Soul Food

By Doug Donaldson

Ever wonder how yoga relaxes you? Here’s how—and why—you can find your Zen state.

If you’ve ever done the downward-facing dog or made the mountain pose, you know that yoga can relax your body, but a recent study suggests such benefits are much deeper than muscle tissue.

Researchers have found that yoga boosts the levels of gamma-aminobutyric (GABA), a brain chemical linked to well being. A study by the Boston University School of Medicine and McLean Hospital found GABA levels of those who did an hour of yoga were 27 percent higher than those who read for the same amount of time. What’s more, researchers say that the calm-inducing effects of yoga are so powerful that it could be a treatment for depression and anxiety.  View study details:  study 1, study 2.

You can tap into this potent stress relief by signing up for a 24 Hour Fitness Group X yoga class. Such sessions are a free part of your membership, says Linda McHugh, Manager of Group Exercise Programs at 24 Hour Fitness.

Often, Group Exercise instructors teach Vinyasa style yoga, which is a breath-synchronized version where the class leader explains how to time your breathing to the poses. Sort of like taking a few deep breaths to calm down in a tense situation, yoga can reduce your stress level.

“During our busy days, we often don’t take full, deep breaths,” McHugh says. “With those breaths, you move oxygen to your muscles and your brain, allowing you to slow down and relax.”

Group Exercise yoga classes are offered free as part of your regular membership. Other health clubs may have an additional fee from $15 a class to a couple hundred dollars a month. Classes are typically conducted in a gym’s exercise room and offered a few times a week. Because there’s no fee, you can try a few sessions to see if yoga is an activity you enjoy.

Classes usually start with standing positions and the instructor guides you through a series of poses. In Vinyasa yoga, your movements are flowing, connecting usually three postures before returning to a neutral position. And as you move from position to position, you’re concentrating on your form and technique, shifting your thoughts from any stresses. Usually classes end in what’s called the corpse pose, where you’re on the floor and the instructor guides you through a head-to-toe relaxation exercise. “You’ll often find that you’re more focused and feel stronger the rest of the day after doing yoga,” McHugh says.

Along with putting you in touch with your Zen, yoga also offers loads of other benefits, such as improving balance and flexibility, promoting circulation and strengthening your core muscles.  The class schedules for 24 Hour Fitness locations are available on line.  To find a yoga class near you, use our club finder and enter your zip code for a list of clubs near you.