Instructor talks about the benefits of yoga

By Page H. Gifford


Dawn Umland has been teaching yoga for over 20 years. She started with Armstrong, Orme Family Fitness, and now Spectrum. She said she likes the new Spectrum center, incorporating physical therapy and fitness under one roof along with a growing variety of classes. She views this as a good model for the future of fitness.

Umland’s contribution to fitness and well-being is through yoga. Her passion is evident when she describes yoga in all its forms and demonstrates poses.

“Mostly I love the energy of working with people,” she said. She began by discussing the 5,000-year-old ancient Asian practice, which caught on in the U.S. and Australia in the 1970s. The practice originated in India and was developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization. Yoga is mentioned in the oldest sacred texts of the Rid Veda, which contains songs, mantras, and rituals used in religious practice.

Umland said there are many forms of yoga, including asana, ashtanga, and others, like “hot” yoga, which has very little to do with the ancient practice.

“The forms of yoga are based on the poses. I have studied and spoken with people who teach yoga, and the true meaning of yoga is mind, body, and spirit.” A registered nurse, Umland can state first-hand the physical as well as mental benefits of the yoga. She has often witnessed the transformation of people who believed they could never reach their goals or succeed with certain poses. But with practice, they were surprised by their flexibility and strength.

“I am laid back in my approach to yoga, I am not strict and we don’t chant or engage in lengthy meditation,” she said, referring to some forms that do incorporate these methods.

As a nurse, she can spot the problem areas just by looking at participants in her classes. She cites the spine as key to better physical health and the culprit of many physical problems.

“Most people do not know how to stand up straight. Knowing how to get yourself back into alignment, to fix the problem yourself before resorting to medication and surgery. Medication, in particular, is only a short-term fix with no long-term benefits.”

She believes physical therapy is the best remedy to show people why and where there is pain and how to combat it with good exercise.

“Some people believe yoga is just stretching but the muscles that are tight can be loosened by stretching but the side that is loose still needs to be strengthened,” she said. “It’s all about neural plasticity and finding new neural pathways. What I teach can make a difference and make someone feel better. The challenge is I have so much to teach and each pose takes time to learn and practice.”

Yoga integrates mind, body, and spirit which is why so many swear by its benefits.

 “Breathing or pranayama (breath or breathing in Sanskrit) is so important. Breathing techniques incorporate so many voluntary muscles. Breathing effects oxygen and circulation,” she said. “Breathing is the best way for you to connect with your body and take control and gives you awareness of your body as well.”

Yoga has proven to improve balance, particularly in older adults.

“You learn to engage the muscles for better balance and bones are malleable over time and you can strengthen both muscles and bones. If you see people who are in their 80s and 90s who have been doing it for a lifetime, they are living proof.” She adds the spine can be lengthened and alignment restored through yoga practice.

“You cannot build cartilage but you can lengthen and decrease compression which can be a common cause of back pain.”

Regarding the mind part of yoga, Umland says it builds new pathways in the brain and a better sense of well-being, accepting who you are and what you are capable of being able to do.

“Yoga sneaks up on you when you don’t feel you can do something and then discover you can.”

Umland had some thoughts on the future of yoga since its popularity in the U.S. has never diminished but continues to grow and flourish in new ways.

“It isn’t about commercializing yoga, certifications, money, and just learning different poses, it is about integrating the mind, body, and spirit and continual learning, understanding your body and making modifications that work for you.” She sees fitness as a healthy way of life and yoga as part of that fitness regimen.”You have to push yourself to the next level and some will say ‘I’m too old’ or ‘I’m in too much pain’ never challenging themselves.”

She mentioned other forms of yoga that are less strenuous, including restorative yoga, using pillows and bolsters and yen yoga, a slower paced yoga, combining restorative and regular yoga. A stretch would be held for six minutes while the body is supported during the stretch.

“Yoga can be a path to enlightenment as long as you are living and growing. You are either living every day or dying. It’s a mindset rather than age.”

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