Vinyasa Flow Yoga: What It Is and Why You Should Try It

Vinyasa Flow Yoga: What It Is and Why You Should Try It

vinyasa flow

If you’re like most Americans, you haven’t tried yoga yet. That may come as a surprise because you hear about yoga all of the time nowadays. In fact, between 2012 and 2016, the number of Americans doing yoga grew by 50%. However, that still equates to only one in three Americans having tried it. Perhaps that’s because people don’t understand what yoga is, or they’re intimidated by it. Well, there’s one type of yoga that everyone should try. Here’s why.

Vinyasa Flow

There are many benefits of yoga, but perhaps none benefit people so much as Vinyasa flow. Vinyasa combines breath and movement. You move through poses a little quicker than you would in other types of yoga, matching your breath to each movement. This makes it the perfect mix of cardio, strength training, stretching, and meditation—all in one workout.

Health Benefits

Vinyasa flow is known for giving people increased strength, more flexible muscles, a healthier heart, and fewer symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress. That’s because, like cardio, Vinyasa raises your heart rate for a sustained period of time. To get the maximum benefit, you should raise your heart rate for 30-45 minutes, so you want a yoga class that lasts at least an hour. That will allow enough time for meditation and cool down, as well, which many instructors incorporate before and after the poses and sequences.

Vinyasa flow benefits your mind and spirit by keeping you focused on the moment, often called mindfulness. You move through poses quickly while focusing on your breathing, so you don’t really have time to think about the things that are stressing you out. Syncing the breath to your movements is essentially meditation in motion. This can give you feelings of relaxation and even euphoria.

Some people also believe that emotions are stored in the soft tissues of the body. By working the body, the emotions can be released. If you’ve ever noticed that your shoulders tense when you’re stressed, you get headaches when you’re anxious, or your neck gets stiff from turmoil, you can see how this might work. Many people turn to massage or exercise to release the tension and stiffness. Vinyasa yoga has the same results.

Anyone Can Practice Vinyasa Flow

If you’re new to yoga, Vinyasa Flow is a great starting point. The classes are usually open to both beginners and advanced practitioners. A yoga instructor will show the class a basic pose that students can modify to increase ease or difficulty based on their needs and experience. Even if you are out of shape or inflexible, you will be able to modify a pose in a way to get some benefit. Props, such as a yoga block and strap are used to help you get into position more easily.

If you are interested in trying yoga or even interested in finding a new workout routine, you may want to try Vinyasa flow yoga. It may take a few classes before you are able to do all of the poses, but don’t let that deter you. Just like anything else, it just takes a little practice.

Finding Her Shine: Sytera’s Yoga Journey

Finding Her Shine: Sytera’s Yoga Journey

It’s early on a Saturday morning at SyteraYoga in a quiet section of Virginia, and students are waiting for class to begin. The room is full with people who arrived well ahead of time. Sunlight peaks in the windows and slants across the floor. 

Class begins and at the instruction of the studio’s founder and veteran yoga teacher, Sytera Field, I am rolling a lacrosse ball balanced on a block into the muscles of my inner calf. Then I’m up and I’m revolving my upper thigh bone in my hip socket while I transition from a squat to a kneel and back again. This is wild and crazy! “Is this even yoga?” I think. I’m lost in the breath and the possibilities in my body when suddenly I realize that the lines of an ongoing argument I have with my husband are no longer stuck in my mind on a continuous loop. “If you pitch your sacrum forward, it has no choice but to open,” says Sytera. Whoa! “Maybe I should drop the argument,” I let myself think for the first time in days. 

For Sytera, who prides herself on not conforming to any one type of yoga dogma, except to “have no dogma,” and on bending the traditional poses into “evolving art,” this is what she is hoping for. Beyond making a particular, static shape with the body on the mat, she is interested in facilitating an experience that might change something for the student off the mat. It’s what she calls “Find Your Shine,” a motto she’s painted in huge curvy letters on the front wall of the studio and thinks about, a lot.

“I teach using yoga as a tool for leaving here (the studio) and having a much better, fulfilled life where you feel complete, whole, pain-free, full of energy, and ready to be your best self off your yoga mat,” she explains while leaning forward. It’s hard to not be completely with her at this point; there’s equal parts passion and thoughtfulness coming through. 

