Angelina Jolie buffed up for "Tomb Raider" with yoga. Karem Abdul- Jabbar swears by yoga, and Melissa Joan Hart even throws yoga parties.
Sound surprised? You shouldn't be. More than 15 million Americans do yoga, almost twice as many from a few years back, which shows that yoga is so hot, so cool, and so catching on. Yet it is far from a new trend or fad; modern yoga is the result of more than 5,000 years of experimentation and observation in the heart of India.
Yoga is made up of three parts: Yoga poses (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana).
Asanas are poses, which one holds for a certain amount of time to stretch and strengthen different parts of the body, ranging in difficulty from toe-touches to backbends to twisting into pretzels. They are not aerobic but still give cardiovascular benefits.
Pranayama involves breathingtechniques based on paying complete attention to the breath. These techniques over time are said to help the body breathe more fully and deeply, clearing the mind as well as improving respiratory function.
The last component is meditation, which relaxes both the body and mind. All these components together make up a typical yoga routine.
The top magazines portray people who do yoga as buff and built, which is one of the reasons many teens start yoga. However, the magazines don't lie. With regular practice and dedication, yoga can increase strength and stamina, enhance balance and posture, and tone and shape muscle. Some also claim that it can relieve simple complications such as joint pain and acne, to more serious conditions like arthritis, asthma and diabetes.
Yoga is a great way for teens to get into shape. "Weight training and jogging, the more popular ways of getting in shape, are good, but they isolate body groups and muscles," says Anita Greber, a yoga teacher at East Meets West Yoga studio. "Yoga is holistic, it integrates and strengthens the entire body at once." The strength and flexibility you need to do other activities can be achieved through yoga training, but unlike the gym, yoga doesn't put a strain on your heart, muscles, or joints. Yoga is also a great supplement to many high school sports, she says.
Basketball legend Karem Abdul-Jabbar credits yoga to his 20-year career. "Americans are very good at cardiovascular endurance and strength, but flexibility is the missing element," he told USA Today. "That's why a lot of athletes get injured. I think that doing yoga really helped reduce the number and severity of the injuries I suffered during my career. It was yoga that made my training complete. There is no way I could have played as long as I did without yoga."
Allan Izzo, a sophomore at City Honors, started yoga at East Meets West Yoga studio for the physical benefits. "My twin brother Andrew and I are rowers, and core strength as well as flexibility are both very important in our sport," Allan said. He started yoga six months ago for the physical aspects, but as he went along, he found it to be rhythmic and helpful on all levels. He notices that his slight respiratory problems do not interfere with yoga as they would in a gym setting, though he does work out as well.
Emily Wolf, an eighth-grader at Campus West, also does yoga to supplement the sports she plays. She is an avid hockey player and swimmer, and yoga really helped her improve at both. "I gain strength and flexibility I need, yet feel very relaxed. I don't feel exhausted or huffy and puffy afterward." Emily does yoga as part of her physical education program at school. Funded by the Liberty Partnership Foundation, Campus West offers yoga to students, to promote strength and stamina, as well as heighten mental health and well-being. Fourth grade teacher Beth Lombardi, who started yoga as a teen, teaches the program. "I really enjoy yoga class," says Emily, "and I often practice at home in addition to class to get better at the poses, and plus, the YMCA's treadmills and weight equipment is mostly for taller people!" she adds with a chuckle.
The yoga these teens practice certainly is not religion-based. Though yoga has roots in eastern religions and philosophy, it is completely independent. It is described as spiritual, not religious, and even so, most teens start for its physical benefits, and continue for the relaxation and calm it brings.
The East Meets West studio is a totally different setting than a gym or health club. There are no big machines used by people listening to jock jams. It's a more relaxed setting, with soothing music and hardwood floors, and yogis in cotton bellbottoms and nice T-shirts. East Meets West is not the only studio however. There is the Himalayan Institute on Delaware, Buffalo Yoga on Main, and Bikram Yoga on Elmwood. Also, many health clubs are now offering yoga. Learning from books and DVDs like MTV Yoga is good, but many argue that they don't give the same motivation and relaxation as a real class.
"All teens should try yoga," says Allan. "It helps out with both body and mind, for all people alike, both guys and girls,especially athletes."
High profile stars do it too, like Madonna, Jerry Seinfeld, Demi Moore, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz, Julia Roberts, John McEnroe, Serena Williams, all three Dixie Chicks, Shaq, Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Sting, Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker, and many many more. With all the positive hype surrounding yoga and the credit stars have given it, how can you go wrong?
Ashwin Rao is a sophomore at Williamsville East High School.
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