Michelle Cannon Epting
The practice of yoga originated more than 5,000 years ago in India to promote physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Millions of people practice yoga in the U.S. Yoga is designed to join physical poses (known as asanas) with breath to promote relaxation, flexibility, balance, and strength. Yoga also often includes some form of meditation. Two facts are important to note about yoga, though. Firstly, yoga can be intense, depending on the style chosen. Secondly, it is imperative to have flexibility, balance, and good breathing/relaxation technique to be a well-rounded athlete and individual.
Yoga also improves flexibility in muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and other soft tissues. This improved flexibility will decrease injury in athletes and increase body function with age. As simple as taking a breath seems, it is often an action performed improperly. By focusing on breath during yoga, one learns to link breath and movement, to breathe through stresses, and to breathe fully, thus improving lung capacity. Yoga can benefit individuals by decreasing stress, improving mood, producing positive physiological and biochemical changes, and decreasing pain.
California native Annette Armstrong is the founder of Downtown Yoga. Despite hailing from a state where yoga studios are as common as 7-11s, Armstrong had a professional soccer career before she discovered yoga. Her husband introduced her to the practice of yoga, and she loved it so much, she decided to become a certified instructor in the U.S. After moving to Paris, Armstrong established her yoga base in Europe, studying the European market before moving to Melbourne and opening her downtown studio seven years ago.
Armstrong explains that most people, including men, choose to practice yoga in the beginning simply because of the physical benefits, such as increased strength and tone. Slowly, she says, people have a mental shift and want to decrease the stress that inevitably exists in everyone’s life. After this, there is a physiological shift as one’s body actually improves in performance in other activities. “In order to be a well-rounded athlete, one needs flexibility and balance too, as well as mental calm and the ability to breathe. This prevents injury and complements other activities by focusing on areas they might miss.”
Downtown Yoga’s clientele includes men (and women) of all ages and backgrounds. Armstrong explains the different male clients she sees at her studios. “We have high school athletes sent by their coaches. We see young adult males brought by their girlfriends or wives, who often keep coming even after the female stops. We have adult men (‘corporate athletes’) who need to de-stress from their work roles. We have older men who want to stay active and healthy.” She gives two examples of men dramatically changed by the practice of yoga.
Downtown Yoga offers a variety of classes for any level of fitness. There are pure stretch classes, flowing classes, all level classes, and hot yoga classes. Additionally, classes are offered with numerous instructors to facilitate finding the right style to match the student’s.
Armstrong explains why Downtown Yoga is good for anyone. “We meet you where you are. All shapes, sizes, ages, physical abilities can do this. The message is ‘I am ok and here for a reason.’ Just come in and lose all expectations.” Her yoga philosophy is applicable to most of life’s endeavors, “It can be very beneficial as long as you just get out of your own way.”