“Find Your Shine” is a concept that, along with a commitment to meeting the individual needs of the student and building a community, are the drivers behind the studio she opened in January 2018 with the help of her husband and a Kickstarter campaign. Since then, two local studios have rolled up their yoga mats for good.

Sytera has taught yoga in Northern Virginia for a decade and in D.C. for several years before that. Teaching yoga is her “life’s work,” an art form, and a career that helps to support her family (she and her husband are raising three children in Falls Church). She is trained in vinyasa yoga and admires Jason Crandell, a nationally-known teacher who merges the practices of vinyasa and power yoga. There is a gentle, flowing momentum to Sytera’s classes—typical of vinyasa—but that is where the similarities end. She is trained in anatomy and physiology, Thai yoga massage, ball rolling therapy, and Kuchipudi, a type of classical Indian dance, all of which show up in her teaching.  But, beyond the experience, students say there is something else going on here that compels them to show up.

Sytera has an ability to read emotions, a trait that people respond well to, her students say. She can tap into what is going on in a student’s body with a glance and help a student get perspective on alignment and habitual movement, facilitating change on a physical and emotional level. She has an appreciation for the human body and can sense what an individual needs—and she is good at articulating it, they say. And, bonus, she has a knack for putting people at ease.

“Did I say something wrong?” she jokes. “No? Then why is everybody looking at me? It must be the outfit.” She’s dressed in black yoga pants with a 1980s rainbow stripe down one leg and a matching vital signs stripe wrapping around the other. Her tank top says, “Good Vibes.” 

When Beth Saunders’ husband died unexpectedly in his sleep at the age of 59 last year, a friend suggested she go see Sytera. A runner, Beth was tight. But, worse, she was also wracked by grief. Sytera was able to help her get through the anguish of the worst experience of her life. Sytera reset her breathing and then moved on to focus on her energy. It was like Sytera was unpeeling an onion, but there was a method to it.

Beth considers yoga with Sytera to have been a pillar of her grief therapy. “She knew I was going through hell, and she could read how the grief was affecting my body,” Beth says. 

Mark Frantz, a venture capitalist and a competitive swimmer, was used to answering hundreds of emails a day and spending endless hours in the pool, before his wife insisted he see Sytera. He had inherited sciatica, and soon his leg began to hurt so much that he couldn’t sit. His doctors missed the diagnosis that Sytera was able to see: a bad hamstring tear. For him, yoga was a chance to slow down and focus on his body once a week so that he could heal. 

Sytera Yoga Journey

The Beginning of a Lifelong Journey 

Sometimes being able to help others who are suffering means you’ve been there, too. Recently, Sytera told me that she has embraced a painful past in a way that allows her to feel the best she ever has in her life. “It is what it is. That’s where I came from and it doesn’t have to define who I have to be.”

Sytera grew up, she likes to joke “without a silver spoon in her mouth” in a modest suburb of Austin, Texas, the oldest of three (she has two younger brothers). Her childhood was punctuated with her parents, relatives, and friends struggling with alcoholism, drugs, violence, and divorce. She grew up with few good examples and “no moral compass for life,” she says. At one point, she was sent to inpatient drug treatment herself because her parents thought it would keep her out of trouble. Ironically, she credits this experience as exposing her to real drug dealers for the first time. 

In her early teens, her life could have had an entirely different trajectory. A good friend got pregnant at 14 and had a baby; another died of a drug overdose at 16. Other friends were being jailed. Then, something happened that affects her thinking to this day, and is helpful when telling the story of painful childhood. It was nothing out of the ordinary. But, in her opinion (and this is where Sytera’s ability to laugh at herself is a blessing), it was something “stupid, so stupid,” she says, bringing on her frequent laugh. She stubbed her toe.

It hurt, a lot. Alone and in pain, she remembers thinking, I have a choice: “I was like, this is pain, I don’t like this, but I get to choose how I navigate this.” That moment set the stage for cultivating a level of body and mind awareness that she had never had before. 

Like the change in perspective that can happen on a yoga mat, things started to shift. She had been a dancer as a child and she re-committed herself to dance. A couple years later, she met her now husband, Chad Thevenot, a musician and University of Texas graduate. Chad’s influence on her life cannot be overstated, she says. “He is my grounding force in my life. I didn’t have much family support or direction growing up, no mentor, no adult as a role model who helped guide me. I could only figure out so much on my own. Chad helped me grow up. He believes in me always, which gave me the confidence to pursue the things I wanted to do but wasn’t sure I could do.”

After meeting Chad, she enrolled in community college and then suffered a setback that, ironically, helped her find yoga. While rock climbing near Austin, she fell off a cliff and sustained a compound fracture. Two bones in her lower leg tore through her skin, and she ended up in a wheelchair and a thigh-high cast. She didn’t have feeling in her foot for a while and had to teach herself how to walk again. 

Angry and in pain, things could have gone downhill. Her body, the one thing that helped her escape the chaotic situations of her life through dance, was no longer to be trusted, she felt. Without sufficient insurance for physical therapy, she had to do something to rebuild herself—and that something was yoga.

She made her way into the yoga studios of Austin in 1994. The first class she went to was … (Sytera loves this story) clothing optional! “It was tough if you were behind someone!” She was pretty sure she’d never step into a yoga studio again, she jokes, but she felt a pull towards the psychological benefits of the practice almost immediately. She experimented with Iyengar, Hatha, and other forms of yoga.

In those classes she worked on strength and alignment, but more was happening. “I thought I went to yoga to heal my leg, which I did, but I began listening to what was going on in my mind, and I realized that the messages I was telling myself were untrue and not helpful (i.e., you’re not worthy, flee, who do you think you are that you should have good things in your life?).”

Yoga class was a secure environment that gave her a level of control and created a platform from where she could safely explore some of the negative ways she was thinking and treating her body. She began to make healthier decisions, she says. “I started to examine my response to fear, uncertainty, achieving. And something great happened. I lightened up on myself! When we moved out of whatever pose was illuminating that particular self-pity, I decided to let it go and even laugh it off.” 

In 1996 Sytera left Austin to work briefly as a model in New York, then she followed Chad to Washington, D.C., where she attended yoga classes at the fledgling yoga studios in the city at that time. She attended the University of Maryland and got a degree in art history . She married Chad in 2000 and then, while on a solo trip studying in Italy in 2001, she decided to pursue yoga as her life’s work. 

Two decades later, student Mike Fabrizi describes Sytera’s teaching as “unorthodox, in a good way.” He appreciates that she incorporates many modalities and elements of physical therapy in her teaching. “It’s not just about strong muscles, you have to have healthy ligaments and tendons that impart a hemisphere of motion,” Mike says. He appreciates that Sytera brings a functional, therapeutic bent to her classes and that in her teaching there is no blueprint, no set series, and no emphasis on perfect poses. Sytera says her take on what yoga is, is itself constantly changing and growing, like “in nature.” 

“I see the signs of yoga changing and evolving to mean it’s healthy. Things that are healthy grow and evolve.” The idea that there is one “set end goal” in yoga doesn’t sit well with her, and it doesn’t work “for a lot of bodies that have been through life,” she says. “Because you’ll never be able to reach that end goal of perfection, and what the heck does that say about you! I start beating myself up, and I don’t need another avenue to beat myself up with. I’m already good enough at that on my own, thank you very much!”

Instead, she’s hoping to help students tune into what it’s like to feel good in their bodies. It’s about recognizing and tuning into your brightness, she says. “That’s when yoga starts to make a difference in your life.” 

Sytera and Chad marked the first anniversary of the studio in January 2019. Two months earlier, they had opened an even larger studio with a second space on the ground floor. Every time she makes a new decision about the future of the studio, Sytera goes back and thinks about if it is aligned with her original “Find your Shine” concept. And then she checks the mission statement she drafted for the studio a year ago. In it she writes: “Because I allow myself to be vulnerable, I influence others to embrace their imperfections and find happiness in who they are right now. I encourage others to find their shine by embracing my own.”

Meghan Mullan is a writer and a SyteraYoga student living with her family in Bethesda, Maryland.

