By MAGGIE MENDERSKIHerald-Whig Staff Writer
Richard Gregory knew he'd have to use his head to find an activity he and his wife, Barbara, could enjoy together, but he never suspected standing on his head would be the solution.
They began practicing yoga just after he turned 65. He didn't like sewing, and she didn't like fishing, so they decided something to better their health would suit both of them.
Nearly 40 years of dentistry had strained Gregory's back, but just six years of yoga corrected his pain. Before Gregory started yoga, the slightest unsuspected movement would cause a monthlong ache.
"(Yoga) gives you a good, healthy center to operate your life on," Gregory said. "I can do some remarkable things with my body that I didn't know I could do a number of years ago."
The Department of Health and Human Services designated September National Yoga Month in 2008, but Jan Barrett owner of Redbud Yoga, said the Quincy area slowly began embracing yoga's health benefits more than three decades ago. There were minimal opportunities to practice in the area when Barrett began teaching yoga in Quincy in 1986.
"You couldn't even tell people in this town that you did yoga, because it was embarrassing," Barrett said.
Now the region boasts more than 20 different teachers and a variety of styles and classes. Barrett teaches Iyengar yoga, which focuses on detail, precision and alignment in posture and breathing. NuFIT for You implemented an aerial yoga program last winter. These classes utilize long, fabric loops that ease bodies into more difficult positions. Twisted Juniper in Hannibal offers "baby and me" yoga classes that welcome infants as young as 6 weeks old.
"(Yoga) is just part of the bigger world," Barrett said. "The bigger world is waking up to the fact that we need to take better care of our well-being."
Some poses build strength and stamina and promote healthy digestion. Others alleviate shoulder and back discomfort. Yoga can benefit the liver, kidneys, intestines and spleen, and help the pituitary, pineal, thyroid, parathyroid and adrenal glands. Many who practice it say it dissolves mental and physical fatigue.
"It takes a long time," Gregory said. "You don't get it in a year. It takes two or three years to get results."
The area's newest teacher, Michele Wilkerson, has turned up the heat on the local yoga scene. The Mount Sterling native opened "Yoga 7even," the region's first hot vinyasa studio, on Saturday at 731 Hampshire in Quincy. Hot vinyasa yoga features high temperatures and humidity, which allow for body's facia to relax and muscles to benefit from yoga quicker.
"The heat is an element that allows this Western World that runs around like crazy to get into their practice quicker," Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson will teach entry level hot vinyasa classes at a moderate temperatures, but for more advanced classes, she'll heat the room into the high 90s with 30 percent humidity. She's also planned nonheated classes for children.
Wilkerson received Rainbow Kids Yoga certification in Italy in July. Studies have shown that yoga improves cognitive development in children and may also ease cases of asthma and ADHD. Wilkerson said often her students gravitate to yoga as easily as they'd embrace gymnastics or sports, but yoga classes also give children a non-competitive outlet.
"It's giving their body what they need, and they just know it feels good," Wilkerson said. "They're so fun with it."
Wilkerson began practicing eight years ago and learned that non-competitive lesson firsthand. She always been an avid runner, but a knee injury forced her out of her running shoes and onto a yoga mat. Initially reluctant to try yoga, she enjoyed the physical challenge even though it lacked the speed of running.
"I've seen the way it's changed my life, and I've sent that change in my students, too," Wilkerson said. "Quincy needs this a lot."