Yoga: An exercise for all reasons

April 30th, 2018

A mother and daughter doing yoga.

Suffering from anxiety or depression? Try yoga. Feel like you’re losing your flexibility? Try yoga. Having balance issues? Well, you know what to do.

Yoga is an ancient art with many modern applications, and everyone can benefit from it, said Hetal Mehta, a physical therapist and outpatient rehabilitation educator who also is a certified yoga instructor with UCHealth’s Boulder Health Center. She’s been teaching yoga there since 2005 after taking a 200-hour yoga teacher training course at El Dorado Yoga Ashram in Boulder.

“My classes are intended to provide a safe environment for patients or former patients who want to try yoga,” she said. “But some of them have been with me for 10 years now.”

The reasons for taking yoga instruction are as varied as the people who come to class.

“One client comes just to relax,” she said. “Another says it helps her asthma.”

“There are a lot of yoga options here in Boulder,” Mehta said. “And it can be pretty intimidating to walk into a studio where everyone is young and fit or has been practicing yoga all their lives. (The center) is a safe place for those recovering from injuries, and for those who have chronic issues or want to manage their pain.”

Hetal Mehta, a physical therapist and outpatient rehabilitation educator, strikes a yoga pose.
Hetal Mehta is a physical therapist and outpatient rehabilitation educator who also is a certified yoga instructor with UCHealth’s Boulder Health Center.

She teaches two classes a week and they are limited to six participants per class.

Who can do yoga?

“Almost anyone,” she said.

There are yoga classes for young children, senior citizens and everyone in between across the Front Range. Age and ability should not be a barrier, she added.

“For a while, I had an 80-year-old woman who came to my classes, and she rode her bike to and from them,” Mehta said.

She does caution that anyone who has had an injury should get clearance from their health care provider before starting yoga. If you have a specific physical issue, talk to your yoga instructor to modify positions that don’t work for you or that cause pain.

“Some people may think that’s cheating, but it’s OK,” she said. “In fact, it’s more than OK. It’s getting your body moving, and that’s the important part.”

The benefits of yoga are well documented.

“I think everybody can benefit, depending on what their intention is,” Mehta said. “Everyone benefits in a different way. It depends on what they want out of the practice.”

Breathing is an important emphasis in class.

“Yoga means union, to unite body, mind and spirit. Breathing helps connect the body and the mind. Many of us don’t know how to breathe well. We have a shallow breath pattern. Or we have bad posture, which decreases our lung capacity. So opening your chest to allow full expansion of your lungs has been shown to decrease stress levels and make your adrenal system more effective. It’s also good for flexibility, strength and posture.  But physiologically, there are so many more benefits as well.”

Breathing is important, but so is the asana (pose), she said.

“As a physical therapist, I think one of the great values of yoga is that we are learning how to use our bodies. We can pick up on any asymmetries we might have and work on better posture and alignment,” she said.

“Our skeletal system is designed to work in a certain alignment. If you’re not in proper alignment, it makes everything – muscles, joints and so on – all work harder.”

Some practitioners wonder: Why are some poses held for so long?

“With typical stretching, the recommendation usually is to hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds to get the maximum effect of the stretch,” she said. “Sometimes holding a pose for a longer period of time allows us to go deeper into the pose. It’s a great way to build strength.”

Yoga also is good for the joints because it provides nutrition to the joints, she added. And it strengthens the muscles that support the joints.

“It’s great for bone health,” she said. Some poses, like downward dog and plank, provide weight bearing through the arms which can help maintain bone density, she added.

Yoga also may be good for the brain.

“There are some studies that show that the breathing reduces your stress reaction. Resetting your breath can help reduce your cortisol levels, which can help reduce anxiety and depression.”

Mehta has been working with the UCHealth Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation – CeDAR – to teach some yoga classes to their clients

“It’s an exciting new venture,” she said.

There are so many benefits to practicing yoga. The list, she said, is endless.

The bottom line is, “It really is what you want to make of it. You can take away what you want. There are a multitude of reasons to try yoga. Find your own.”

Mehta has occasional openings, so call 720-848-2000 to inquire.

About the author

Linda DuVal is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs who writes articles for UCHealth.