Kathy Low: Yoga from the Heart

Kathy Low: Yoga from the Heart

Alone, shaking and drifting out to sea, SyteraYoga teacher Kathy Low made a decision. She vowed not to forget what it’s like to be a beginner and to never leave a student stranded. The surfing instructor she had followed into the waves while on vacation in Costa Rica was a terrific surfer but he had forgotten what it was like to be new at something. “The experience brought me into a place of fear; but for him it was not fearful, and it made me realize that it’s easy to lose that connection with a beginner,” she said. Kathy, who has honed her yoga teaching for more than 15 years in Northern Virginia, has not forgotten. She is invested in connecting with her students and understanding what each is experiencing, whether they’ve been practicing for years or if they’re new. For her, it’s about meeting the needs of her students, individually, and encouraging them to grow in their practice. Like the ancient teachings of Viniyoga therapy, she believes that yoga should be adapted to fit the individuality and particular situation of each practitioner. When students arrive, she reads the room and checks in with people. Beginners need confidence, while experienced students are looking for tools to take their practice off the mat. “I become familiar with each individual; I am familiar with their body and their practice and I notice where there at,” she said. It’s what she calls a “private lesson in a group setting.”   Kathy Low Headstand “Anyone with skills and experiences (and a certification or two) in yoga can teach yoga, but only the ones with certain extraordinary traits become beloved and favorite yoga teachers,” said Patti Bhidej who studies with Kathy three to four times a week. Patti is attracted to Kathy’s positive energy, sweetness, openness, and warmth. “She speaks to me at the heart-level,” Patti said.  Heather Glick, accidentally signed up for Kathy’s Ashtanga class and quickly realized that she was in way over her head, but Kathy was so kind that it worked out. “The class was incredibly challenging but Kathy gives modifications, corrections, and assistance in such a loving and nurturing way that you find yourself trying and doing things because you feel safe and supported.” Kathy remembers well what it was like to find herself in a yoga class for the first time. She landed in a yoga class at the gym after the birth of her first child more than 20 years ago. In college Kathy studied photography at the Rhode Island School of Design and was working on a photojournalism career before she had her daughter. But, when her oldest was a baby, she soon realized that no one was going to be able to care for her daughter like she could. Kathy decided that she needed to find a more family-friendly path. Kathy Low - Downward Dog She grew up in Northern Virginia where her father, a neurosurgeon, had a practice for decades. Working at his office, she had always been comfortable with anatomy and with helping people through difficult times. From that experience, there was a part of her that knew she could help people in a more physical way. Yoga teaching seemed like the right fit. She tried different styles of yoga and it was when she ended up in an Ashtanga yoga class that she felt at home. She fell in love with the no nonsense, very physical, and non-mystical approach of Ashtanga. She found that Ashtanga, with it’s changeless, methodical, and rigorous series of poses, spoke to her. It was less complicated and, therefore, a more centering practice. There was serenity in the breath and body and the ongoing movement. She signed up for teacher training and soon found a calling. Many trainings later (she has trained with David Keil, David Swenson, Ganesh Mohan, and Stair Calhoun, among others), Kathy takes a scholarly approach to yoga, explaining ancient texts, using Sanskrit, and describing the science and anatomy behind the practice. She practices the “primary series” and the first five poses of the “intermediate series” of Ashtanga in her personal practice. Recently, there’s been a shift in her teaching. Intrigued by the benefits of breathwork and in a quest to help some of her older students, Kathy has brought more restorative elements to her classes at SyteraYoga. In comparison to the fiery, power-based poses of Ashtanga, her restorative classes encourage supine poses and assisted stretching to lubricate the joints. Each sequence is designed to move the spine in all directions by practicing bends, twists, and inversions to encourage deep relaxation. Once students have moved through the supine poses, they get to hold restoratives. Like a physical therapy session, Kathy offers hands on assists to help stretch and improve functional movement. Over and over she encourages her students to return to the breath. And, then, the icing on the cake: Kathy plays her quartz crystal singing bowl and the room is awash in mesmerizing tones. Students who monitor their blood pressure say that their numbers go down from this particular practice alone. Others report better sleep, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Part of why Kathy enjoys teaching restorative classes is that just giving students the knowledge of how to work with their breathing promotes less stress in their lives. “People aren’t aware that they have the breath as a tool to help calm and self-soothe.” Breathing is the way that your body naturally self-soothes and self-calms, she explains. It is the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system that calms through the breath. “Allowing the breath before movement that slows things down,” she says. With breath awareness, students are headed toward becoming more independent in their practice which, for Kathy, is the ultimate goal. She wants each and every student to create a life-long practice and ultimately, “be less reactive.” So he or she, if they want to, might catch a wave.  Meghan Mullan is a freelance writer living in Bethesda, Md. and SyteraYoga student.
When to Do Yoga to Further Your Practice

When to Do Yoga to Further Your Practice

hatha yoga

People from all walks of life have turned yoga to find balance, happiness, and peace in their daily lives. It’s also a phenomenal source of fitness training that works the arms and sculpts the core. It’s no wonder that 36 million Americans practice this ancient art, despite its origin in India dating back to over 5,000 years ago.

