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July 20, 2013

First Cowgirl strikes a pose for flexibility with yoga

STILLWATER, Okla. — One-legged King Pigeon, Half Lord of the Fishes, Downward Facing Dog  — an odd sort of zoo — but standard yoga poses which lead some people to think they are too old for animal contortions.  But the truth is — we’re never too old to improve flexibility.

Six years ago, Oklahoma State University Director of Career Services Pam Ehlers could not touch her toes or sit cross-legged when she was cajoled into taking OSU First Cowgirl Ann Hargis’ 6 a.m. yoga class at the Seretean Wellness Center.

“I was not remotely flexible,” Ehlers said but she was told the class might help with some back and spinal issues.

Ehlers said Hargis was a wonderful teacher and, after the second class, she thought her back felt a little better. She kept going to the yoga class even though she has never been a morning person. By the end of the six week session, she had improved her flexibility.

“The first thing I noticed was that I could turn my neck without pain to look for cars when exiting the parking garage — a difficult task prior to taking the yoga class,” Ehlers said.

After her first class ended, Ehlers started attending a noon yoga fitness class. She knew she would not be able to attend class every day because of her work schedule, but she set a goal of attending class on “most” days of the week. Yet, what she discovered was that the more yoga classes she attended the more she wanted to attend. Ehlers said this was very interesting considering she “had started a gazillion exercise programs over the years, but soon grew bored and lost interest.”

“Exercise has never been my thing! But this time I was seeing some major improvement in my flexibility and balance only after a few weeks,” she said. “This positive reinforcement was something I needed to keep me motivated.”

Ehlers could not only touch her toes and sit crossed legged, but she could bend in ways she didn’t think were possible. The yoga breathing was helping with stress, and she enjoyed the mini retreat in the middle of the day.

“I was hooked,” Ehlers said. “It’s been six years since Ann Hargis introduced me to yoga and I still have the goal of attending class on most days of the week.”

Ehlers said yoga has changed her life.

“Because I am more flexible and I have less pain, I feel like moving more often,” she said. “I discovered that the beauty of yoga is it helps you to feel like doing other activities. I would tell anyone that if you don’t move because your joints hurt, or you are too stiff, or you lack motivation — try yoga. You won’t realize you are moving so much, and the more yoga you do the better you will feel and the more you will move.”

Although Hargis doesn’t teach a regular class anymore due to her schedule, she is still practicing yoga on campus with guest teaching sessions. Her daughter introduced her to yoga more than 25 years ago.

“I was unsure of the whole concept at first. I thought the room smelled funny because of the incense they were using,” Hargis said.  “I was also used to going at such a high speed throughout the day. I was not comfortable lying still, barefooted, next to strangers.”

Hargis kept going to yoga and now “I love it more every time I practice.”  In 2006-2007, she completed certifications to teach yoga. The intensive training sessions covered areas such as physiology, proper alignment and core concepts such as the origins, history and philosophy of the poses and various types of yoga.

“Practicing yoga allows one to benefit from the inside out,” Hargis said.

Yoga allows one to massage, align and detoxify internal organs through twists and other movements, she said. The practice can also be used to either energize or relax — whatever one needs at the moment. Hargis said yoga has many other benefits including centering your thoughts, balancing your energies, increasing your immunities, gaining better posture, flexibility and learning to create a sense of calmness and well-being.

“Yoga is a journey and everyone walks his or her own path,” she said. “It is about finding and understanding oneself.”

Hargis said yoga has increased in popularity on campus and there are numerous classes, many of which are bursting at the seams. In fact, the President’s office staff takes yoga together over the noon hour several times per week. She said they come back refreshed, energized and ready to tackle the rest of the day.   

“Burns and I truly believe that healthy employees are happy, more productive employees, and we are so proud of the staff for embracing this concept,” she said.

OSU Regents Professor Emeritus Carol Bender teaches yoga classes on campus and at other locations.

“I became interested in yoga because of chronic back pain — this was caused by osteoarthritis in my lumbar spine,” Bender said. “Yoga has made a huge difference in the quality of my life. I credit my yoga practice with helping me feel more balanced, less stressed — a healthier, happier, more optimistic person.”

Bender offers workshops on how to introduce more movement into the workday, practicing yoga on the go, meditation, pain management and sleeping preparation techniques. Although maintaining a yoga practice can be a great way to reduce stress and stay in shape, Registered Yoga Teacher Bridget Byrd offers yoga for weight loss and dealing with anxiety at Main Street Yoga Studio.  She is also the only registered prenatal yoga teacher in Stillwater. Throughout the community, several fitness centers offer a variety of yoga styles for yogis and yoginis of all shapes, sizes and ages with an abundance of anecdotal claims for what yoga can do. The only way to be certain of all that yoga can do for you is to try it for yourself and see.


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