The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

June 4, 2014

Wellness Wednesday: Y & Z

YMCA offers yoga for mind-body awareness, Zumba for booty-shaking and shaping

By Wendy Holdren
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — Whether you’re looking for a way to relax, a supplement to a workout routine or even to improve your golf swing, yoga might be the class for you.

YMCA of Southern West Virginia yoga instructor Kelli Whitfield said she recommends yoga for men and women of all ages.

She’s been practicing yoga since 1991 and she’s been teaching at the Y for a year and a half.

“I was a dancer growing up,” Whitfield said. “With the strength and flexibility, yoga just felt natural to me.”

Creating strong, toned muscles and being more flexible are just two of the many health benefits yoga provides.

According to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), yoga also improves balance, improves respiration, increases energy, helps with the maintenance of a balanced metabolism, reduces weight, improves cardiovascular and circulatory health, improves athletic performance and helps protect from injury.

One participant in Whitfield’s class said her son practices yoga to increase his flexibility for rock climbing.

While most yoga classes have a majority of women, Whitfield strongly encourages men to join in the practice as well.

“I had a golfer attend classes and we worked on his shoulders all winter. He said it greatly improved his range of motion in his swing.”

She said some men feel intimidated because they’re not naturally flexible, but flexibility will come with practicing yoga.

No matter your age, your gender, your body type, your physical conditions or ailments, there is a type of yoga for you.

The AOA says there are more than 100 different types of yoga, all of which use a combination of breathing exercises, meditation and assuming postures called “asana” that stretch and flex various muscle groups.

Whitfield’s classes are traditional, but she’s happy to make reasonable accommodations and show participants modifications if they need them.

For seniors with mobility issues, she recommends chair-based yoga classes at the Raleigh County Commission on Aging.

While dancing and the physical aspect of yoga is why Whitfield got started, that’s not why she stuck with it.

“I love the mind/body connection with yoga. It helps with tension release through the day and really improves your day-to-day life.”

Yoga is great for stress management, Whitfield said, and it helps improve concentration.

“By bringing awareness to your breath during your practice, your shopping list or your agenda for the day is off your mind.”

She said yoga isn’t like other classes — it’s not about raising your heart rate or burning X amount of calories, it’s more about connecting your body with your mind.

“I encourage people to try yoga as a way to enhance their well being.”

She prefers to practice yoga in the mornings, but for non-morning people, she said any yoga is better than no yoga.

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For the booty shakers and the non-booty shakers alike, Zumba classes offer a fun, high-energy workout for men and women of all ages.

Hip-hop and Latin rhythms fill the air inside the group exercise studio when class gets started and the instructor greets her class with a smile.

“Don’t forget — smiling burns 70 calories,” instructor Amy Howell said to the participants as they began their hour session.

Howell, an X-ray technician at Raleigh General Hospital, said she has been doing Zumba for two and a half years.

“It’s so fun. It’s not that tedious, repetitive workout,” Howell said.

She said she wasn’t a workout buff by any means when she got started — she just liked to dance.

She danced while attending high school at Wyoming East and found Zumba was an easy transition for her.

Howell has now been teaching Zumba classes at the YMCA of Southern West Virginia for a little over a year.

“You get to dance with good music, and it’s much more enjoyable than most workouts.”

There are two important aspects of Zumba that many people don’t realize — No. 1: You don’t have to be able to dance to do Zumba. No. 2: Zumba is a great workout, even for beginners.

“I hear a lot of people say, ‘I can’t dance.’ With Zumba, you don’t have to dance. As long as you’re moving, you’re doing the right thing.”

She said you don’t have to be shaking your booty the entire time, but by all means, participants are welcome to if they want.

Workouts can be tailored to individual fitness levels. For example, Howell encourages all the people in her class to take it at their own pace and do any modifications necessary.

“You don’t have to worry about feeling awkward because everybody’s having a good time and it’s very easy.”

Although the Zumba classes at the Y are attended mostly by women, Howell invites everyone to participate, men included.

“What a lot of people don’t know is the founder of Zumba is a man.”

Zumba was founded in 2001 as a global lifestyle brand that fuses fitness, entertainment and culture into a dance-fitness sensation.

These classes are total body workouts that get the heart pumping.

“It’s great cardio. It’s always good to get the heart rate up, and it strengthens muscles, some of which you don’t even realize you use.”

No matter what type of exercise someone chooses, Howell encourages everyone to get active.

Although starting a routine can be challenging, Howell said the benefits are well worth the lifestyle change.

“It will make you feel so much better. It isn’t fun at first, but when you get in a routine, you want to do it all the time. Even if you just do it once, you’ll see how much better you feel and how much more energy you have throughout the day.”

— E-mail: wholdren@register-herald.com

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