But whether you are new to the world of yoga or have been practicing for years, you may still struggle to understand when to implement yoga into your life.

If so, continue reading. Here is when you should do hatha yoga to further your practice.

Before a Presentation

A good hatha yoga session can help you wind down before a big or overly stressful event. Unlike vinyasa yoga, hatha yoga is meant to align the body and spirit. It’s a much more calming branch of yoga that focuses on breathing, holding static poses to align the spine, and meditation. As human beings, we can’t help but let our minds race, especially before an important date. We think of worse case scenarios and often psyche ourselves out, increasing our stress levels. But hatha yoga reminds us to be more mindful and present. The practice can help decrease feelings of anxiety and prep you for a big presentation at school or an important meeting at work. This way, you can feel prepared, calm, and ready to take on the world.

Select an early morning class or practice at home. Make sure to focus on your breathing and envision all of those negative thoughts and doubts leave your body as you work through the flow.

After Having a Baby

Don’t feel as if you have to get right back on track after having a child. Most women feel the need to start dieting and exercising right away to get back to their pre postpartum body. While an individual’s recovery is based on many factors, listen to your body and find out what is best for you. Just try not to rush the process.

When you are ready to start making strides regarding your health and fitness, practicing yoga is an incredibly effective tool for improving your body and state of mind.

Attending yoga classes is also a great way to get out of the house for an hour or so. While being away from your little one may feel hard at first, remember that this course of action is all in the name of self-care.

After Weightlifitng

Cooling down is an important part of muscle growth and recovery, and hatha yoga is the perfect way to return your muscles to their original resting lengths after a hardcore lifting session. Any avid powerlifter or weightlifter should implement hatha yoga into their fitness routine for optimum results, whether they want to build strength or size. Attending 1-3 weekly classes is rerecommended.

When You’re Feeling Down and Don’t Know Why

If you find yourself feeling lethargic or unhappy and can’t pinpoint why, try and attend a hatha yoga class. Hatha yoga can help with identifying problems in your life. With so many distractions in our daily lives, an hour class can help you find clarity.

Performing Hatha Yoga For a Happier and Healthier Life

As you can see, there are many instances where delving into your practice can benefit your body, soul, and mind. Take a class, learn the basic flow, and take your newfound knowledge with you to use whenever you’re in need of all the spiritual benefits of yoga. Whether you’re nervous about your first day at a new job, or just feel as if yoga is a great way to dip your toe in the water when wanting to live a healthier lifestyle, you will discover that the practice will benefit you in every aspect of your life.

A Beginner’s Guide to Vinyasa Yoga

A Beginner’s Guide to Vinyasa Yoga

vinyasa yoga


The yoga community continues to grow throughout the U.S., with approximately one in three Americans trying out yoga at least once. But whether you’ve taken a few yoga classes or have merely considered trying out instructional videos at home, you might not realize that there are many variations of practice within the discipline of yoga.

There are several different techniques and methods to choose from, which can make it a bit confusing for those who are less experienced in this area to find the right yoga studio nearby. In today’s post, we’ll be discussing one particular type of yoga: vinyasa yoga. Let’s find out more about vinyasa and why you might want to consider incorporating it into your routines for fitness and stress relief.

Defining Vinyasa Yoga

The word “vinyasa” pertains to mindfulness. It’s a Sanskrit word that means “to place in a special way.” It can actually be used outside of yoga applications, as you can use “vinyasa” principles for just about any physical task. In the yoga context, it may also be used to describe moving through breath – but what it really refers to is the conscious way in which yoga practitioners move through a sequence. Vinyasa is characterized by the way one posture connects to the next through breath. The “vinyasa flow” may be used by studio instructors to describe a specific set of movements.

The History of Vinyasa

Vinyasa yoga evolved out of ashtanga yoga, which was created in the early 20th century. Unlike the type of yoga from which it stems, vinyasa is much freer; poses and sequences can be changed. Vinyasa yoga may not always be categorized as such, though there are other popular types of yoga (like power yoga, for example) that’s technically a type of vinyasa.

