Practicing yoga helps keep your muscles flexible, lowers your stress level and improves your posture.
By Georgetta Lordi Morque
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Deborah Caruana of Vital Signs Fitness, Yoga and Coaching, breathes into the boat pose.
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According to a recent CBS News segment, new research shows that practicing yoga regularly may lower your blood pressure, your heart rate, your stress levels, your B.M.I. (body mass index) and your LDL (bad cholesterol). Add these benefits to those that many people already know: increased flexibility and strength; improved posture, balance and body awareness; better sleep; a calmer mind; lifted moods and a more relaxed state of being.
So it’s not surprising that this ancient practice has now grown into a $27 billion industry in the U.S. Nor is it surprising that New York City has become a mecca for celebrity yoga instructors, trendy yoga apparel stores, yoga happenings in Central Park and Times Square and some 300 yoga studios (see YogaCityNYC.com), offering hundreds of yoga classes ranging from restorative yoga to uplifting aerial yoga. There’s even yoga you can do with your dog—Doga!
If you haven’t embraced yoga yet, it’s not too late. But how do you navigate the maze of yoga programs? Fortunately I caught up with Deborah Caruana, RN, a certified yoga instructor, personal trainer, and wellness coach who had a long career in health and fitness. She rediscovered yoga in her late 40s and, after three years of dedicated training, she regained the flexibility that she had lost over the years. She is a passionate believer in yoga’s healing powers and nourishing benefits, particularly for mature women. Caruana now teaches yoga to her previous fitness clients and she offers private lessons at her home studio Vital Signs Fitness, Yoga, Coaching NYC on the Upper East Side. She has guided such celebrities as Barbra Streisand, Sigourney Weaver and Donna Karan. She also lectures and blogs on yoga.
“When we hit 50, the body begins to change,” says Caruana. “Joints get stiffer, we lose muscle tone, over or underused joints may become sore and stiff and eventually arthritic; old injuries start to act up more and metabolism slows down.” The slow gentle movements of yoga, she says, keep muscles limber, flexible and strong and they also keep joints healthy and lubricated with synovial fluid. Breathing properly is also extremely important. “Breath work teaches us how to relax while moving, especially through challenging poses. Specific breathing techniques can reduce anxiety, calm our nerves, cool or heat the body, and take one deeper into meditation.” Caruana finds this especially helpful for type “A” New Yorkers. “It’s all about releasing and letting go.”
Yoga also helps with balance as we age by addressing the interplay between our eyes, brain, nervous system, muscles and bones. “Yoga consistently challenges us to strengthen our balance in standing poses, as well as on our hands and knees, shoulders or even on our head,” says Caruana. Yoga can also incorporate core work: exercises to help the entire body work as one unit. But enthusiasts have to be careful when they practice yoga to prevent the risks of injuries. In some class situations, people can become competitive, warns Caruana, which is how injuries happen. Don’t try to do what everyone else is doing and don’t try to do everything. “Be mindful of your physical limitations, strengths and abilities, so that yoga is graceful, fun, and easy with measured challenges.”
To avoid injuries and enjoy yoga, it’s important to practice correctly. For beginners, Caruana recommends taking an introductory class with an instructor who provides personal attention. She suggests one or a combination of the following yoga styles: Gentle, Restorative, Therapeutic, Vinyasa (more active flow), Pranayama (breathing techniques) and Meditation. All poses can be modified with blankets, blocks, chairs and walls. “Think of yoga as a lifestyle,” says Caruana. “It’s taking you on a journey into your body in a whole new way.”
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Yoga Studios in New York City
Yoga studios are beginning to hold in-person classes since the pandemic for vaccinated guests. Check online for information about virtual classes.
ISHTA Yoga. Studios on 56 East 11th St. and 212 East 57th St. provide alignment-based flow classes with attention to the individual. Monthly and yearly plans available. Variety of classes from beginner to chair yoga to intermediate/advanced Vinyasa to meditation. Spa with massage and body work.
Integral Yoga Institute. 227 West 13th St. Nonprofit institute dedicated to the practice and teaching of Integral Yoga that facilitates an easeful body, peace of mind, useful life and realization of one’s true self. Single class: $20; $5 off discounts for seniors over 65, veterans, and the unemployed. There’s also a yoga class for arthritis and chronic pain. Wellness spa with a variety of services including acupuncture, Reiki and Shiatsu.
YogaWorks. Locations on Westside, Eastside, Union Square, Soho, Brooklyn Heights, and Westchester. A diverse array of yoga styles; signature classes paced from moderate to vigorous; special programs for beginners, rewards program.
Samamkaya Yoga Back Care & Scoliosis Collective. 119 West 23rd Street. Dedicated to classes for back care and scoliosis. Therapeutically-oriented for students with structural issues, back pain or postural concerns. First-time student prices such as $10 for one-hour class. One 90-minute class: $27; 5 class card; $110; lunchtime 5 class card; $80. Unlimited plans for one month, 6 months or a year.
Yoga Vida.Three locations: 666 Broadway, 99 University Place, and 55 Prospect St., Brooklyn (some may be closed). Co-founded by Hilaria Baldwin. Method connects purposeful movement with conscious breath; classes designed to be accessible and inclusive. Basic, flow and meditation classes for different levels, some with live music or candlelight. Discounts for seniors over 65.
Asphalt Green. 555 East 90th St. and 212 North End Ave., Battery Park City. Variety of yoga classes, including Vinyasa, Hatha, Himalayan and more. Free for members. Each class is $15. Make reservations two weeks in advance. Private lessons also available.
Saltonstall Studio. 17 E. 16th St. Therapeutic classes, including one for osteoporosis. Email for prices. Series of four or ten classes available. Private lessons also offered.
YMCA.YMCAs offer a variety of yoga classes, including gentle, Hatha, Kundalini, Iyengar and more.