Transforming lives through yoga

The power of Yoga: Ute Swerdloff, the instructor at Yoga Namaste, guides her Level II students through a series of poses.<br><b>ALEX PAJUNAs photo</b>

At its core, according to Ute Swerdloff of Namaste Yoga in Astoria, yoga is about transformation.

Yoga is a practice that brings participants into a state of present awareness within their bodies, minds and spirits. It is not a religion, and those who practice yoga do not have to believe in it to see the practical results of attaining a greater sense of balance and awareness within oneself.

"My students tell me about how yoga has helped them cope better when they were losing their job, or that they were able to heal their back pain, shoulder tension, high blood pressure or become less anxious with the practice of yoga," Swerdloff said.

In the 10 years that she has been teaching, Swerdloff has observed that people tend to have a better day when they practice yoga. "They feel more alive, happier perhaps," she said.

"Once people have experienced the power of yoga, it becomes an almost sacred - or yes, a sacred activity that they would not miss. Yoga nurtures beyond physical well-being; it connects people to their center. Yoga students realize when they operate from that inner wisdom, life takes on a whole new meaning. It is a beautiful discovery," Swerdloff said.

One of Swerdloff's longtime students, Jessica Schleif, attributes a greater sense of well-being to her yoga practice. A gardener in Astoria, Schleif used to feel the physical stresses of her trade in the form of nightly aches and pains. After beginning a yoga practice eight years ago with Swerdloff as her mentor, Schleif noticed those pains slowly subside.

"Yoga changed the way I use my body when I garden. Instead of powering through a job relying solely on my strength, I think about the ergonomics of using my body as a tool," Schleif said.

In addition to feeling less pain and more at ease in her body, Schleif's yoga practice has helped her cultivate patience.

"Yoga has taught me to have patience with myself. I have learned to slow down and focus in different ways," Schleif said. "When I think back on how long it took for me to learn to stand on my head and the amount of trust I had to cultivate in myself to be able to do that, it reminds me to be patient - basically, to accept where I am at in the moment and think that, maybe with practice, I will get better over time."

Christen Allsop, who teaches yoga at the Tolovana Arts Colony in Cannon Beach, believes that yoga can benefit anyone who undertakes a practice.

"Yoga is for everyone: every size, shape and age. There is a class and a teacher for you," Allsop said.

Allsop stressed that it is important for beginners to find a teacher that they feel comfortable with to help them learn proper technique and thereby get the most from their practice.

"A yoga class becomes a community where people weave in and out as their lives permit. It is a fun and supportive place to be," Allsop said.

Yoga is a process of individual exploration, a journey that is different for everyone, Allsop explained.

"Some students come with injuries and they have to learn how to work with those limitations, some come with a lot of strength and limited flexibility - and vice versa - and they need to learn how to find balance between the two. Everyone is different," Allsop said.

During her eight years of teaching yoga, Allsop has seen people straighten and strengthen crooked bodies. She has watched students relearn how to breathe fully and in a controlled manner, find their center of balance and heal injuries. Allsop added that just the act of focusing completely on one's self for the duration of a class is no small feat in a society that is so often sped up.

Yoga is a process of being in the here and now, whatever that here and now may be.

A lot of Allsop's time revolves around nurturing others, as a wife, mother and teacher, a role she is grateful for. However, when she is practicing yoga, "It is about just me, me as I am at this moment. I use it to pay attention to how I feel physically, mentally and emotionally, right now. This is really important information for me, information that I probably wouldn't pick up on once I get started in my busy and sometimes fractured day. So the practice helps me be more effective; more aware of myself and others; more clear about and satisfied with my choices; and on occasion, even smarter," Allsop said.

Allsop teaches an all-levels class from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. Mondays and Fridays at Tolovana Hall and a chair yoga class from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays. (This is a good class for those new to yoga or those nursing an injury.) Drop-in fee is $10. Allsop can be contacted at cannonbeachyoga@dishmail.net. Her classes are listed on the Web at tolovanaartscolony.org

Swerdloff teaches at her studio, Yoga Namaste, in the heart of downtown Astoria. A variety of yoga classes, restorative yoga workshops, yoga clinics, private therapeutic yoga and Thai Yoga Massage are offered.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (503) 440-9761 or e-mail ute@yoganam.com

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