EL PASO — Yoga –the fastest growing form of exercise in America– is connecting the body, the mind and spirit of El Pasoans in greater numbers than ever.
Currently over 20 million Americans practice yoga on a regular basis and five new yoga studios emerged here in the past year, drawing as many new practitioners to bend and stretch as there are different reasons to join.
“Yoga is an ancient Indian body of knowledge that dates back more than 5,000 years. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means ‘to unite or integrate,” according to the website the a-b-c of yoga. Yoga then, is about uniting a person’s consciousness with the universal consciousness.
According to the American Health Journal many people are turning to yoga “because Western medicine has slowly begun to understand that there is a connection between mind and body and that by healing both as one unit, you can get great results.”
For Rose Garza, who has been practicing for three years and recently began to teach it at EP Fitness, yoga is not only good for mind and body, however, but also for the soul.
“Our bodies are only temporary. We also have to nurture the soul. That’s very important. Yoga helps you be okay with yourself and to learn to love yourself,” she said.
The three main structures of yoga are exercise, breathing and meditation, which are used to connect the body, the mind and the spirit. Ancient yogis believed that in order for man to be in harmony with himself and his environment, emotion, action and intelligence must be in balance.
There are six branches of yoga and over 70 proven health benefits that come with regular practice. Some of the benefits include improved flexibility, balance, circulation, core strength, stress reduction and disease prevention.
Dr. Loren Fishman, writing in the New York Times, said that as a lifelong devotee of yoga who studied it for three years in India before going to medical school, he uses various yoga positions to “halt and often reverse conditions like shoulder injuries, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and scoliosis.”
“Yoga is good in all aspects. It’s good even for your digestive system, for your heart, for your lungs, your back, etc.” said Garza. “I love it because it’s a way for you to relax and be good with yourself, to meditate; it helps relax the tension in your muscles and tones your muscles and your body.”
Garza said that yoga also appeals to those who are not particularly fond of regular exercise. “Yoga promotes well-being and allows you to exercise without feeling like you are. Most people don’t like to exercise, so Yoga is a method for those that don’t like it,” Garza said.
Besides of its physical and mental benefits, those who practice it regularly say that yoga provides an opportunity to get what they call a full meditation. “Yoga allows you to target the chakras. It’s all connected internally so if you are able to align your body, it also allows for a full meditation,” explained Garza.
One of the studios that recently opened in El Paso is Casa de Yoga, at 2025 N. Stanton. It is a locally owned and operated yoga studio and boutique. The studio strives to provide a personalized and authentic experience for its clientele.
Casa de Yoga owner, Ryan Prieto, was born and raised in El Paso and went away to college at the age of 18. In her visits back home, she noticed a lack of yoga studios in the city and decided to come back to her hometown and help grow the local yoga community.
“There was a big opportunity here because Yoga just really didn’t exist,” Prieto said. “I also felt a huge pull that I needed to come back and I needed to be teaching here, intervening and sharing and really helping grow a true yoga community in El Paso.”
Prieto explains that when someone comes into the studio, it is important to determine why they are coming in and what they want to get out of yoga.
“I think that there’s a wide spectrum of reasons. There’s people that come in for weight loss, there’s people that come in to reduce stress, people that have come in because their doctors have prescribed for them to come to do yoga,” Prieto said.
Once she and the other instructors understand an individual’s motives, they can then suggest which class is best for them.
“If they’ve never experienced yoga before, we advice them to come to our ‘Learn Yoga’ class which is a beginner’s class.” For the more advanced yogi, “they can go to an extremely advanced class maybe like our Rocket classes and we are able to modify it based on each person’s practice.”
Rasmiyeh Asam, a grad student at UTEP and a former yoga T.A. at the University, is a devout yogi who has practiced for almost eight years. “Honestly, when I got into it originally it was for stress relief, but then I began to realize that it helps with a lot of different things. It’s not only beneficial for physical health and workout purposes but for mental health,” said Asam.
She recommends it especially for students looking for a workout for mind, body and soul. “If you are a college student, I would recommend it for anxiety. It helped me a lot throughout my college undergrad career.”
“By having a better posture and more balance you are helping your whole body and person. The point of yoga is to be healthy and be able to live a longer and better life,” she added.
After over a decade of practicing yoga, Prieto also looks and feels great. The practice has helped her realize that she is not perfect and that that is perfectly okay. She has learned to be okay with who and what she is and to love herself. She feels she has learned patience and to just be and not react.
“There’s a saying that we have a constant spinning in our head, like a monkey mind, some people call it your ego or what not but when you practice this beautiful practice it basically stops the spinning in your head and when that happens you give your true authentic self a minute to actually shine through,” explained Prieto.
Prieto encourages everyone to try yoga for any and all reasons and feels that no matter what or who you are you will reap benefits out of the practice.
“I’ve learned to understand that this life I have is not a dress rehearsal, that this is it, that this is my one body, my one chance and every moment matters and that what really matters is who you are as a person when no one else is looking, and that’s who you are on your mat,” said Prieto.
Most studios around town offer either a couple of free classes to try it out or a free week. Other options include UTEP’s Rec Center, which offers a couple of different yoga classes for $25 a semester for students and/or faculty. Students can also take the University’s official yoga class which counts as one credit hour.
And because many believe that taking classes at a studio may get a little pricey, especially for students or those on a tight budget, there are individuals who will offer classes at a park or other public places for donations or like Rose Garza, even for free on Sunday mornings.
“ You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside. “ –Mr. Yoga