Many people are struggling, not just financially, but also mentally and physically. The good news is that yoga can help.
The Struggle Is Real
Every year since 2007 the American Psychological Association (APA) has commissioned a nationwide survey to examine levels of stress across the United States. When they conducted their study this year — one year after the beginning of the global COVID-19 pandemic — they found stress levels have risen considerably. Some of the statistics are staggering. Since the pandemic started:
- The majority of adults in the United States (61%) experienced undesired weight gain or loss
- Two-thirds of Americans (67%) reported sleeping more or less than their desired amount
- Nearly a quarter of respondents (23%) reported using alcohol to cope with their stress
- More than half of the people (53%) were less physically active than they wanted to be
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the pandemic has left a considerable impact in its wake.
Of course, we all witnessed these problems arise since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. At the height of the pandemic, I encountered many people who were suffering and I tried a variety of things to help. Here are a few things I tried in the past six months:
- Donated the money I made teaching yoga to my local food shelf
- Taught free community yoga classes through Spirit of the Lake
- Taught free yoga classes via my website
- Taught a yoga class on World AIDS Day to raise money for kids with HIV
- Taught a loving kindness yoga class for people living with autism
- Taught a free class at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
- Started a free yoga book club and discussion group
- Launched a free meditation podcast
While some of these offerings felt like they had minimal impact, many people told me that they found my classes, podcast episodes, and other activities to be helpful. People told me they felt more relaxed and that they felt better physically. I feel quite lucky that I was able to help others.
However, nearly everything that I offered was gentle. Lots of gentle yoga classes, meditation, and discussion. What the APA findings suggest to me is that in addition to gentle yoga, many people might benefit from a more physical yoga practice.
Hatha Yoga to the Rescue
After seeing that report, I feel like now is a good time to mention that in addition to the gentle yoga classes I teach on Monday and Wednesday mornings, I teach strength-focused Hatha Yoga classes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 6:30am Central through Spirit of the Lake. Not only do these classes provide an opportunity to practice breath awareness and mindfulness that can reduce mental stress and chatter, but these Hatha classes can help you build muscle, flexibility, stability, and endurance.
These are not empty claims. In clinical studies, Hatha yoga has been proven to promote weight loss. It can improve core strength and balance. Yoga can increase flexibility in "professional computer users" and everyone else. This is just a tiny sampling of the research on the many benefits of yoga confirmed through research.
In my Hatha classes, I favor poses that support the goals of the class, such as plank, chair pose, squats, and warrior postures. Furthermore, we hold these postures for 30-60 seconds, which is longer than a typical "flow" yoga class. How long we hold them in a particular class depends on the students in the class on that day. The poses that we do are not typically advanced poses, such as Firefly or Peacock. Rather, we do poses that many people can do, while always offering less challenging variations.
Please note that Hatha yoga classes are not therapy classes. If you need therapy, you should seek professional help from a trained therapist.
However, if any of the findings in the APA study resonated with you, or you would just like to develop your strength, endurance, and mobility, while practicing breathing techniques that you can use off the yoga mat to manage stress, consider joining us. Very few people have conflicts at 6:30am, so early morning yoga — with me, other teachers, or when you are on vacation — might just become a habit!