How Vinyasa Differs From Other Types of Yoga

Vinyasa is unique in that it’s not merely about individual poses; this practice focuses more on the transitions between those postures. In this way, it’s more movement-based than other kinds of yoga. It also tends to provide a more intense workout, since participants are constantly moving in class. That said, class intensity levels can vary widely, which means that this type of yoga may also be accessible for many ability levels. The same cannot always be said for other kinds of yoga.

Vinyasa For Beginners

One reason this type of yoga has become so popular is that it’s relatively easy to teach and to learn; it can also be modified to fit participants’ needs. As a result, there will probably be many levels of vinyasa classes available to you, especially here in Northern Virginia. Some classes will focus on the cardio elements, while others will center more around strength-building. Typically, a class will either be geared towards more advanced participants or will stick to the basics. It’s really up to the individual participant to choose the class that appeals to their needs and abilities. Fortunately, this type of yoga is already able to be modified if necessary – so beginners can feel free to listen to their bodies and adjust as needed.

Although starting a new practice like yoga can feel a bit intimidating at first, it usually helps to learn about it before you ever step foot in a studio. That way, you can feel confident you’ve chosen the right class and will be able to reap all of the benefits this discipline can offer. For more information, please contact us at SyteraYoga today.

Can Taking Yoga Classes Relieve Your Back Pain?

Can Taking Yoga Classes Relieve Your Back Pain?

yoga classes

In recent years, yoga has increased in popularity throughout the United States among all demographics. In fact, the number of yoga participants aged 50 and above has tripled during the last four years alone. Yoga classes have mass appeal for a variety of reasons; people can take yoga for the purpose of losing weight, toning muscle or even for pursuing mental or spiritual wellness. For others, practicing yoga can also be a way to minimize or even eliminate painful conditions.

Roughly 31 million Americans experience low-back pain at any given time. This type of pain is currently the leading cause of disability worldwide and is one of the most prominent causes of missed work and doctors’ appointments, according to the American Chiropractic Association. Making matters more complicated, back pain can be caused by many different factors and can be treated in various ways – some of which may be more effective than others.

Physical activity (along with therapeutic methods like chiropractic care, massage and acupuncture) can relieve this type of pain more effectively – and with fewer undesirable side effects – than conventional medications or surgical procedures can. It makes sense, then, that the kinds of classes offered by yoga studios could also go a long way in providing essential relief.

Can Yoga Classes Reduce Back Pain?

In short: yes, one of the many benefits of yoga can include the alleviation of back pain. According to a report published by the U.S. Department of Human and Health Services’ National Institutes of Health, researchers found that yoga was as effective as standard physical therapy for treating moderate to severe chronic low back pain.

It’s understandable as to why yoga might have this positive health effect. The practice of yoga combines stretching, relaxation and the strengthening of muscles. Many of the postures prevalent throughout different types of yoga involve stretching and strengthening the muscles in the back, as well as the abdominal muscles. This can help to support the spine and subsequently reduce back pain.

That said, back pain sufferers will need to put effort into choosing the right yoga classes. It’s best to steer clear of more aggressive options (like “hot” yoga or Ashtanga), as these will present physical challenges that may not be a good fit. However, studios that offer Vinyasa yoga, Hatha yoga, Yin yoga or Somatic yoga can all be great options for people who want to improve their back pain. Vinyasa, in particular, focuses on having a smooth transition between movements, which can ensure deliberate physicality and minimize the potential for injury. Before signing up or attending a class, make sure to find out more about the intensity and experience level to make certain it’s a good fit for your capabilities. Speaking with a studio instructor beforehand can also be highly beneficial in determining the best class for your needs. This can also be helpful in prearranging alternate postures instead of modifying more difficult postures mid-pose throughout the class.

It’s a good idea to discuss your back pain with your doctor prior to participating in any kind of exercise or treatment. But given the positive impact that yoga can have on back pain, it’s clear why this practice has become a go-to for many people.

To learn more about how yoga can support your wellness goals, please contact us today.

Beyond the Physical: The Psychological Benefits of Yoga

Beyond the Physical: The Psychological Benefits of Yoga

benefits of yoga

In recent years, the popularity of yoga has continued to rise. In fact, the number of Americans who practice yoga increased by 50% between 2012 and 2016. In Western culture, yoga classes are seen as a way to tone the body, gain flexibility and balance and even lose weight. But traditionally, many of the benefits of yoga extend beyond the physical.

