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Achieving Relaxation

Around the corner from the clamor of weights clashing, TVs blaring and music pumping through the concrete walls of the recreation center at USF, a group of students lay on their backs in the dark. The light from a single door window slightly illuminates the instructor, sitting cross-legged with his eyes closed. As their chests slowly rise and fall, they don’t seem to notice the ticking of the clock or the rumbling of the air conditioning vibrating throughout the room.

Dale Morphew, instructor for the yoga classes offered through the gym, began teaching at USF more than three years ago. When he began, there was only one yoga class offered, which lasted an hour per week. There are now 12 classes offered at various times each day.

“A lot of people think of yoga as a religion,” Morphew said. But this is not the case, he said.

Morphew, who is also a director for Still Point Yoga on Fowler Avenue, said yoga is the union of mind, body and spirit. It aids in the release of tension and can eliminate problems such as arthritis, allergies and high blood pressure, Morphew said.

Although the true origins of yoga are not known, it is believed it started between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago somewhere in the Middle East, possibly in India. Vaz Rogbeck, also a director for Still Point Yoga, said evidence of yoga exists even in Egypt and Mesopotamia, such as the statues on pyramids in yoga-type poses.

“It was kind of the poor people’s medicine in India,” Rogbeck said.

Debra Clear, another director for Still Point Yoga, experienced the benefits of yoga first-hand. Working as an administrator for a law firm, she had stopped doing physical yoga, although she continued to practice the breathing patterns she learned. Clear weighed 190 pounds at 5’3,” and her blood pressure was so high she was on medication. At this point, she decided to begin yoga again and reduced her diet. She dropped 10 dress sizes and eliminated the blood pressure medication. She then quit her job and became a yoga teacher.

“Yoga has been a real life-saver for me,” Clear said. Today, hundreds of forms of yoga can be found in the United States, but Clear and Rogbeck said Florida is 10 to 20 years behind places such as California and Ohio when speaking of yoga. Clear said in these places, there are yoga centers on every corner.

Yoga video tapes and books have steadily been popping into the mainstream recently; however hands-on assistance from a teacher may be more beneficial, especially to someone who has special needs.

“You can’t give as much detail in a video as in a classroom,” Rogbeck said.

But from six-month-old babies to seniors, Still Point Yoga has seen a variety of people of all ages since its opening in January. Clear and Rogbeck also volunteer, teaching yoga to the USF Learning and Retirement Program for people older than 50. Of the people teaching and attending classes, Clear said 90 percent are women. But the No. 1 reason for having an interest in yoga lies in stress relief.

“Through physical movements, you release the stress,” Clear said.

Marilyn Myerson, a professor for Women’s Studies who attends Still Point Yoga on Sunday nights, said she started doing yoga because of a friend’s recommendation, primarily for stress reduction and health reasons. Myerson said as classes build there will be a sense of unity within the group.

“When I leave, I always feel relaxed and peaceful,” she said.Still Point Yoga teaches an assortment of classes, from beginners to child and parent classes to “round bodies” to “hot” yoga to rock ‘n’ roll yoga. Clear said if one is in decent physical condition, the beginners class could be skipped. Classes conclude with a warm-down session of relaxation where the lights are turned off and a fountain adds the sounds of ripples ebbing throughout the room.

“Hot” yoga is a class where the room is heated to 95 degrees because the heat allows muscles to stretch easier. For rock ‘n roll yoga, Clear and Rogbeck play music ranging from Twisted Sister to Billy Joel, and about 750 moves are performed in about an hour and 15 minutes. The Round Bodies class, which has the largest number of participants at the school, is designed to assist those who may need special attention with certain poses.But whatever the method of yoga that is chosen, the benefits are felt immediately, Clear said.

Bennie Bowers Jr. said he had been practicing yoga since 1976. At 81 years old, he attends yoga class once a week at Still Point Yoga, and the practice has taught him how to do a headstand.

“It makes life much easier,” he said.

Morphew said some people choose to do yoga in place of exercise, while others, such as athletes, use it for additional conditioning. Morphew said many people who are discouraged by exercise programs migrate toward yoga because of its individual goals.

“Yoga can enhance all forms of physical activity,” Morphew said. “It increases endurance and performance.”

Pam Brooks, who completed graduate school at USF in December, teaches a Cardio Funk class at the gym and attends yoga classes there, as well. She said she began doing yoga through video tapes, but for almost two years, she took classes at the gym.

“There’s a sense of community in the room with other people,” she said. “It motivates you to push yourself harder.”

In six weeks, Brooks said she noticed increased flexibility and a sense of inner peace, as well as a boost in her confidence. She uses techniques she learned from yoga and incorporates them into her own Cardio Funk classes.

Rogbeck said one of the most important things yoga teaches is an awareness about one’s body. And because there are no national championships for yoga, there is no competition between classmates.

The amount of time spent on yoga differs with each individual’s goals.

“Someone who is older may only want to do (yoga) when they’re hurt,” Rogbeck said. “Some people do yoga a couple of hours a day. It’s a wide range.”

Brooks said she enjoys vigorous exercise, but yoga offers a different avenue for her.

“Yoga is the perfect complement to the more strenuous exercise,” Brooks said. “A lot of us like that and getting that quiet meditation at the end.”

Contact Lindsay Fosterat