benefits of yoga a cumulative effect. “The more often you practice, the more in tune with your body you will be,” she said.

And you gain flexibility over time. Regan said that one of her clients was unable to do anything at first; a year later, she was able to do headstands.

If you want a friend to enjoy yoga with, you might consider combining the therapeutic power of animal contact with the health benefits of yoga—a few times per year, Animal Friends offers Bunny Yoga classes, open to the community with advanced registration.  

It’s a win-win situation…not to mention a cuteness overload. In addition to seasoned yoga instructor Jen Stratakis who leads the class, visiting “guests” include bunnies that hop around the floor, often sharing yoga mats and providing cotton-tailed charm. The goal is to provide an outlet for the animals as well as the chance to be seen and hopefully, adopted. 

“We know that there have been studies that show that animal companions reduce stress and anxiety,” said Shannon Tremblay, director of communications. “Roll that in with yoga, and you can get some additional health benefits as well.”