Yoga’s benefits include boosting mood, healthier eating, flexibility
The lights are dim and soft music plays as newly minted yoga instructor Tony Ranieri, 69, of Hempfield, teaches a beginners’ class at Greensburg’s Red Brick Yoga.
“I’m going to ask you for the next hour to be mindful, not focus on things you can’t control,” he tells the group.
Always active, and still working part time as a personal trainer, Ranieri came to yoga less than two years ago.
He soon began the certification process with studio owner Angela Merendino.
“I lifted weights and did cardio, and I stretched a bit. A friend told me how much she liked yoga and recommended I call Ange at Red Brick,” Ranieri says.
“The mental and physical aspects of it really changed me. … I noticed a difference in flexibility right away,” he says.
He was more calm and tranquil. “The breathing part of yoga is the essence of yoga,” Ranieri says.
Yoga lets you go to “your edge” as far as one can go without pain or injury, he says.
The majority of his students are young women, Ranieri says. “I would like to get more men involved. … You don’t have to tie yourself up in a pretzel. It’s not a prerequisite to be female, flexible and young,” he adds.
“Yoga brings balance between effort and ease,” Merendino says.
“People come here for the physical part of it. (Then) they say, ‘Oh, I’m much more calm, I didn’t holler at that person,’” Merendino says.
Men, she says, tend to be tighter in the hips and hamstrings because they may lift, but don’t always stretch.
“Yoga can help with flexibility and balance as you age,” Merendino says.
According to the American Osteopathic Association, yoga’s benefits can range from increased flexibility, weight reduction and improved athletic performance to mental clarity, stress relief and sharpened concentration.
Options for all
Various schools of yoga exist, from hatha to prenatal to the currently trendy hot yoga, performed in very warm, humid studios. What most have in common are breathing exercises, meditation and assuming poses that stretch and flex various muscle groups.
Most classes require minimal gear — typically a mat, water and a towel, along with comfortable, breathable clothing.
All age groups can do yoga, notes Bethany Connelly, who owns Greensburg’s Moonglow Yoga with husband Sean Connelly.
Options include beginner, private lessons and Buti, a more high energy, cardio-infused class, Connelly says.
Weight loss can be one benefit, as one becomes more in tune with one’s body; increased physical strength and flexibility will start to knock off a few pounds. “Honor your body,” Connelly says.
That can mean practicing a vegetarian or vegan diet, or simply being mindful while “eating that chocolate cake,” she says.
Connelly reaps a mental boost “through breathing and staying in the moment for that hour.”
“You get your brain to stop … you say, ‘hey, brain, I didn’t give you permission to think about that. You are focused on body and mind and breath. … It’s a coping mechanism for stress reduction,” she says.
Connelly recently began a class for new moms, BYOB — Bring Your Own Baby — following the birth of son Maverick, 4 months.
Physically, mentally challenging
“The centeredness, the meditation, the concentration is what is different about yoga,” says Erin Annarella-Kreidler, owner of The Yoga Folk, near Leechburg.
She has students from age 14 to 70, high school football players to marathon runners.
Her studio teaches restore, heal and power yoga classes.
Restore is “very restful, very low in terms of physical difficulty. It’s good for anybody, it’s having an hour of ‘me time’. You work connective tissues in the body, but it is non-aggressive,” she says.
Heal features the same postures in the same sequence. She calls it “accessible to all, but challenging.”
Power yoga works on strength, and class sequences may switch from balance postures to core work or strengthening postures.
Annarella-Kreidler says there still is some confusion that yoga “is a religion.”
“Westernized yoga is a physical practice that can highly benefit anybody,” she says.
“Any yoga is better than no yoga,” Annarella-Kreidler says. But like other instructors, she advocates attending classes more regularly, even daily.
Following his own advice
Dr. Greg Bisignani of Latrobe, his wife, Audrey, and their young adult sons, Collin and Ryan, tried yoga for the first time recently, with Ranieri as instructor.
“I’m an orthopedic surgeon. I could definitely feel which muscles I was using. One thing I tell patients all the time is to maintain your flexibility and strength,” he says.
“I’m excited about doing it more and learning more. It can help me stay loose and limber and do those things I tell my patients to do,” says Bisignani, 52.
He also noticed reaping some mental benefits. “I have a very stressful job. There were plenty of times here when I forgot about that. It was very relaxing,” he says.
Many instructors and students complete a yoga session with a respectful term translating to “my soul honors your soul.”
As his students wind down and Ranieri completes his class, he expresses that sentiment aloud.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter .