Program provides opportunity to learn about ancient Eastern discipline from pair of expert yoga practitioners.
A former Storm Lake resident returned home this week from Japan to help teach others in northwest Iowa about yoga, an ancient Eastern discipline which is designed to help calm practitioners through meditation, breathing exercises and various poses to help stretch and strengthen muscles and limbs.
Molly Hakes, the daughter of Dick and Joan Hakes of Storm Lake, taught a yoga course last Wednesday and Thursday evenings at the Storm Lake Middle School in a program sponsored by Community Education, and 17 people participated in the event with Hakes and her husband of six months, Nobuhiro Watanabe.
The class was designed to help introduce the art form to people who may have heard of it but have never practiced it, and participants such as Pat Armstrong said the two early evenings spent in the middle school wrestling and weight room were very beneficial.
"I thought it was absolutely wonderful," Armstrong, a faculty member of the Storm Lake High School media department, said. "I thought it was a very good class, because we started slowly and learned the different poses step by step. The instructors really did a good job."
"It was very interesting and it was a lot of fun," Pat Cowan of Community Education said. "We were able to learn some real basic yoga positions, and it was a very good introductory course. It certainly left us with a very good feeling about what yoga is and I think it was enough to whet the appetite of most of us there to learn some more about it."
A 1992 graduate of Storm Lake High School, Hakes now lives in Japan with Watanabe, and cultivates organic rice, teaches English as a second language and instructs yoga classes in the Far Eastern country of 126 million people.
Hakes said she began to become interested in yoga after viewing the calming effects it seemed to have on several of her friends, and quickly became excited about learning more about the subject.
"Many of my friends had been doing yoga for some time, and I wanted to learn what they were doing," Hakes said. "I learned a lot of it from watching and participating with them, and I've also read a lot of books and seen some videos on it too."
Hakes, who has been teaching yoga for about three years, learned a great deal more about the art form from her husband, who is a certified instructor in yoga and has been teaching classes on the practice for over a decade.
Watanabe began his training in a Buddhist monastery in Los Angeles more than 10 years ago, and Hakes said she has learned a lot from her husband about the art form and how best to teach yoga to others.
"He's helped me with a lot of things," Hakes said. "Since he's been doing it for so long, he's was able to teach me a lot about it, and he's helped me become a better instructor of yoga too."
Hakes said she was very excited to teach small groups, as she said the energy which comes from instructing and practicing yoga to and with others is very uplifting to her.
"Being able to do this with a small group is something I really enjoy," Hakes said. "I'd say it's just like making music. When you have a whole group of musicians getting together, it's a wonderful sound to hear, and the same concept is true with yoga, especially with meditation. When there are a number of people making the 'ohm' sound, it's something that's really exciting to be a part of."
A combination of physical exercise and philosophy, yoga, which is not a religion in and of itself, is practiced by many people of all faiths, most predominantly those following Eastern religions such as Shintoism, Buddhism and Hinduism.
Believed to be at least 6,000 years old, the major goal of yoga philosophy is to come to a complete understanding of oneself, known as "Samadhi." This knowledge of oneself is then believed to allow those who practice yoga to come to terms with their individual personalities and put the mind and emotions in order.
Nearly all styles of yoga are rooted in hatha yoga, which is a physical discipline that focuses of developing control of the body through asanas, or poses.
These poses were the focus of the introductory yoga class this week, and the students learned a wide variety of asanas, including the "dead-man pose," the "lion pose," "the mountain pose," "the tree pose" and the "cobra pose," which are all designed to elicit different healthy responses from various sections of the human body.
These responses include elongating the spine for proper alignment of the vertebrae, increasing lung capacity, a reduction in stress on muscles in widely-used areas such as the eyes, shoulders and legs and a decrease in blood pressure over time.
Hakes and Watanabe spent several minutes demonstrating and explaining what each pose meant, and Cowan and Armstrong said the detail made the class much more rewarding.
"It was very interesting because the techniques that we learned were very practical," Cowan said. "It was also interesting because they use these techniques in their everyday lives. It's a part of their culture, and that made the experience of learning these techniques even more interesting and helpful."
"It was helpful because they gave us the reasons behind each of the poses and how they specifically help the different parts of the body," Armstrong said. "We learned about poses to help different sections such as the eyes, the shoulders and the abdomen, and it was great to learn about the different techniques and poses.
"Those poses and exercises really seem like a great way to start exercising the body and strengthening muscles," Armstrong continued. "It's also something that doesn't require any weights or large objects. You can do this at home or at work, and that's an appealing aspect of it as well."
In addition to the physical aspect of yoga, the practice also aims to sooth the mind, an important concept which Hakes said gives yoga an advantage over other forms of exercise such as weightlifting, which tend to focus solely on the physical and not mental side of healthy living.
"Yoga brings you into the present and it takes your mind off the worries of the day," Hakes said. "A lot of it is focusing on breathing correctly, and when you've got your total attention on that, it lets you get away from the stresses of everyday life. That's probably one of the biggest positives to practicing yoga. It's very soothing."
The duo will be teaching another set of classes next Wednesday and Thursday nights.
People wishing to learn more about the class or to register for the course can contact Community Education at 732-5711.