The art of yoga benefits both mind and body

Editor’s note: Cenla on the Move is a series focusing on fitness activities in the region.

Art and yoga are similar in many ways.

“When you think of the practice of yoga, it’s an art form in itself,” said Catherine M. Pears, executive director of the Alexandria Museum of Art.

Both have benefits that contribute to the health of the whole being, she said.

At 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, the Alexandria Museum of Art offers “Yoga in the Gallery” free to all.

“The gallery is a wonderful, peaceful space, perfect for this practice,” Pears said. “It’s a non-threatening environment.”

The added benefit is that it brings people into the museum, exposes them to the art, and builds an audience, Pears said.

“The museum is like a meeting place for the community,” said Cindy Cooper Blair, museum educator. “The healthy living initiative is very important to us. Many museums are doing the same thing.”

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“It works your whole body,” Pears said. Yoga builds flexibility, strength, reduces stress and can be good for the whole being.

“Yoga in the Gallery” was one of the first programs offered by the museum around 2010.

Joan Manuel, local yoga teacher and owner of YoGA Practice, ran “Yoga in the Gallery” for a while. At the time, individuals had to pay to take the course.

The museum began offering “Yoga in the Gallery” for free when it received earlier support from the Rapides Foundation.

Although it no longer receives this support, the museum is still offering the class for free while it seeks other grants to support it.

“We think it’s an important program,” Pears said. “And so we continue to offer it for free.”

About 50 to 60 people of all ages, shapes, sizes and cultural backgrounds attend each week, Pears said.

“This class is a sensible class for people to try,” said b. Hedrick, the class’s yoga instructor, “As long as they have clearance from their doctor, this exercise is okay.”

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One of the big components of yoga is the relaxation response, he said.

Meditation and the breathing component are part of yoga practice and can be used in daily life.

“You can use it when you’re having a stressful day,” Pears said.

Hedrick said Harvard studies have shown that yoga lowers cortisol levels. High cortisol levels have been linked to illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and inflammation, as well as emotional illnesses such as depression. Yoga can also help people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

hedrick has been practicing yoga for 19 years and started leading “Yoga in the Gallery” in 2012.

For people with limited mobility, a good chair yoga class is beneficial, he said. These classes will be given to selected groups at the Body Tao Spa, a studio he just opened at the new Holiday Inn in downtown Alexandria.

“b. is really good,” Pears said.

hedrick, she said, modifies “asanas,” or yoga poses, for the different skill levels of those in the room.

Clifford Moller has been participating in “Yoga in the Gallery” for nearly three months.

“I started because I wanted to lose weight,” he said.

It became addictive and now he looks forward to attending every Tuesday.

“I train every day and every night to be better on Tuesday,” he said.

“It has to do with relaxation and flexibility,” Moller said of why he loves yoga. “And a certain calm that I feel after doing that.”

“I never thought it would be what it is,” he said. “I can’t describe the attraction. It’s an experience you can only live to understand.”