Ancient discipline of Yoga benefits body and mind

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— Many Steamboat Springs residents have been skiing since they were toddlers, but few can claim to have been devotees of yoga for that same time span. While others were schussing down slopes, Victoria Strohmeyer, director of Yoga Rx at Bear River Center, was practicing this ancient science of optimal living.

"My mother took a community education class in the 1950s. She just loved it, so she made it a family activity," Victoria said. "I started practicing when I was 4. Many of the poses were named after animals, and my mother would tell us stories and encourage us to make animal sounds. Yoga just followed me my whole life."

"Yoga" is a Sanskrit word that derives from the concept of hitching up, yoking or joining together. It is an active, mind-body discipline that dates back more than 5,000 years. Unlike traditional exercise workouts, yoga promotes fitness from the inside out.

Most yoga students in the United States take Hatha yoga, which creates physical strength and stamina with the goal of allowing the mind to be calm, Victoria said. It focuses on controlled breathing, poses and postures.

There are many types of Hatha yoga, ranging from gentle and healing to vigorous and athletic.

"I encourage students to be aware of a teacher's style and training,"

Victoria said. "A good teacher will guide you to the style of yoga that is best for you."

Mary Jane Short, a resident of the Steamboat Lake area, has been taking yoga classes for the past six months. "It's Level I, very gentle," she said.

"I'm 65 and it's perfect for me, though the age span among the students is considerable."

Daily practice at home is also important to Mary Jane. "It's a way of achieving, at the beginning of my day, a calmness that allows me to face whatever stresses may occur," she said. "Arthritis was making my life uncomfortable, but by turning to yoga and working through it, it really did help."

Now, when Mary Jane deals with daily aches and pains, she considers them minor. Additionally, she finds that using her breathing techniques helps her to face life's emotional ups and downs much more open-mindedly and calmly.

"It isn't as if yoga is a quick fix," she explained. "You have to be very focused. But if you practice it daily, it gives you a definite advantage."

Yoga incorporates physical, emotional, nutritional and spiritual elements.

Victoria describes it as "the art and science of living woven together by universal truths." The first written record of yoga was transcribed 2,000 years ago in "The Yoga Sutras."

The 195 sutras, or threads, provide a philosophical guidebook for dealing with the challenges of being human. The word "sutra" is the root of "suture" and conjures up an image of stitching together a life of wellness and wholeness.

"The benefits are much greater the more you practice it," Victoria said.

Christine McKelvie is public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center.

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