In the best of times, yoga offers a wide range of physical, mental, and spiritual benefits.
In the worst of times, a yoga class – even livestreamed – can be a saving grace.
2020 felt like the longest year on record, and 2021 isn’t starting out much better. For many of us, the world has felt like one giant stress ball, from the ongoing menace of COVID-19 to political strife, economic uncertainty, lack of exercise, and lost connections to friends and family. Thankfully, there are ways to cope and comfort while also promoting physical and mental health.
Yoga is sometimes thought of primarily as an exercise that improves balance, flexibility, and strength. And it does do all of that, along with providing relief for back pain and arthritis and improving heart health, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
But yoga has also been proven to promote relaxation, improve sleep, increase energy, manage stress, brighten mood, and provide a supportive community – in other words, just what you need to push back against many of the biggest COVID-related problems short of actually getting sick yourself.
“Yoga is beneficial for the whole self – the physical and mental awareness,” says Tracy Ramos, director of Bristol Yoga Studio. “Physically, yoga helps not just because of the movement but also the awareness yoga brings to the body. Our community reports great benefits from yoga in helping with anxiety and stress, as well as depression.”
Alyssa Sullivan, owner of Barrington’s Synergy Power Yoga, adds that while most people are immersed in their daily existence, yoga can open the “third eye” of enlightenment about the deeper meaning of life.
“We’ve never been this rattled before,” says Sullivan. “People are afraid, and fear is one of the worst things for our bodies and taps into all of our worst qualities. It’s so vital for yoga to offer a reminder of the divine within.”
There are more than a dozen distinct types of yoga, many of which are available at studios around the East Bay. “Yoga is malleable and yields to the needs of the person at the time,” says Ramos. “At our studio, we have classes that focus on the physical aspects of yoga (asana) with classes that have many poses, as well as classes that focus on meditation and breathing techniques and slower body movements. Because we all come from different experiences and backgrounds as practitioners, our instructors really focus on helping folks find what works best for them.”
Like many other businesses, local yoga studios have gone virtual in response to social distancing requirements to slow the spread of coronavirus. Bristol Yoga Studio, for example, has been offering live online classes since March.
“It’s of course different than being in person, but our community has always focused on learning our personal yoga, so doing yoga from our living rooms was a transition we were well prepared for,” Ramos explains.
Bringing yoga home has always been part of the practice, even when classes were usually held in person, she adds.
“Yoga happens more than just on the mat,” says Ramos. “So, I’d say that if you can only attend occasionally, to take the lessons of awareness and breathing you learn from class into your regular life. That’s where the real magic happens.”
In addition to online classes, Bristol Yoga Studio has offered yoga at several outdoor locations in Bristol during the pandemic, including on the grounds of the Linden Place mansion, Mount Hope Farm, Independence Park, and in the gardens at Blithewold. The studio offers a variety of hatha yoga classes, including slow flow yoga and non-asana classes that focus on meditation and breathing rather than physical poses.
Barrington’s Synergy Power Yoga, on the other hand, emphasizes the workout aspects of vinyasa yoga, with sessions held in a heated room and following the Baptiste Power Vinyasa philosophy to use yoga to build strength and flexibility. Mindfulness is still part of the mix, however, and the studio’s commitment to community extends to several charitable programs, such as fundraising for Providence’s McAuley House.
“Because of the depths that we go with our shared meditative experience, people have a real sense of their ‘yoga buddies’,” says Sullivan.
Yoga can be enjoyed at any age, and who better to do child’s pose than an actual child? Tiverton’s Nanaquaket Yoga Studio has carved out a niche with its children’s programs since opening in early 2020, adapting to COVID-19 restrictions by creating “cohort” classes where young students participate in small groups with no crossover to other classes. Live and Zoom classes range from beginner and “foundational” yoga to more advanced vinyasa and align and flow sessions.
Reverend Shelley Dungan is an interfaith minister and yogi: Not surprisingly, her classes at Middletown’s Sacred Center are suffused with spirituality – Eastern and Christian alike. Gentle and all-levels yoga is held in-studio or outdoors at Norman Bird Sanctuary and Third Beach, along with Zoom and on-demand classes via YouTube and Vimeo. Dungan also leads spirituality book groups and prayer walks – she’ll even officiate your wedding.
The broad range of classes offered at Portsmouth’s Seaside Yoga Studio includes Kundalini yoga, where in addition to movement and meditation you’ll get to join in some traditional chanting. On the other end of the spectrum are the thoroughly modern weighted yoga flow classes, which combine yoga poses with isometric exercise using resistance bands. If your idea of serenity is energetic movement to up-tempo music, this is the yoga for you.
Co-founded by yogis Reinette Fournier and Tom Speare, the Tenth Gate Center for Yoga and Meditation in Portsmouth offers online Kundalini yoga classes – some incorporating Reiki healing practices – and school and corporate wellness programs that include yoga, meditation, and relaxation sessions.
Combine some retail therapy with therapeutic yoga at Newport Power Yoga, located in the heart of Newport on Bellevue Avenue. But don’t mistake the tony address for snootiness: The studio offers four weekly community yoga classes for just $6 each, with the aim of making yoga accessible to everyone.
Finally, if you’re concerned about taking a yoga class with other people, consider doing it with a goat. Simmons Farm in Middletown typically offers outdoor goat yoga classes – yes, that’s yoga poses that incorporate live goats – from May to October. But owner Karla Simmons says that with new baby goats expected to be born in February, classes could be earlier than usual in 2021 – we kid you not.