On a recent morning, eight barefoot students sat on their legs, hands resting on laps, eyes cast down. Low winter sunlight slanted across the floor highlighting the top of the instructor’s head.
For the next 80 minutes, this group followed a series of stretches, bends and twists while using restorative breathing, all while listening to soft violins and the baroque chanting of a man.
“I started practicing yoga almost 10 years ago,” said Cinnaminson's Beth Bresnahan, 42, a registered yoga instructor with Yoga Alliance, who runs classes in Moorestown and Cinnaminson. “I loved what it did for me, and I decided to train as a teacher.”
Bresnahan, originally from Georgia, moved to the area in 2000 to be near her husband’s large extended family. After having kids, she went looking for ways to feel more relaxed while juggling motherhood. She found an instructional video that she used during nap time, and yoga turned into her passion.
She trained as an instructor with two masters, David Life and David Swenson, and for a time with the late Girish C. Jagirdar, a world-renown guru, who traveled internationally giving workshops and talks on the value of yoga.
The Sanskrit meaning of the word yoga comes from the word "yoke," meaning to join. Evidence of yoga dates back almost 3,000 years ago in areas of India, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. Archaeologists excavated stone seals which depict figures in yoga poses (asanas).
Yoga is diverse, and there are many forms, from gentle to power yoga. Bresnahan teaches a type of Vinyasa Flow, breath-synchronized movements, that has students move from one pose to the next on an inhale or an exhale.
When the Beatles and others of the counter-culture sat in lotus, most westerners knew little about yoga or meditation. But, in the last decade, celebrities and entertainers—Madonna, Sting and Jennifer Aniston, among them—transcended asanas into a worldwide phenomenon.
Yoga still continues to be a popular way to stay healthy.
It was back pain that pushed Barbara Napoliello, of Moorestown, to condition with yoga after becoming a mother.
“Since the birth of my children, I’ve had a weak back, and it injures easily,” said Napoliello, who takes classes. “Since I’ve started a strict yoga routine, my back and stomach muscles have strengthened, and I do not throw my back out as often as I had before.”
Many of the exercises work on the spinal column. In working the back area, the different poses gently stretch and strengthen the vertebrae and promote circulation, which in turn nurture the internal organs.
“Yoga helped with my back and neck issues,” said Moorestown's Deb Lord, 54, a practitioner of yoga for seven years. “It has improved my balance, strength and body tone.”
Yoga postures are gentle and it doesn’t involve any expensive machines. Once a person learns the moves, yoga can be done at home with nothing more than a mat.
“I usually go twice a week to class,” said Napoliello, who has relied on yoga for 13 years, “but I have a small yoga routine that takes about 15 minutes at home which I do three or four times a week.”
Some men, like professional athletes LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal, credit yoga for keeping them limber and healthy. And, yoga teacher and author, Baron Baptiste, has worked with the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I've had problems with my rotator cuff," said Cinnaminson's Frank Lewis, 48, who has tried yoga for his sore upper arm. "It's not easy at first. It is a tremendous workout."
Yoga has been identified with lowering blood pressure. It helps with joint and tendon problems by making the practitioner more supple.
A regular yoga practice helps boost antioxidants resulting in a stronger immune system.
Classes end with a shavasana or simple meditation. With scented oils, Bresnahan will gently massage the shoulders and feet of the members.
While the physical benefits are obvious, the calming and relaxation results of yoga can be more appreciated. During these dizzying times, when clamor and clatter surround our homes and workplaces, the peacefulness of yoga can improve our concentration and attentiveness.
“I have worked with patients who had terminal illnesses,” said Bresnahan. “I can’t say they were cured, but it did give them peace and relaxation [during their illnesses].”
Bresnahan has held classes for children. And, she has hosted classes that included expectant mothers, since many doctors recommend yoga for women who are pregnant, instead of high-intensity workouts.
Visit Beth Bresnahan’s website for more information.