Historically, the purpose of practicing yoga was to achieve harmony between the body, mind and spirit, as well as with the environment. Meditation is a major component of yoga, but it’s often overshadowed by the fitness component of this discipline. To reap all of the benefits of yoga, it’s important to focus on both the physical and the mental aspects of the practice.

A talented, reputable yoga studio can allow you to do just that. Before you walk in with your mat, here’s more information on the mental or psychological advantages of participating in this practice.

Yoga Can Relieve Stress and Anxiety

You’ve probably heard others in the yoga community talk about the stress relief this practice provides. Of course, exercise releases endorphins – and that helps you to feel happier. When doing yoga, your body will also release chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin. Those feel-good hormones can go a long way in relieving mental tension.

By focusing on your breath and a series of poses, you can actually soothe your own worries. Data compiled by Harvard Medical School suggests that the unique components of yoga can modulate the body’s stress response systems and even help you respond more effectively to stress. Therefore, it’s seen as a helpful activity for people with anxiety or who deal with a lot of stress.

Yoga May Improve Cognitive Function

Did you know that yoga might actually make you smarter? Studies have found that regular yoga practice can actually improve the connection between the brain cells as a neurotransmitter known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Increasing those cell connections can improve cognitive function, memory and concentration. A big part of yoga is learning how to clear out all distractions and mentally focus; this regular discipline can allow you to recall important details and concentrate more effectively overall. You’ll probably find you’re more productive at work and more present in your personal life, too!

Yoga Might Combat Depression and Trauma

One of the many benefits of yoga is that, in some cases, it can be used in conjunction with (or as an alternative to) other mental health treatments to improve overall quality of life. The regulation of the stress response system may have a significant impact on those who are struggling with depression. There’s also evidence to suggest that people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may benefit from practicing yoga. In certain cases where traditional treatment methods have failed, the American Psychological Association notes that some types of yoga have been effective in reducing PTSD symptoms.

Whether you’ve been experiencing high levels of stress at work or you simply want to improve your cognitive abilities, you can benefit from making yoga part of your routine. To learn more about our classes and discover which ones may be right for you, please contact SyteraYoga today.

Suzanne Romness: Focus on the Journey

Suzanne Romness: Focus on the Journey

It’s easy to believe that SyteraYoga teacher Suzanne Romness was a gifted athlete as a child. She talks with her body, demonstrating poses and moving around the classroom so that she is physically close to her students, squatting to meet with them on their mats in their down dogs. But being a gifted athlete can have disadvantages.

Suzanne grew up running on the beach across the street from her childhood home in Playa del Rey, a Los Angeles oceanside community nestled on dunes just south of LAX. She was swimming in the ocean at the age of five. She spent her days playing volleyball, tennis, basketball, and ultimate frisbee. In high school, she became serious about tennis and was recruited to play Division I at Loyola Marymount University.

Then, during her sophomore year, her shoulder gave out. She knew something might have been wrong, but she pushed herself to compete anyway, repeating movements over and over. Ultimately, she was warming up for a match when she realized she couldn’t get her arm up over her shoulder to serve. The deltoid muscles were shredded as a result of overuse. She never played college-level tennis again; it was a career-ender. She had always imagined she would be a professional tennis player or a coach, but she had to readjust her outlook.

Suzanne Romness: Focus on the Journey

Today, Suzanne looks back on that experience with the knowledge that years of teaching yoga can bring: “It’s easy to live in an unbalanced way. The body seeks balance, yet the mind often won’t settle. We can get used to living in a rushed and unhealthy way.” 

After her injury, Suzanne transferred to U.C. Santa Barbara and refocused on her political science major, eventually moving to the D.C. area for a job with the Senate Armed Services Committee. Still very active with running, she decided to go back to graduate school at American University in health fitness management. She ran fitness centers, including at the Army Materiel Command and at a Washington, D.C. law firm where she taught aerobics, nutrition, stretch-and-strengthen classes, and squash. 

Her life was very active and “full of motion,” she says. So, when her mother-in-law invited her to Rancho la Puerta Wellness Spa in the mountains of Tacate, Mexico, she couldn’t wait to go. For the first time in her life, she began to really focus on yoga.

