LEWISBURG — The calming impact of yoga and tai chi can improve your physical and mental well-being, area instructors share.

Whether your problem is COPD or anxiety, these ancient practices can cause your body to respond differently within its environment.

Yoga

Dawn Shawley is the certified yoga instructor at the Miller Center in Lewisburg.

“There is an image out there about yoga that you have to be flexible, limber and slim like you see on a magazine cover,” she said, “But I am very much a supporter of the fact that anybody can do it. If you can breathe, you can practice yoga.”

Shawley said yoga is a science because of the practice of specific postures, the impact on circulation, and its physical and mental capabilities.

The mind and body experience go hand in hand, she said, and are benefited simultaneously.

“As you practice postures, there is a peace of mind and clarity. You focus completely on your breathing. Ask yourself, ‘How often do I actually focus on my breathing?’”

Shawley started practicing yoga in 2004 and became a certified instructor in 2007. She has two small children at home and said she does yoga daily.

“The key is to pay attention to your breathing. When you’re feeling anxiety it is in your upper chest. We teach you to breathe with your belly.”

Breathing techniques have helped people with asthma and COPD, Shawley said.

The calming approach may be good for children with autism.

Jill Kline teaches yoga at the Middlecreeak Area Community Center in Beaver Springs. She said she has read studies about how guided meditation can help an autistic child focus on his breathing.

“You get a visual as someone is walking you through the breathing,” she said, noting this process can be effective for anyone.

“I personally have had a hard time closing down the chatter in my head. I imagine it must be so difficult for a child.”

The ability to remain calm is crucial for health, instructors said.

“The relaxation and self -understanding can reduce your knee-jerk reactions,” Shawley said. She gave the example of knowing how to remain calm can help when you are cut off by another vehicle when driving. Your reaction may not be as negative.

Kline said she has done a class that focuses on improving sleep, as well. Twice a year, including just before the holidays, she does a yoga nidra course at the MACC.

“Practicing this type of yoga for an hour is equivalent to four hours of rest,” she said.

The yoga stretching and movements are helpful for some physical issues, too.

“I had clients come in who had knee replacements,” Shawley said, “It is important to modify. Yoga is adapted to you and your body.”

Kline said she had back pain and little arm strength when she started. She paced herself at her own level and now has that strength needed to do the more challenging poses.

“Just because someone can do a full plank doesn’t mean you can. It can take a year or a few years. I couldn’t do the wheel pose,” she said, which is basically a full back bend.

“It took me two years,” Kline said, and now she can bend her back into that position.

Shawley said she has had clients come to her classes at the recommendation of physicians.

“It comes down to moving your body the way that is appropriate for you. It is a deeper attention to what is going on with your own body and opens your mind.”

Becky Duignan, instructor with Studio B Yoga Center in Danville agrees.

“Yoga encourages mindfulness in regards to our physical and emotional health, which is achieved through breath work, meditation, and healthy movements to strengthen the body,” she said, adding, “Yoga is not a workout program but an all-encompassing way of life involving an ongoing practice of health, peace, and respect.”

Tai Chi

The similar practice of tai chi, or what is known to some as “Chinese yoga,” also accomplishes a mindful approach to all areas of your body’s health.

Jim Birt is a certified lifetime professional with the National QiGong Association and teaches tai chi at with his business known as Harmony Spirit School in Danville.

Tai chi is a part of the life energy practice of QiGong which includes five to eight movements. Birt began studying the practice in 1985 and began teaching in 1991.

Birt described the medical impact of tai chi as one that “stimulates the lymphatic system.” He noted that this system of the body has no pump like the circulatory system. Instead, body movements “pump” the lymphatic system.

“In early China they would mimic movements of animals and found it to be beneficial to human beings,” Birt said.

He compared the body to a plant.

“When a plant is alive it is very flexible. When it is dead it is rigid and brittle.”

Tai chi, which has 108 postures, keeps the body moving in a health manner.

The practice, like yoga, is good for stress relief, Birt said, and also benefits those dealing with arthritis keeping the stiff joints moving.

Tai chi postures also aim to improve balance, which Birt said, is beneficial to older adults who seem to have lost that ability over time.

This fluid movement and posture aids the immune system, Birt said, and he has found that he has had the common cold, for example, much less often than prior to practicing tai chi.

Breathing, he said, like within the practice of yoga, is extremely important.

“There is a saying that ‘where your attention goes, there your energy goes.’”

Proper breathing destresses the body which is best for the immune system, he said.

The technique, he said, seems to be more popular among the older generation, but Birt said it really is not much different than yoga which is mainly popular among younger people and females.

Birt said he recalled reading about how some Chinese visited India to see this “new practice” known as yoga. The Chinese described it as “Indian qigong.” They then showed their qigong practice to the Indians who said, “‘Oh, that is Chinese yoga.’”