The well-known resort features vegetarian food, hikes, pools, guest speakers, and fitness classes every hour throughout the day. She began each day hiking 4-5 miles up the mountains, followed by yoga, Pilates, and cardio classes.  It was the first time she’d taken a yoga class and just loved it. She remembers the yoga teacher guiding the class in a breathing exercise, and realized it was the first time she was mindful of her breath while exercising.  Right then she knew yoga was something she needed and wanted in her life. After the retreat, she started doing yoga regularly. “I had always done cardio sports, running, swimming, biking, and tennis, and I realized yoga would provide me with much-needed balance in my life.” At the age of 40, Suzanne added yoga to her life and since then has felt more balance, calm, and accepting of herself and others.

Now Suzanne has four children: two older kids, who are 30 and 27, and then two younger children, who are 17 and 15. Her older daughter followed in her footsteps, playing college-level soccer at the University of South Carolina.

Along with teaching yoga to adults and children, Suzanne is a certified personal trainer. She admires the gentle, happy-go-lucky style of California-based yoga guru, Erich Schiffmann, author of Moving Into Stillness. Like Schiffmann, she teaches self-acceptance in her hatha, vinyasa, and restorative classes.

Suzanne’s teaching style varies depending on the class she is teaching and the students in the class. “I believe my students let me know what they need. It’s important to me that each student learns to feel the poses in their body and guide their practice with the breath.” She is a stickler for form and breathwork–yoga is about recognizing when and how to take care of oneself. 

After 40 years of running and not stretching, Suzanne has tight hamstrings and still can’t get her heels flat in Down Dog, but she continues to work on it. Yoga is about the journey of guiding the body into poses. “I love that yoga is called a practice. There is always something else to learn and discover about our bodies,” she says.

Meghan Mullan is a Bethesda-based writer and SyteraYoga student.

Chuck Rogers: The Power of Yoga

Chuck Rogers: The Power of Yoga

The first thing one notices about SyteraYoga teacher Chuck Rogers’ class is the words he uses. They get into your head. “Get back into your hands. Find that drive. We’re still looking for work.” Whoa! What did he just say? His voice is his reassuring, his presence open, and then his ideas linger long after the endless chair poses are over.

Chuck says it was the language he heard in the first yoga classes he took at a Baron Baptiste power yoga studio in Virginia that hooked him on yoga. An athletic kid who dabbled in baseball, basketball, and soccer, it wasn’t until Chuck studied yoga that it dawned on him that one could exercise with a purpose. And that purpose could be personal growth and self-exploration. “There is more to what we are doing than sweating,” he says. 

When Chuck found yoga it was good timing. In his twenties, he had been let go from a desk job with a government contractor that wasn’t fulfilling, and he felt directionless. His sister begged him to go to a yoga class, and he found himself at the Baptiste studio enjoying the athletic flow and the heat. He began working at the studio and that led to taking teacher training where he connected with his classmates and began to feel supported.

From being in Chuck’s class one would never guess that teaching yoga did not come easily. “It was like pulling teeth,” he says. In the beginning, he hated being in front of people and he had anxiety before every class. It took years of feeling like he was a bad teacher until he started listening to students who were telling him how good he was. “I was telling myself to believe them and then finally I did,” he says.

Chuck, who is also a Crossfit instructor, does not shy away from rigor. It’s not unheard of for Chuck to put students into crow at the beginning of class, followed by multiple transitions through chair pose leading into handstand jumps. Although his class is certainly a workout, it’s not something most yogis can’t handle, he says. He offers modifications and believes in quality movement and good form. He goes into detail to help people pay attention to the poses and become stronger and more stable in their cores, protecting their backs, knees, and shoulders. 

“I want them to slow down enough during a movement so that they can really focus and do the work rather than just make a shape and play along.”

Chuck has a B.A. global affairs and spent his childhood bouncing around overseas. His father worked for Save the Children, a subcontractor for USAID. Born in El Salvador, Chuck lived in Bolivia, Boston, Atlanta, and Trinidad and Tobago growing up. Although he sounds like an American, he doesn’t understand U.S. pop culture and often didn’t know what the other kids were talking about growing up, giving him the perspective of a foreigner.

After getting over the initial awkwardness of being on camera, teaching yoga during the pandemic has been a positive experience for Chuck. His philosophy is that people are going through a lot in their lives and he isn’t looking to interject more. Before his online class, he opens up a conversation for his students. There is banter. Then he begins class with his reassuring voice and familiar humor but not much more because,, as he explains, “this is a time for them to go into their lives; a chance to see things for themselves and experience this time for themselves. It is a time to take advantage of being home and being present.”

Meghan Mullan is a Bethesda-based writer and SyteraYoga student.

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